Thursday, July 31, 2008

On being a Dawg

A preface:

When I still practiced medicine in projects and homeless shelters in Newark, we had a parade of folks come visit us on our medical van. Administrators, politicians, potential donors, medical students, local community groups, pediatric residents, the press, and an occasional NBA star or two (one of whom gave away OUR toys while showing off to ESPN).

Most had good reasons to be there, but many gawked with a look-at-me-I'm-actually-in-the-'hood, and my occasional offer to tour the neighborhood was usually turned down quickly, as though I'd just asked them to step off a cliff.

I grew a bit weary of folks observing us as though we were some sort of archaeological dig site, gawking at a bullet hole, taking photographs of cute children dancing amidst the rubble, then (people just can't help themselves) offering advice on how to improve things.
So now, after teaching for less than three years, I'm going to be one of those people....
End of preface

I stumbled upon Teaching in the 408 a bit late--TMAO's profile ends "I am no longer a teacher." In his latest post, he notes that:
Instead, I’ll get to do a wide array of work in both practice and policy realms, straddling that great divide, and harnessing the experiences of the last six years in countless new ways.
Ayep. Beats harnessing the colts in the classroom. I'm not being fair--TMAO did wonderful things in a tough environment with a ridiculous commute, and he showed what's possible. But...(come closer, I need to whisper)...he doesn't teach in public school anymore.

I recently read Erin Gruwell's "Teach With Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from The Freedom Writers." I haven't seen the movie, and likely won't any time soon.

Ms. Gruwell did good work, but the dog and pony part led her to leave. I don't want to jump on the Stomp Erin Gruwell bandwagon. She did wonderful things, changed lives, and has been knighted by Oprah. But...(come closer, I need to whisper)...she doesn't teach in public school anymore.

For every Erin Gruwell, thousands more struggle in classrooms, fighting the good fight, doing what they can to improve a life. Quiet miracles occur daily.

I call them Dawgs. I'm proud to be a Dawg. Put me in the classroom and let me teach my puppies how to howl cogently.

And as I was drifting off to sleep last night, I smugly tossed all the erstwhile educators out of the Dawghouse. Let them spew forth in books and on blogs and on Oprah how to improve education. Let them be rich and famous, free from the red pen--they're not true Dawgs.

So this morning I was ready to fire up the puter, write a smug treatise on Dawgs while drinking my smug coffee from my smug mug, creating a list of requirements, bulleted and bold, the first of which is:
  • You must be a teacher in a public school who actually faces gobs students every day, every week, every year. ("Day", "week", and "year" are loose terms in this industry,but you get the idea.)
I'd show them!

Clay Burrell stopped me dead. He has a very interesting blog Beyond School, despite the incongruous Yoda inside the scrambled eggs (perhaps yet another pop icon I fail to grasp). Where'd it go? In "On Leaving Teaching to Become a Teacher" Mr. Burrell presents writes a very short post; it elicits a wonderfully cogent discussion, well worth the read.

I would love to get John Gatto and Clay Burrell in the same room, and just listen.


Anonymous said...

I too am in my third year of teaching and constantly wonder about the consistancy. It seems so many teachers just put in their time in the rough neighborhood. I teach in Camden, NJ, in a school that is riddled with students who have inconsistent parents and teachers. I think there is a lot to say for someone who is doing a "one shot service oppurtunity," but our kids need someone to stick around, someone to love them and teach them even though their schools and homes are a riddle.
I've been enjoying your blog the last few days. Thanks.

doyle said...

Thanks for the kind words--dawgs need to stick together.

Your post here led me to your blog, and I'm real glad I found it. I like your approach, and you obviously enjoy teaching kids "even though their schools and homes are a riddle"--a great way to put it.