Sit Out The Game

When I was starting out as a teacher, I learned that a number of my students were being privately tutored. It isn’t about your teaching, I was told. They just need the extra support at home

What I heard instead was: Despite your best efforts, your work with this student is not enough.

And it’s true. Teachers are not “enough”. They do not have the time to give independent attention to each of their students, whether a homeroom teacher of 30 or a departmentalized teacher of 150. There are not enough hours in the day, there is not enough fuel in their tanks. 

Still, the implication that “Your teaching / material / delivery / supporting work / pedagogy / grading system isn’t enough” is tough to swallow.

“You’re not enough” rings true when viewed through the lens of today’s competitive educational marketplace, which is chock full of tutors, coaches, consultants(!), ed therapists, and college admissions experts. 

Teachers know that they could be enough if they worked in a society that places learning above competition. If they didn’t work within a schedule that overlooks reflection time in learning. If they weren’t under pressure for the standardized test.

When education is viewed as a competition, the teacher is marginalized because learning becomes commodified. 

Look no further than the recent news about the college admissions scandal for evidence. Clearly, the teachers were not enough. The learning for learning’s sake was not enough. All the resources in the applicant’s K-12 schooling were not enough. The child’s best effort was not enough.

The pressure on parents to provide the best they can for their child is understandable and admired to a significant degree. This is an anxious age and parental comfort is found in the knowledge that they did everything they could for their child.

Yet no child should come to the realization that their parents paid a fortune for them because they didn’t believe they could do the work fairly and on their own. 

Another part of the scandal worth exploring is the parents need for validation through their offspring, even if the ultimate win is not the right fit for the child. 

Overall, the recent scandal reminds us that the “game” of education is cut-throat. It’s dog eat dog out there. Teachers can feel grateful that they’re not involved in that game. And they can continue to connect and build trust with their students and maintain belief that the difference they’re making matters at that moment and in the future.

The true and wonderful irony is that it does matter. This is true because teachers are building something far more important and influential. They are building the character of the next generation.

That is wonderful. Even if it means sitting out the game.


PS: I want to build a US high school that doesn’t acknowledge college as the end goal. No admissions interviews on campus, no test prep, no East Coast Spring Break college trip. Leave it all to the parents and families. AND I want to build a high school that prepares students for interviews, offers test strategies, and has an East Coast Spring Break college trip that’s fully funded…for students of proven low-income status who do not have the financial means and social capital to give their kids a fair shake. Anyone care to join me on either endeavor? Or do I “dare to dream”?


Nat Damon