Reflecting on priorities of family & work

What Do Teachers and Ex-Football Players Have in Common?


It’s nearing the start of football season and the beginning of school for most students and teachers – two distinct happenings that inspire optimism and apprehension in fans and students alike. For me – its optimism as a USC Trojan fan and apprehension as a NY Jets fan. The coinciding starts of football and the school year have me thinking about concussions and teacher shortages. In California alone – there are thousands of teacher vacancies. There are also projected to be millions of concussions in youth sports the year, disproportionately attributed to football.

If you know my son, you know that he is clearly not going to play football – he’s not huge (physically or motivation-wise) on playing football (or sports in general) so I don’t have to worry about him there. Even if he were, I’m not sure if we’d allow him (ok – I know my wife wouldn’t have it). More and more athletes who play or used to play football are not allowing their own kids to play because of the concussion risks. I personally don’t have a strong belief here one way or the other on kids playing football.

But would I encourage him to be a teacher?

My son – ever changing his mind on what he wants to be when he grows up – proclaimed to me a few weeks ago he wants to be a teacher. As a former teacher of 9 years and principal of 5, I didn’t know how I felt about that. A mix of emotions rushed through my head – pride, sorrow, happiness, frustration, et. al. I flashed back to my time in the classroom and the toll all of those emotions took on me as a teacher – especially in the more recent years during the time of scripted curriculum and teaching to the test. I wouldn’t quite describe it as a post-concussive thing, but there are parallels.

My son is super creative and compassionate – two traits that should be celebrated in teachers, but are more often than not pushed to the side in the name of uniformity and stoicism (don’t smile before winter break anyone?). In the current state of education, my son will not thrive as a teacher. In fact, it may crush his soul. I am hopeful things are changing in education, but given the normally cyclical nature of the industry what will it be like in a dozen years when he’s ready to enter the workforce? There are a couple of trends which are starting to gain traction in education that will hopefully elevate the profession and promote autonomy with intentionality in teaching.

  1. Focus on Social-Emotional Learning and Mindset Development: There’s a been a huge and deserved focus on academic success during the past 15 years of No Child Left Behind. However, other important aspects of schooling have been pushed to the sidelines in an either/or battle of academic knowledge vs. social-emotional wellness (what many call soft skills). The truth is that teachers who develop their students’ social-emotional well-being have an easier time advancing their academic learning as well; and the field is starting to recognize that more and more.
  2. Teaching has been about success on mathqdefaulth and English bubble tests. Teachers were told by their schools and districts to shelve Science, History, Art, PE,and other classes for test prep. Even Prezbo on the Wire confronted this when his principal told him to stop teaching project-based math and focus only on the sample English Language test questions because that’s what the school is being evaluated on.  Watching how demoralized he was as a first-year teacher trying to make a difference and being told not to was depressing.
  3. Technology is providing more and more opportunities for teachers to personalize learning for their students and change their role as teachers. I’m actually the most bullish on this development over any other. In fact, I start a new job next week focused on just this (more in my next post on why I would leave a perfectly great job for this new one). I reflect on how much time I spent on mundane tasks in my classroom (i.e. grading papers, sorting data using a spreadsheet, et. al.) and how much more of the truly impactful stuff I could have been doing (i.e. mentoring students, working with small groups and one-on-one, developing projects, differentiating, et. al.) if technology was then where it is now today.

Teachers leave the classroom for all sorts of reasons. More and more, they’re leaving the classroom disheartened and disrespected – not treated as professionals, not supported to grow and improve in the craft of teaching, and not being able to make decisions, based on data, in the best interests of their students. I know my son would not do well in this type of environment.

At the end of the day, I would not discourage my son (or daughter for that matter) from going into teaching – I’d just prepare them for what’s ahead and coach them on how to handle it and get the most out of their chosen profession. I think back to the summer of 1993. I decided I didn’t want to go to medical school and wanted to become a teacher instead. The decision was fairly easy – breaking it to my parents (my mom) was not. She was a teacher and thought I was crazy for wanting to follow in her footsteps. In the end, it was the right decision for me and my mom’s protestations better prepared me mentally for the challenges ahead. If one or both of my kids make a similar decision to go into teaching, I’ll celebrate and support them – because they have chosen one of the most rewarding professions – even with all of the frustrations. Besides, there are far fewer concussions in teaching than in football.

Here’s to hoping the profession will be ripe for young, energetic, creative, and passionate individuals like my son and that they’ll get treated with the dignity and respect deserved – in the end, that’s the only thing that will truly break this teacher shortage.

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