Why would anyone have remained a teacher when… ?

Dear Everyone,

Not long after I began teaching Language Arts at the high school level in a Chicago suburb, I underwent very serious surgery that was unexpected. When I returned to the classroom, I was still healing and would be for many months to come. I asked several teachers in my department for any materials they were willing to share with me.

Although I knew I would do my best for my students each and every day, I was under no delusions that I was at my best. Teaching is not easy.

Those teachers and others gave me more than I ever expected. They also gave me personal notes on what they thought I should try along with suggestions on how to do it. I learned from them as they supported me. We talked whenever we could – bursts of advice and suggestions. It was an amazing experience for me. This went on for the entire school year.

I cannot tell you how thankful I was and am to those teachers and the others who simply got me through a major personal crisis.

Needless to say, I learned that life and learning are cooperative and not competitive.

Because I realized that I was ever beholden to them for what they did for me, I strove to be my best to them and for them. For years my mind was filled with the message, “Don’t screw it up.” I was not about to let what I learned from them be wasted. Friendships and trusts developed.

None of this should be surprising to most people.

But, there is something more, much more, about what actually happened.

As teachers, they all wanted the children in my classes to learn. Yes, they behaved in the best interests of children who were not under their direct care. Big children – teenagers. These children have needs just as kindergarteners do. Sometimes, even bigger needs.

I have often felt that the students I had that year received better teaching than I had ever been capable of before my surgery.

Parents don’t always know what goes on on the other side of the desk. Students don’t always know this either.

How could I not want to teach, learn, relearn, and do my best working with teachers such as those?

By the way, a few of those teachers were pains in the neck about lots of things over the years. There were even a few (?) I argued with. So what. They were teachers, not gods. Their list of imperfections is nearly as long as my own list of imperfections. My students and their parents also had imperfections galore. As for imperfections in administrators… So what. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”

As a retired public school teacher who never wore rose colored glasses, I clearly see what kept me teaching; and this situation is merely one that stands out in my mind.

Teaching is a career, not just a job.


– Ken Previti

AND – I’m still learning. Here I am at the Network for Public Education National Conference in Austin at the University of Texas in March of 2014 supporting public education for all.

Ken at NPE



About Ken Previti

This entry was posted in civic duty, fairness, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why would anyone have remained a teacher when… ?

  1. dianarog11 says:

    Ken, This is what worried me most the first time I ever heard of VAM. Teaching is collegial, not competitive. My teaching (and my students) benefit immeasurably (and I mean immeasurably–it cannot be measured on a test) by the collaboration among teachers that I experience with the wonderful teachers I work with. They are generous and kind not only when a personal situation means I need extra help, but at all times. And you are right. Their generosity makes me want to do my best to make a meaningful contribution to our common work. We work together and share freely. There are things older teachers know because of age and experience, and and there are things that younger teachers know because of the times in which they grew up and went to school. We all benefit from each others’ ideas, knowledge, and skills. VAM pits teachers against other teachers competing for limited rewards, and these rewards are not even based on reliable evidence. It’s just a terrible idea.

  2. I, too, was very fortunate to teach in such a department…just a few burbs away from you. I remember the day a first-year teacher was planning a lesson for evaluation and was frantic…she needed help. Within five minutes, she had ideas/lesson plans/handouts from five teachers working in our Writing Center. She was overwhelmed with gratitude, but it was behavior I saw constantly over my 34 years. We tutored any student – not just our own. We collaborated on lesson plans in levels/specific courses. We had a very large number of co-taught classes. I can’t imagine being in a situation like VAM that could cause such conflict, competitiveness, jealousy and selfishness. As Diana said, it is horrible and I am so glad I am retired.

    • Ken Previti says:

      I had five years experience in another school system and was in my second year at that school when I needed surgery. The kids definitely benefited from my incapacitation.

  3. sharsand2013 says:

    We cannot survive as a nation without a excellent free public education system for all from pre-K through college. But, we need to direct our energies and our conversatons to the universities that spit out teachers without real training in the skills of teaching, creative teaching strategies, history, civic, behavior management, and either not let them become teachers at all or give them remediation instead of blaming unions that come to the support of a few teachers–right or wrong.. Yes, there are some whom are not equipped to ever be good teachers, but it’s the job of the universities to stop them before they’re out in the school syste–but instead, they’re pushed through the system; some are not well-educated enough themselves to be excellent teachers. The programs need to be much more rigorous. But, we must put the blame for the few bad apples where it belongs–on the teacher-training institutes, refusals by the universities to eliminate putting poor-quality candidates in the field, we must also blame ineffective and principals for poor public schools, but we cannot allow the media to keep using us as their whipping-boys (and girls). Universities must be forced to weed out those who don’t have their hearts in it to teach. And we certainly cannot determine a teacher’s ability if she/he teaches in the inner city compared to the North Shore. Different populations, as we all know, bring very different results–though Gates and others either don’t want to know it or don’t care.

    Meanwhile, with no real outcry in the press, only 50% of charter school teachers need to be certified. We have no idea what they’re teaching, what their salaries are, and what the CEO’s are stealing from the taxpayer. Outrageous–double-standards and we accept it. Groups like Reclaim Reform and Diane Ravitch’s blog are doing an excellent job of exposing the corruption and attempts to destroy everything except private profits. We also have the creeping into our curriculums of one religion–teaching comparative religions should be an elective class, but where’s the separation of church and state.

    We need to broaden our audience in having our voices heard–a very difficult task with a corporate media with a political agenda.. But we cannot allow Gates, Koch, Bllomberg,etal to determine testing for everyone or implement charter schools with no accountability with taxpayer money. We must be more aggressive in our approach–even though people like Ken and others are. We must get at the root of the problems: they’re political, our corporations don’t pay taxes in Illinois, money is not the problem–misuse by underfunded pension trust funds and excessive fees to fund managers are the problem. 73% of Illinois corporations pay no taxes. We need to divert attention away from the nonsense about public pensions we worked for, collective bargaining and a few bad apples–we need to be much more pro-active. We don’t need to defend ourselves, we need to go on the attack. And we need to wake up to the Koch/ALEC neo-liberal, libertarian, plutocratic, New Dem plan to destroy everything public. This is not based on a conspiracy theory; the facts are there to prove it.

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