Joco Opinion

For our students’ sake, we teachers need to transform ourselves

Luke Henke
Luke Henke

We are dying.

Pre-service teacher enrollment is down 25% nationwide when most other college programs are growing. About one-quarter of teachers leave the profession within five years. Burnout, apathy, stagnation — while not exclusive to teaching, occur at a higher rate in this emotionally charged career, one often referred to as “the most noble profession.”

Negative press, scandals, school shootings and politics have degraded the image of the institution we know and love. The education system will never cease to exist — but to survive and thrive to successfully prepare our students, education must change. It must be reborn.

This process will not be easy. Just as the butterfly must struggle out of the cocoon, must we also struggle out of this dire situation. Ultimately though, this effort will result in drastic change, a metamorphosis of our profession.

We don’t teach for personal gain or earthly security. We do it for our students. We desire their personal success beyond our own and will sacrifice much to see them find theirs. Our shared goal is success in college or in a career, preparing them with the necessary skills and technical knowledge to confidently contribute to society. But to do so, it will be necessary to provide equal access to resources, safety and support, paired with a desire to radically transform and redesign education with a new focus on innovation.

What will it take? Desks not arranged like tombstones, students collaborating but also individually empowered, workplace experience before they ever apply for a job, and the ability to self-regulate to accomplish whatever they set out to do. This is just the beginning of this metamorphosis. Hopefully, we can embrace it.

The Kansans Can School Redesign Project is helping schools begin the messy process of school transformation built around the community and the students’ needs. Take a good look at the world today as compared to when you went to high school: Is it the same? What’s changed? What do the youth of today need that we didn’t dream about?

Please don’t ask kids what they are going to school for. Instead, prepare them to answer the question, “What are you passionate about?” Passion will sustain them. So many students lose that passion, lose a love for learning, lose that inquisitiveness through a system that no longer meets their lifelong needs. Plus, many of them change their major two to three times before settling in, and 65% of the jobs our students will have in the future don’t yet exist today.

We happen to be caretakers of this antiquated system that is streamlined for production, not passion. If we do not change, if we do not transform, we will die and take the next generation with us.

Just as each butterfly differs, so does each school. Change must reflect the community and its future, not the past. The future forces us to peer into the unknown, but an unknown full of possibility and promise. That is why I teach.

My philosophy is to teach students how to think, not what to think. It’s time we made good on this promise and be the voice of change for our students. It can be easy and comfortable to stay complacent with what we’ve always done and how we’ve always done it.

But that will never serve the heart of why we signed up to teach. We bear too much to remain as we were. It’s time for teachers to step out of the shadows and embrace the cocoon.

Caution: You’ll be changed to goo before you become that new form of beauty, educators. But my oh my, will it be magnificent to behold.

Luke Henke is a high school math teacher from Columbus, Kansas.