On the left, we have my father. This picture was taken on the same outing as the one of my mother. He, too, was a teacher---elementary music. He is 30 in this photo, but also a second-year teacher. He had worked for the CBC and lived in his parents' basement for most of his 20's before escaping into a different life and career...one where he sowed lots of wild oats (although we think I am the only one that sprouted) and started a decades-long affair with alcohol. I don't know much about his skills as a teacher. I never had very many conversations with him, and his advanced Parkinson's symptoms made things even more difficult. His girlfriend at the time---who was still teaching---seemed to think a lot of his abilities. I hope that he inspired a lot of children to love music.
I have been thinking about these stories, along with those of every other former teacher I have known, as the 2010 pot swirls about educational matters. Has teacher quality changed in the past few decades---are the characteristics which now define a "good" teacher different from the 1970s...the 1950's...or the 1850's? Have teachers always suffered from the madonna-whore syndrome: at once expected by society to have no besmirches upon their personal escutcheons while carrying out the heavy demands placed upon schools? Have teachers and schools been continually vilified and perceived as not doing their jobs well? Did my mother and father feel as overworked and underappreciated in 1970 as my friends who teach today? In other words, has the world changed while teachers have remained the same?
It's not that I think there will be a resolution to the push and pull between what society thinks it wants its teachers to do and what actually happens. Rather, I would like us to realize that while the world we live in may change, people do not. A six-year old is a six-year old. Perhaps she is dressed differently from year to year...perhaps he has access to different information. But the human needs and growth remain the same. Relationships are built in the same ways. Teachers who see a new batch of 6-year olds every year may remember these things, but a society which has long forgotten what it is like to be six does not.
Somewhere behind those pictures...behind this blog...behind the at-large rhetoric about education are real people. Remembering that means that then and now aren't so different. It just means that we have to keep that important piece in our sights.
Epilogue: After my mother died last year, we found this children's book. It had originally been given to my aunt, who was all of 5-years old when I was born; however, at some point, it had returned to my mother for use in her classroom. We returned the book to my aunt, but not before I snapped a picture of the note on the title page. I think it is the only "public" piece I've ever seen where my mother acknowledged my father. I also thought the story choice was a bit...interesting. Who else but a secretly pregnant woman who can't see her family for Christmas would send a story about a woman who was in danger of losing her firstborn child? Here's hoping that pregnant and unmarried female educators have a simpler time of things now.