the entire district.
Why is that?I mean, on the surface the job sucks.Not only is teaching amazingly, unreasonably stressful, it doesn’t pay that well, the health plan has degraded over time, loud voices in the community don’t support teachers’ efforts, and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel.No one is saying, “Yes, teaching is tough now, but if you just hang in, class sizes will go down, you will be given more autonomy in your classroom, and you will be given less bureaucratic responsibilities that take away from your teaching time.”
Nobody says that.
And yet, not that many teachers quit.In my thirty-two years at FMHS, I know of one teacher who resigned because he felt the district’s educational direction contradicted his own (he’s running a gift shop in Montana now), and another who retired early for the same reason.But that’s just two teachers in all that time.I know more teachers who had to quit because of mental breakdowns than ones who chose to go because of the work itself.
So, I think I’ve found the answer in Mr. Holland’s Opus.What I like about Mr. Holland’s Opus is that Mr. Holland is not an extraordinary
teacher.At least he’s not like Robin William’s in Dead Poet’s Society or Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smiles.Those teachers are superstars, icons to the teaching craft, who in their stories pull off teaching moments that mortal teachers aspire to but seldom reach (and certainly not on a day to day basis).No, Mr. Holland started off as an ordinary guy.He fell into teaching because it was his fallback job.He said that he was doing it because he could use the “spare time” to work on his own music—this line, by the way, elicited laughter from the audience when I saw the film, but only the teachers were laughing.
He’s not even a particularly good teacher when he starts.He’s impatient, somewhat insensitive, and, as an administrator pointed out to him, “You are quicker to the parking lot when the bell rings than your students.”
Something about the job got to him, though.Over time he changed.He became like what I see around me at FMHS and in this
district all the time.He didn’t have a job anymore.He was the job.Who he was and what he did became inseparable.
I said that he wasn’t an extraordinary teacher, but I think he wasn’t extraordinary because the teachers who surrounded him shared the same quality of “being” the job.
You know you’re in the right profession when “extraordinary” is the default setting.
When I hear discussions about teachers, when I hear people talking about teaching as if teachers were interchangeable parts and that the job can be described, quantified, and standardized; when I hear politicians attack teachers as if they were part of the problem, and that when teachers advocate for the their students by asking for smaller class sizes, more financial support, and
reasonable work conditions, that the teachers are not being “realistic,” I want to ask them, “Did you watch Mr. Holland’s Opus?
Because if you did, you wouldn’t wonder why teachers don’t quit.You would wonder why teachers aren’t on pedestals.
~Jim Van Pelt