Want to foster great writing? Support teachers.
I spend a fair amount of time worrying about whether the things I love and cherish will continue to be around, whether they will remain vital.
Will the Cubs maintain their division lead and go on to another World Series? Will we stop cooking the planet in time to keep my house above water and the air we breathe compatible with life?
Will we figure out how to make college affordable for anyone qualified to go? Will great books continue to be available to readers, sold at wonderful bookstores? Will subsequent generations of young people continue to read those books with as much pleasure as I’ve had?
Which brings me to the thing I’m most worried about this week: The damage we’ve done to teachers and their profession. A recently released survey by PDK International, a nonprofit association for educators, found that for the first time in the survey’s nearly 50-year history, a majority of parents (54 percent) would not want their children to become schoolteachers.
It’s not hard to see why parents would feel that way. A report by the Economic Policy Institute finds that teacher pay lags 18.7 percent behind those with similar education. For three presidential administrations in a row, federal education policy has been aligned around establishing “test and punish” policies, which have stripped teachers of their autonomy and sent them chasing one initiative after another.
That campaign served to erode public trust in teachers through no fault of their own.
Teachers create readers and, by extension, writers. I know this, because I experienced it as a child at Greenbriar School in Northbrook.
I was an eager reader before entering school, but it was my teachers who helped to foster my nascent interest into a lifelong passion and ultimately my avocation. Most of what I’ve learned about writing I experienced in grade school, which is why I’ve dedicated a forthcoming book — “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities” — to those teachers.
It was in school where I learned that writing is done for the benefit of readers, that we must write with purpose and clarity. In sixth grade, once I’d run out of textbooks, I was allowed the freedom to explore whatever the library held. I even did my first teaching, tutoring first graders on their reading.
My teachers believed me capable of learning, and by and large, trusted me to follow my own interests. They praised me when I was being clever and gently guided me when cleverness lapsed into something closer to stupidity.
They empowered me.
It’s just not clear to me how we get anywhere without teaching being a desirable, sustainable profession — one able to recruit bright new talent, one where teachers are supported and trusted as the professionals they are.
Without teachers, we will not have the next generation of readers, of writers. What a terrible thought.