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The Course of Schools

The Course of Schools

I am a deeply reflective individual, which causes me to spend significant amounts of time in contemplative solitude. Through writing, I can condense these introspections into well-considered, uplifting, and, ideally, insightful expressions. I do not assert myself as a source of boundless wisdom. Examining my life’s earlier chapters, it would be fair to say that my actions demonstrated wisdom as sporadically as a broken clock shows the correct time. Yet, despite a past filled with folly, something extraordinary has occurred in recent years. By persistently attempting to do things the wrong way, I have uncovered hidden gems of wisdom in plain sight.

Introduction to Wisdom

Our education in wisdom commences early on. If you had preserved recordings of your parents during your childhood, you would have encountered a constant flow of advice like: Don’t touch that stove. You’re going to burn yourself.

Don’t run with those scissors. Do you want to cut yourself? If you don’t turn off the video games and study, you will fail Algebra and have to retake it in summer school. If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get cavities. Do you like having the dentist drill holes in your mouth?

As we transition from childhood to adolescence, we continue experimenting with new ways of acting unwisely. This pattern of folly enlightenment persists, and throughout the process, we ideally reflect our decisions and acquire wisdom. After six decades of life, my perspective has become sharper than ever before. However, some of the insights I now possess are unsettling and even troubling.

What We Really Believe

In my economics classes, I frequently ask: What do you trust more? People’s words or their actions? To demonstrate this, I propose a hypothetical incentive for those willing to attend a 45-minute tutorial at 6:30 in the morning. Numerous students pledge to join the early-morning session, but past experience indicates that only a few will actually attend.

I once knew a manager who publicly smiled broadly, enthusiastically greeted workers with handshakes, and uttered all the appropriate, supportive words. However, he was ice cold and stern behind the scenes, exhibiting condescending behavior. I don’t need to tell you what version of the manager the employees trusted. In the Ghostbusters movie, the team’s modest commercials end with the phrase, “We’re ready to believe you.” I am prepared to acknowledge that teachers are esteemed and valued, but ultimately, the treatment we experience will determine what I believe.

A Shocking Response

During my college years, I worked as a substitute teacher and occasionally encountered some of my former instructors. One of them, whom I’ll refer to as Mrs. Brown, had been my 7th-grade math teacher. Almost two decades later, I discovered she was teaching advanced high school math, and I was both astonished and delighted to meet her again. Back in the mid-70s, Mrs. Brown was a very candid teacher, and time had only made her more outspoken. I introduced myself and mentioned that I was pursuing a career in teaching. Her response took me aback: “Well, I am very sorry to hear that,” she said. “Teachers are underpaid and receive no respect.” Her bitter words stung me, and I was reluctant to accept their validity. Nonetheless, her forthright demeanor convinced me she believed in what she said. The brief conversation left me speechless, and I departed her classroom, praying my experience would differ.


Reevaluating the Grade

If I had been asked before the pandemic, I would have assigned a grade of 67 to teachers’ pay and respect, with a curve to 70. I’ll attribute the additional 3 points to the numerous enduring friendships I’ve formed with fellow teachers and former students. In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the true value of teachers and the immense challenges they face. Often, we’re seen as nothing more than dispensable cogs in the educational machine, complaining about working in perilous conditions. We’re easily replaced with cheaper alternatives when we show signs of wear. Despite the concerns of many educators, the state pushed for a return to in-person instruction in the fall of 2020, regardless of the risks. This led numerous teachers to either resign or retire from their beloved profession. For others, returning to work was the only option in a struggling economy. Tragically, some lost their lives as a result.

A New & Unfamiliar Terrain

The post-pandemic classroom scarcely resembles the learning environment we once knew. Student engagement has waned, and apathy has skyrocketed. Students are now even more consumed by their phones, exhibiting addiction-like behaviors. Shockingly, these issues are prevalent even in advanced-level classes. Conversations with colleagues reveal their deep pain and a growing sense of despair. Like many others, I can’t help but wonder: where do we go from here?

The Path Forward

Although it’s difficult to see a silver lining at this point, we must keep our spirits up. It’s crucial to stay positive and learn from these trying times, as character and wisdom often emerge from adversity. One way to maintain a positive outlook is by offering support and encouragement to those around us. Be deliberate in your efforts, and you may find that a kind word or small gesture can make a world of difference for someone in need. I still remember the day a friend offered gentle encouragement by placing their hand on my shoulder and speaking softly. That simple act left a lasting impact on me. Begin with one person, and let your support ripple outward. Moreover, we must remember to encourage ourselves. Revisit the heartfelt messages from students and colleagues that remind you of your worth. These sincere words hold more weight than the criticisms of those who have never experienced the challenges of our profession.