This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Recently, I was contacted by a producer at NBC who wanted to set up an interview with me and Jenna Bush as part of the Education Nation coverage. The interview fell through, but I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would say if given the chance to discuss teaching live on national television. Here, I compose my would-be interview:
Simulated Jenna Bush: So, Molly, what keeps teachers going these days?
For me, it’s been finding a community of support such as the Philadelphia Writing Project and veteran teachers who have been an invaluable resource to me. Also, the small successes and moments of joy in the classroom buoy you from one year into the next, as corny as it sounds.
SJB: What are the day-to-day challenges of a teacher?
The high-pressured atmosphere induced by high-stakes testing has created a tense, stifling working environment for many teachers. It’s an ever-present reality that teachers and students must perform well on tests but the negative byproducts are watered-down curriculum and teacher panic/burnout.
SJB: How do we value and respect teachers in today’s society?
Beyond being compensated for their worth, I would say that teachers could be shown respect and validation by having their voices included in the reform process. Too few decision makers have the context of classroom experience to help inform them and too few teachers are consulted in the reforms that change their classrooms. I would also say that giving teachers the flexibility and creativity to develop their practice is a sign of great respect. Provide teachers with the leadership, support, and resources they need to teach well, and they will thrive.
SJB: How do you explain the public education crisis? How did it get so bad?
Well, Jenna, I can’t pretend to have enough expertise or wisdom to hold the answer to that question, but I will say that I believe it has to do with neglect. What happens to a house that gets neglected? It slowly starts to fall apart. It becomes unsafe, and might even become a haven for unsafe behavior. It gets overlooked and overlooked and overlooked until it gets so ugly that no one wants to look at it. The truth is we have neglected countless schools, communities and children in this country and it has gotten very ugly. But we have to look at it. We can’t rely on quick fixes either. We have to be willing to do the harder, more fundamental structural work required to make it function again. And we each have to realize that we have a stake in doing this work. We don’t do it out of the goodness of our hearts; we do it because our community wants to thrive and will not without quality schools.