I was never a good student. I didn’t get along with many of my teachers and didn’t take the majority of my education that seriously until I was in my early to mid-twenties when I decided to become a teacher. My experience as a youth who struggled academically is what motivated me to become a teacher and hopefully add to and push the profession into a place that would be more accommodating and inclusive of students’ needs.
It is the memory of resisting teachers and struggling in school that informs my perspective of how and why I teach. I come from a school of thought that believes that the purpose of public education is for social and political action. It’s the idea that we should equip students with the tools to participate in democratic life and be active citizens within their worlds.
This is the reason I teach. It’s what motivates me to work with youth to hopefully empower them to create a more democratic and just world for themselves.
As I began my career in teaching, I started my practicum at a school in my hometown. I was extremely excited to finally learn the craft that I was so passionate about. Unfortunately, my mentor teacher had a different idea. She believed that it was her job to mold me into a teacher that was very undemocratic.
She made me line students up outside the classroom and demand their silence before they could enter the room. She taught me that it was unacceptable to allow students to challenge my ideas in the classroom and worst of all, she taught me that teaching was about how well you can control student behaviour.
I fundamentally disagreed with these practices and any time I didn’t follow her policy she would punish me. She told me I was a terrible teacher, she reported my “bad teaching” to my university and even publicly evaluated my teaching in the lunch room in front of other teachers.
This experience left me shattered and insecure about my future in education. I allowed her words to infiltrate my own purpose and drive for education. I loved teaching so much but did not want to be a bad teacher within the educational system. I had two choices. I felt I should either quit and find another profession, or fight for what I loved and work on my skills as a teacher.
I decided to fight and struggle. I spent the next two years unemployed looking for someone to take a chance on me. I know I didn’t come off as a traditional teacher and I’m sure my lack of confidence and insecurity came out in the few times I even had the chance at an interview. I was lost within a profession that I loved and felt that there wasn’t a place for me within it.
After getting my foot in the door with a few teaching experiences it wasn’t until 2011, with a chance to move to Edmonton, that my first authentic opportunity finally came. I was hired at a school for at-risk youth in inner-city Edmonton. When I entered the classroom, I saw a room full of students who felt as shattered and insecure as I did when I was a student and how I felt as a teacher at that time.
Together, my students and I worked to build our confidence as learners. As we worked on our skills, my students made me feel that I was actually helping them. My confidence began to grow and I started believing in my abilities as a teacher. Over the past three years, I have had the utter privilege of learning alongside my extremely resilient and intelligent students. I just hope that I have been able to give them close to the experience that they have given me.
This brings me to the point of why I am telling my story. If you’re a teacher reading this, I want to you think about why we teach. What is the purpose of us standing up in front of a group of youth each day? Is it to teach them how to get a job? Or, do we want them to learn the value of justice and citizenship? Whatever the reason was that we chose to become teachers, I would bet that at some point we chose this profession because we felt we could make a difference in young people’s lives.
When we dreamed of becoming teachers, I’m sure that almost every signal one of us did not imagine ourselves teaching the values, skills, and ethics that were determined by corporations. I’m sure that we dreamed of a school that was a hub for the community where parents, teachers, students, and community members worked to give the best education possible to our youth.
Unfortunately, we are faced with a reality where corporate involvement in education is becoming more pervasive. Corporations are influencing our schools, curriculum, and even the way teachers teach. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think corporations have the same interests for our students as we do. We want our students to become intelligent and ethical people who care about the world they live in.
Corporations on the other hand are legally obligated to be focused on maximizing profit and ensuring there are workers for them. And as we know as educators, education is not a business. Preparing students for the life of work is just one aspect of our role as teachers. More importantly, we work to ensure that students have the opportunity to pursue their passions and become the people that will create a better world.
In the past, teachers, parents, students, and community members came together to ensure a strong public education that would work for all students. We still have a long way to go to fulfill that dream, but if we understand that ordinary people can have just as much power as the powerful, then we can ensure that education remains a public good.
And in order to do that, we have to continue our history of parents, teachers, students, and community members working together to create the best public education possible. It’s important to do this because if we don’t act, corporate involvement in our education system can drastically change the type of people our students will become. Our students are more than workers and consumers. They are intelligent, creative, and resourceful youth who can be a force for good in the world.
If we don’t act to stop corporate influence in our education system, we will cease to engage our students in actual education. Corporate education will reduce teaching and education to training students how to get jobs. The art of teaching will be lost as we become a cog in the wheel of transferring knowledge and skills from a textbook, computer, or ’21st Century” gadget to students.
So, right now, I’m asking you to join me in an effort to resist corporate involvement in public education in Alberta (and hopefully across Canada and the globe too). Let’s take a stand for our students to make sure they have the opportunity for a healthy, democratic, and equitable education. If you can, please take a few moments of your time and complete this form to join us.
Dan Scratch is a social studies teacher at Inner-City High School in Edmonton, Alberta. He is a social justice advocate and believes that education can be used as a tool to empower youth to become critically engaged citizens who use their power to transform their lives and participate in the world around them.