Friday, January 28, 2011

Rant #433: The Teaching Profession

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger catastrophe, where teacher Christa McAuliffe and her fellow crew members perished seconds after the Challenger lifted off its launch pad.

I guess for kids born in the 1970s, this is a major touchstone, much like the JFK assassination was for us baby boomers.

If you hadn't realized the world wasn't perfect prior to these happenings, you certainly did right after.

I remember that I was 28 years old and just really getting my feet wet as a productive member of the community. I had two jobs--I was a teaching sub during the day and in the evening, I worked at a real estate office as a clerk.

I needed both jobs, as although I was actively searching for a regular teaching job, I had to take what I could get, and what I could get was a job as a sub, probably the worst job in America. But what was I to do?

Anyway, my personal dream was almost over. I couldn't get a regular teaching job, I was engaged to my first wife, and I needed steady work. I had worked in the real estate office part-time, they knew what I could do, and it was at this point that I was transferring over to full-time work in that office.

I think I was still subbing here and there, but I was nearly at the point where I worked full-time in the real estate office.

I remember that as we worked, we turned on the radio so everyone could hear the blastoff. This was such an anticipated flight because of McAuliffe, the first teacher chosen to be sent into space.

She wasn't an astronaut, and I think most of us thought that she was one of us. If she could travel into space, maybe one day we would all get the opportunity.

Well, that opportunity faded as we listened to the report. Seconds after liftoff, the Challenger exploded. There were no survivors. To this day, we don't know if the crew died instantly or if they didn't.

But they were gone.

The world listened in horror as this happened.

In the office, as we busily were typing away and basically using the radio as sort of "white noise," everyone stopped what they were doing. We crowded around the radio to hear more.

"Could what we heard happened actually have happened?" we asked over and over.

And, of course, the answer was a resounding, "Yes!"

McAuliffe and her crewmembers are remembered, not because they were the first to perish in man's quest to conquer space, but because of the young teacher on board. Numerous schools are named after her, and there are many school programs in place in science that exist because of her.

But what of the profession she so proudly represented on this flight?

Way back when, I could not get a full-time teaching position, and alas, times continue to be tight today.

More and more school districts are closing schools, laying off teachers, and not giving young teachers a chance to show what they are worth.

New York City alone has closed dozens of schools in the past several years during the reign of Michael Bloomberg, and has laid off teachers at an alarming rate.

My daughter received her teaching degree last spring, and continues to be without a job. She can't even get an interview. She is basically biding her time for a few more months, and then I think her dream may have to take a back seat to reality, as happened to me 25 years ago.

Teaching has taken a big hit, and I don't know how long people like my daughter can hold out.

The profession will lose these bright young minds, and they will never regain them.

Somehow, I don't think this was the message McAuliffe was taking with her into outer space 25 years ago, and the children born in her aftermath, like my daughter, who strived to become the next generation of teachers, are not being permitted to live out their dreams.

Who to blame? Well, I honestly don't know.

All that I know is that when the need for teachers arises again--and it will, this is a cyclical thing--I don't know if my daughter and others like her will be available.

Like me, they will have turned their backs on the profession they hoped to pursue.

It was a shame 25 years ago, and it is a shame now too.

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