Mr. Keating was fired . . .

It is the night before my 13th year of teaching. I find myself flipping through random channels as I thumb through a local newspaper that features two articles about education and teaching. As fate would have it, I find that I am just in time to start at the beginning of Dead Poets Society.

John Keating. . . . 

The untimely passing of Robin Williams a short time ago generated an appreciation for his many talents and movies. For educators especially, his role as John Keating served as the inspiration to join the ranks of education. As a senior in high school, I compiled a video compilation of movie clips that represented who I was and the aspirations I held for my life. Clips from Dead Poets Society were present in large quantities as I began my journey in education.

First Day of School . . . . 

I stifle a laugh as the opening scene unfolds. The film takes us from classroom to classroom as teachers begin their classes. There is the Latin instructor that firmly believes in the repetition strategy of instruction as the boys repeat a series of words over and over. We see the instructor that outlines all his rules and policies and warns the boys not to challenge him on these points. A few more introductions and coma-inducing procedure lectures leave the students waiting for more of the same as they wait for Keating to arrive. They are startled by a cheery whistle and sit in confusion as he leaves the room after gesturing for them to follow. It is here that we experience one of the most iconic moments of the film.

Carpé Diem . . . .

Gathered in a hall, the boys are surrounded by trophies, awards, medals and photographs of the glories achieved by the alumni. Keating encourages the boys to look into the faces of those that came before them as he whispers, “Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!

Disruption . . . .
The rest of the movie features additional moments where Keating is pushing and challenging not only his students, but the status quo of the traditionalist institution. It is hard to not smirk, or to break out in a wide grin when Keating challenges the notion that 17 year-old boys cannot be free thinkers. The sharing of the secret society that “sucks the marrow out of life” has us leaning in with delight for the beauty held within poetry. With the headmaster watching disapprovingly from above, Keating leads the boys through a lesson showing ease at which we fall into conformity by having the boys walk in the courtyard. From ripping pages from text books that describe mathematical formulas determining the success of poetry, standing atop desks to see the world from different point of view, and, the final straw, infusing the boys with the “carpé diem” spirit to such an extent that Todd defied his father’s orders and continued his acting. It was this rebellious act that ultimately led Todd to end his life – a life he couldn’t fathom living without acting- and Todd’s father to allege that it was the teachings of Keating that were to blame.

Reality. . . . 

Back to the local paper I was reading while channel surfing. One story focused on the disservice done by Hollywood by portraying teachers as saintly martyrs instead of active professionals (Mentors Not Martyrs). The article features several iconic teachers, and I realize, they all battled to teach the way that they believed in. Why? Why do we have to battle so much? I want to be a Keating-type of teacher for my students, but does this have to come with the price of potentially being removed from teaching? Is insubordination the worst thing I could do? 

Disruption. Creativity. Innovation. 

They certainly come with a price. I personally, have decided it is one that I will gladly pay. I’m sure there will be some technicality or minor error that will snowball into substantial reason to let me go. So far I have been reprimanded for requesting student emails (for crosschecking our database), saying the word “crap” (Junior High??), and being “too overwhelming” for some people with my enthusiasm/passion for teaching. At any rate- fear can cripple creativity and passion to the point of mediocrity. It is when egos supersede camaraderie,  protocol over personalization and control trumps creativity that kids are truly failed.

Mr. Keating was fired.


What is best for kids . . . .

Go ahead. Google the phrase “What is best for kids.”  You will get a long list of sites, blogs and information for administrators. One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is even listed on the first page-  so I don’t mean to present this as a completely negative outcome. 

My point is this: What is actually meant when administrators use the phrase “What is best for kids”?
On a day that teachers are attending building opening meetings, it seems to be the top catch phrase. 
I understand that for some situations, it may be said in an effort to make some hard choices, or to get outside of our own egos, comfortable spaces, old habits and fixed Mindsets. 
But does it carry an implied message? When it follows new procedures, policies, or assignment changes, it can feel manipulative, subversive, or at best, condescending. 
This last year I was shifted from my role teaching 7th grade English/Accelerated English to a schedule with three different Reading classes and three regular English classes. This shift also included being moved “off-team” from three fantastic educators that I worked with very well. 
When I asked for reasons for this shift, it came down to the need to fill positions with people that were “highly qualified” and this included moving a 9th grade teacher into 7th grade classes. This teacher was adamant about not wanting to teach 7th grade. She felt she was not a good fit with the – let’s say- energy level of that age group. 
The solution was to put her “on-team” where she would have “support.”
This move was filed under the phrase: We believe this is what is best for kids. 
I am incredibly grateful to have had the summer for reflection and “silver lining” finding, however, I still chew on this phrase. 
From my perspective, “what is best for kids” would be access to a teacher passionate about teaching the writing skills assigned to the 7th grade English  curriculum. A teacher who thoroughly enjoys the transformation of student during the 7th grade year from children to young adults. A teacher who works well with the teachers of the other subjects and meets on a daily basis. 
Is this the whole picture? No. It’s my perspective. Could there be more to it? Certainly. Are kids really going to be traumatized by this decision? Doubtful. 
I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to grow from this new challenge, as is the new 7th grade English teacher. We can’t change our situation, but we CAN change out attitudes. 

I continue to hear “What is best for kids” as the final line from administration. 

I would appreciate if ownership was taken that it is THEIR VIEW of “what is best for kids.”  I have wondered, “Why don’t they realize that is EXACTLY what I’m trying to do?”

Let’s talk. Let’s drop the lines that can imply a lack of effort, caring, intelligence and, especially, professionalism: what’s best for kids, just use common sense, etc.