Growing up I always felt supported that I could do just about anything I put my mind to. My mom was always silently strong and competent and my admiration for her grew as I learned how she made tough decisions in her young adulthood to build her own independence and became a pediatric nurse. In her small rural high school, she was told not to take higher level math courses because “girls didn’t need math.” As a child, she was my role model of how to be an exceedingly confidently competent woman. My dad was my stalwart encourager that being a girl should not stop me from my goals. Growing up sailing he would tell me that “any 200-pound suction footed gorilla” could haul in sheet lines or halyards and that as a girl I would need to be smarter. “Put another wrap around the winch” to raise the main sail or haul in the jib sheet, meaning I could get the job done just as well but that I would need to be smarter to take advantage of the mechanical benefits within the winch.
Growing up my dad and I talked science a lot and I knew there was a high value placed on the hard sciences. My summer evenings were often about what could I deduce, whether it was looking at the sky to determine weather, looking up at the stars and discussing astronomy, or even understanding the mechanical advantage of a winch. Being smart and competent were valued and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that was valued by my family and society. Somewhere around early elementary I knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably because I had amazingly caring teachers as a role models. My mom thought I might become an elementary teacher, but then middle school came along, complete with many bumps and bruises, and with it an extraordinary free-thinking middle school science teacher. This experience combined with ongoing science discussions with my dad and I knew where my future lay…the ability to encourage thinking about science amidst the chaotic din of middle school seemed where I was destined to be.
For the majority of my years in the classroom I had confidence that my students could do anything, that their future was wide open and encouraged – just as mine was. Now, I’m worried that it might not be. In the last few years, the societal climate has changed to valuing pseudo-science as real while debunking real science. This year was the first time I felt the need to address early in the school year the mass amount of misinformation my students face and how they truly must learn the skills to search for credible sources at their young age.
So now what?
I truly hope science and education becomes valued and supported again as we need scientists and teachers. It is unfortunate that I, and a few of my colleagues who have college-age children, have guided our own children out of teaching. Our (own) children would be wonderful teachers as they have lived with us and know how much we adore our students, how important we view our calling, and much care we put into our curriculum. But they have also sat by us during lesson planning and grading and know how much we take home at the end of the day. They also have watched us get frustrated at the dwindling support from society (but not necessarily from our students’ parents). The legislature has continually defunded education while piling on more responsibilities and “accountability” to correct and fix all the challenges in our students’ lives. The result is that we, as current teachers, will continue to teach until retirement but own children are off seeking a more “valued” career that is more rewarded by society. If the education tide returns to shore someday, maybe they will change careers and come “back” and join the classroom. If not, I worry whether anyone will be in the classroom for their children.