David Lee Finkle is a middle-school teacher in Florida who draws the comic strip “Mr. Fitz” for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He has done some unusual work in this space, including this moving series of cartoons in which he tells the story of his own depression, which he says is the the result of the changes reform has brought to his classroom and his profession. Finkle is the author of books for teachers on student writing and of three young adult novels: “Making My Escape” as well as “Portents” and “Portals” (co-authored with his son, Christopher). His comic strip can be found online at www.mrfitz.com and at the Facebook page Mr. Fitz Comic Strips, and you can follow him on Twitter @DLFinkle. He blogs at The Real Mr. Fitz.
Here is a new post from him about being a teacher, looking at the job as it is today from a different point of view. A version appeared on his blog.
By David Lee Finkle
My family has been having some summer fun catching up on the “Mission: Impossible” movies and seeing the new one, “Mission: Impossible, Rogue Nation.” In nearly every one of this films, there is a mole in the Impossible Missions Force, or a betrayal in IMF, or a shutdown, or a disavowal. Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise’s character, is nearly always on the run from his own organization. He is blamed for its failures. His successes are never really appreciated, or at least only appreciated during the last five minutes of a given movie before it all goes downhill again in the next one. In nearly every movie, he not only has to do his job, he has to work against his own organization’s dysfunction to get it done. Why does he even keep working for the IMF? It’s ludicrous!
But Cruise/Ethan just keeps on going, through near drownings, car chases, motorcycle chases, skyscraper climbs — and even death (getting resuscitated not once but twice). He keeps on going in the face of attempted IMF shutdowns and despite being made a scapegoat, going on the run as a desperate fugitive. He keeps doing it because he… believes in the mission.
And then I realized that maybe the series wasn’t so ludicrous after all.
As a public school teacher, I work for an organization that often betrays its own ideals. It often betrays mine, that’s for sure. I work for an organization that numerous other organizations are working hard to shut down. I have to go undercover sometimes, or go rogue. If I were in this profession for the pay, the ease of the job, or any overall measure of job satisfaction, I would quit. But I keep going.
I believe in the mission.
As public school teachers, we may not be sneaking into secure facilities and engaging high speed chases and shootouts, but our mission is just as urgent as the IMF’s, and the things we’re up against are often nearly as sinister.
Public school teachers: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to invest in students using every bit of compassion, teaching skill, creativity, passion, and insight you have. You will be given students from all walks of life, at all skill levels, and with all kinds of social, emotional, family, economic, cognitive, motivational, and attitudinal difficulties.You will try to reach them all to the best of your ability. Your mission is not just to convey information or skills, but to make your subject come alive. Success will look different for every student, but you will know it when you see it.
As if all these challenges were not enough, you will be faced with budget shortfalls that will force you to spend your own money on classroom supplies. You will have to resist mandates, programs, and ideas that you know will hurt your students. You will have to speak up on their behalf and battle the forces of standardization. You will be scapegoated, stereotyped, and called names. You will be forced to go rogue to do what’s right for your students. You will be forced to have a higher, clearer vision of education than many administrators possess, a better vision than any politician has.
Your mission is not to invest in high-stakes test scores, but to invest in students as people, to help them have hope and a future.
All of that being said, is it any wonder that so many of our “agents” are choosing to leave the field? Betrayal and espionage make for suspenseful, entertaining spy movies. They don’t make good education policy.
The public school system will self-destruct unless we do something to stop it.