A Bold Battle Cry for Teachers: 'I Teach Students, Not Subjects'

Teachers, parents, and administrators are raising their voices louder, and in solidarity, as unrealistic demands for students are being handed down from education policy makers and corporate reformers.
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Teachers, parents, and administrators are raising their voices louder, and in solidarity, as unrealistic demands for students are being handed down from education policy makers and corporate reformers. It is becoming apparent that we've had enough of the testing, enough of the scripted, fake curriculum, and enough of the crowded, underfunded classrooms where we can't possibly reach all of our students, daily, in any sort of a meaningful way.

I want to talk about educating the WHOLE child today -- the child who has dreams and aspirations, the child who has feelings and emotions, and the child who wants nothing more than to feel loved and understood.

It's time to talk about Leigh, the child who is artistic, and who can sketch pictures light-years beyond her age, and Jerome, the child who is musically gifted and can play the trumpet like no one you've ever seen!

The time is now to discuss Vihann, the child who has entered this country, and is learning to speak English, as well as Precy, the child who has arrived from a war-torn region, and just needs safety and warmth.

Let's converse about Andrew, the child who has a love of robotics, and can build just about any kind of machine you discuss with him, and Abigale, the child who equally loves reading and writing science-fiction works.

While we are at it, let's have a chat about Jason, the child who arrives to school hungry each day, because there isn't enough food in the house, or Evelyn, the child who is so overridden by anxiety, that the single act of stepping into the school building is a massive success for the day.

Maybe we should talk about Eva, the child who is going through so many changes right now, emotionally, that all she really needs is love, or Michael, the child who just discovered that he will be moving to a homeless shelter after the final school bell rings today.

Welcome to the world of an average classroom, filled with exceptional, unique students, and teachers who know exactly what is needed to nurture and inspire the youth of America.

But here's the problem...

Students like Leigh and Jerome don't even get a chance at exploring their artistic talents, because these classes have been removed from schools -- either due to budget cuts, or most likely, and even more sadly, because there isn't "time" for artistic endeavors due to testing demands.

Students like Vihann and Precy who need ample time to adjust to their new surroundings -- not to be thrown into the testing culture and made to sit in overcrowded classrooms, where they can't get the one-on-one help they deserve.

Students like Andrew and Abigale most likely won't be able to explore their love of robotics and science-fiction, because these areas aren't tested, and therefore are not given any instructional time allotted to them.

And for students like Jason, Evelyn, Eva and Michael -- it is imperative that they have their basic needs met, before they can even begin to focus on curriculum and content. The terrible news is that guidance counselors are being shared between schools and positions cut completely, and it's unlikely these students will get the support they need.

These are the untold stories and realities teachers and students are facing in public schools. As teachers, we are constantly searching and providing support of this nature for our students, offering a hug when needed, and bringing in extra granola bars and juice so we can feed those who are hungry.

All of these points illustrate how a teacher's influence extends well beyond the curriculum he or she has been hired to teach. These "subjects" are not in our curriculum; however, they are the essential life, social, and emotional skills which will help our students grow as individuals.

Thus, a personal mantra I have lived by for 17 years goes like this: "I teach students, not subjects." This seemingly-obvious approach to education focuses on preparing our children to succeed in life, rather than teaching to a jam-packed curriculum with room only for academic knowledge. Yes, academics are essential, but critical thinking skills, social skills, life skills, and a healthy emotional well-being help bridge the gap between book knowledge and applied knowledge.

It's time for a battle cry to ring loud and clear -- a cry that defines student-centered education reform. It's time for a battle cry to unite the teachers across this country, so we can stand together and fight for a quality education for our students. It's time for a battle cry which speaks volumes about why we entered the teaching profession in the first place. It's time for a battle cry that illustrates exactly why we do, what we do, day-in and day-out.

It's time for teachers to cry out, in this battle for public education reform, and use our voices to reiterate, over and over: "I teach students, not subjects."

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