Monday, November 07, 2005

A misuse of resources?

Someone wrote to me today asking,*

"...why, after graduating from an Ivy league school like Stanford did you decide to become a school teacher? Isn't it kind of a misuse of a very expensive education that many (me included) can't even hope to achieve?

Do you think it is an optimum allocation of educational resources and funds? Did you plan all the time on becoming a teacher or was it a mid-study decision?"

I felt a little defensive at first, but here's what I wrote back in the end:

I thought I might go to law school and become a child advocacy lawyer and eventually a judge. I wanted more on the ground experience working with the families whose rights I would be defending, and I wasn't ready to start a law program - needed a break from being in school - so I applied to Teach For America. Once I started teaching, I found it a real intellectual and personal challenge and also found that the types of cases I would work on as a lawyer were not in any way, shape, or form clear-cut or necessarily the best way to make policy regarding children. And I became involved in starting a school. So I decided to stay in teaching.

Teaching is a highly complex task with extremely important outcomes at both the individual and societal level. At the moment, it may be undervalued by society, but that doesn't mean going into teaching is a waste of a Stanford education. In addition, the field of education is one in which I have already begun to take some leadership roles - at the moment, within my school, but quite possibly on a larger scale in a few years. I will be paying off my loans for some time, true, but would I truly be happier having chosen a more lucrative profession simply because it makes better economic sense? That's not how I go about making decisions about what I do with my life. Obviously, economic reality plays a role in my choices (and just for the record, I'm not a trust-fund kid or anything, my parents are also educators), but it is not the deciding factor.

I would add now that I was raised to believe in - within reason - education for education's sake. I went to the school where I thought I would learn most, in and out of classes, and I think it was a good decision. My world is far, far broader and richer as a result of my experience in college. Of course, this is not to say that less expensive colleges couldn't provide a similar experience; I can only say that I do not, for an instant, regret going into debt to pay for college. I never saw it as an investment in my future earning potential, more as investment in myself as a human being and as a citizen. I hope I can share with my students the same commitment to seeking out opportunities to learn and to grow.

*By the way, M., if you don't want to be quoted, just shoot me a line and I'll take this post down.


Anonymous Chris Lehmann said...

Well, as another non-trust fund baby who took his private college education and became a teacher...

1) I loved college. I loved the professors I studied with, and I loved the academic challenges I faced and I loved the powerhouse intellectualism on campus.

2) Being a teacher is the most powerful form of grass-roots activism that I can imagine. It challenges me every day, and it often requires all of my intellectual and emotional resources to do it well.

We should never have to apologize or explain away why we made the choices we made. We need more Ivy League public school teachers, not fewer.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Johanna said...

I'm yet another non-trust fund kid with a private college education who opted to join TFA and stayed in teaching (for the time being anyway). Thanks for so articulating putting into words what I have long wanted to say in response to those (including my parents) who think I am wasting my talents in the classroom.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Chris C. said...


12:28 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Thank you for teaching Ms. F. You make the profession look good...not because you're some Ivy-grad, but because you are good teacher. You think hard about your work, and you enact your lessons with care and energy.

You rock.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Shelly said...

I plan to share this with first year teachers. Thank you for your insights.

12:07 PM  
Blogger feetonrock said...

Ms. Frizzle,

I found a link to your blog on Mrs. Krech's Earth Science Page. I was doing research for a curriculum development project for a course I'm taking at the Harvard Extension School. I promised myself I'd do some reading for my class today so I have to run off. But before I go I just want you to know that you, as so many other good people, are inspiring me to follow a dream to be a teacher. I have subbed and tutored for about a year. Now I'm taking my first graduate level class. I applaud your defense of teaching for the Ivy educated. I graduated from Cornell U. back in the Stone Age and if I'm lucky enough to call may self a teacher someday not a drop of that education will be wasted.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Aunt Murry said...

My father was a teacher. He did not go to an Ivy League school but taught me to appreciate my teachers. What an awesome job you have especially with 7th graders. That is the most interesting year, I think. They are not quite kids and they are not quite teens and most kids really find themselves that year and teachers can be a great influence. I don't think your education could ever be 'wasted' by being a teacher. I think of all the people that influenced me in my life and a lot of them are my teachers. I can't believe that someone can be so closed minded. I commend you on taking one of the hardest jobs you will probably ever have.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Mr. AB said...

'Ere, 'ere. I also elected to spend a lot of my family's little money on acquiring a top-notch (Univ. of Chicago) education. I also declined to apply for law school and stay a lowly classroom teacher. It warms my heart to see another bright person defend spending their intellectual resources in public K-12 education... now if only there were a few more at my school...

6:55 PM  

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