Wanted: Creative and Smart People

April 21, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Jane Fung, NBCT, is a first-grade teacher in Los Angeles. The views expressed in this blog are her own.
“If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” When award-winning educator Nancie Atwell recently uttered these words, the press was quick to interpret her words as, don’t go into teaching right now. She went on to explain, “It’s an intellectual enterprise, and that’s been stripped from it by the current climate.”

Well, I beg to differ. Although teaching is hard and the challenges are many, creativity is exactly what is needed, and utilized most in classrooms today.

I understand the concern, and the problems Atwell worries about are not new; years ago I overheard a colleague counseling her student teacher to look at other professions before she was stuck being a teacher. This broke my heart, and the spirit of that student teacher. Like Atwell, this teacher must have felt that she could not use her creative talents in the classroom.

Instead of encouraging creative and smart people to look in the private sector, I invite them to consider teaching.

Yes, the demands put on classroom teachers today can be overwhelming, at times unrealistic, and the stakes are high.

When I started teaching 28 years ago, I was given autonomy to teach students using lessons, strategies and units I chose or created. There was no mandate to use scripted programs or follow strict common timelines. My colleagues and I were given grade-level standards and objectives that we were accountable for, and we also had the freedom to follow students’ interests and needs.

I remember creating an entire spring unit around the game of baseball. My students read stories, recited poetry, and read biographical material to gather information about baseball and teamwork. We wrote letters to some of the Los Angeles Dodgers asking them questions, and compiled the data when they wrote back. During PE, students learned the rules and skills of the game. They constructed miniature stadiums and baseball fields with blocks during center time.  And all the standards and objectives were covered.

I remember being in awe of all I saw during a visit to Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I so wanted to share my experience and expose my students to important works of art. We spent a good six weeks immersed in different periods of art, and learned all we could about the people and places from those time periods. Whenever I see former students post their pieces of artwork, I like to think that I helped foster and inspire some of that creativity way back when.

Teaching has changed, but I still feel that I have the ability to use my creativity in the classroom everyday. I may have a teacher’s guide to follow, pacing plans to adhere to, and assessments to administer, but I am the one that is teaching my students. I can still create different pathways for students to learn. I can add music, song, animation, or interactive experiences to make learning come alive. I don’t have to just read from a manual: I can make the lesson my own.

I witness amazing things happening in classrooms every day, led by talented, creative, and smart new educators who chose to come into teaching even in today’s conditions. They make schools safe and make learning accessible to all of students, finding ways to assemble resources and create opportunities that bring learning to life. They collaborate, communicate, and advocate for the children in our care.

With such diverse learners, strict mandates, and prescribed curriculum, we need creative and innovative people to come into teaching now more than ever.  

If Nancie Atwell’s quote discouraged anyone, I would like to say that if you want a job where each day will be as unique as the students you teach and the communities they come from, please consider teaching.  Our students and our profession need people like you. 

Jane Fung, NBCT

Jane Ching Fung, NBCT,  teaches first grade at Dr. Theodore T. Alexander Science Center School in urban Los Angeles. Her 28 years of teaching experience includes multiage (Preschool-2nd), Reading Recovery, and teacher credentialing classes at California State University, Northridge and the District Intern Program for LAUSD. Jane serves as a guiding teacher for the University of Southern California and has facilitated professional development in early literacy at the school, district and state levels.  She has served on the boards of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future and Larchmont Charter School in Los Angeles, and was a past member of PBS Teachers Advisory Group and Teachers Network Leadership Institute. Jane is a Milken Educator, National Board Certified in Early Childhood Education, and holds a master's in curriculum and instruction. An active member of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) and Accomplished California Teachers (ACT), she has written and published articles on education policy and classroom instruction for The Teaching Channel and Education Week online. Her research with Teachers Network Leadership Institute on new teacher collaboration is included in the book, Taking Action with Teacher Research. Follow Jane on Twitter @teechrk12.