Monday, December 6, 2010

Social Responsibility?

If you are a first year teacher, especially for those in a one-year internship/fellowship program, you are likely busy planning lessons, grading, and trying to maintain some sort of life outside of school. On top of that, before you know it, you need to start thinking about your plans for next year. This generally entails a mountain of cover letters, job applications, and most importantly, self-reflective questions about where you want your career to go and what type of school you want to commit to.

No longer is a teacher's decision simply Private School vs. Public School. Nowadays, there is an incredibly wide spectrum of schools available to work at, ranging from elite private schools (think Phillips Exeter) to underachieving public schools (think urban, minority, impoverished) to everything in between (charter schools, magnet schools, Waldorf schools, and other really unique school models like this one). At this point in my nascent career, I'm going to commit to the school that provides the best opportunity for me to develop as an educator over the next few years. However, determining what type of school this might be is nontrivial.

When I write my cover letters for elite private schools, I get extremely excited about the prospect of having Promethean boards in my classrooms, for example, and I really think my teaching would benefit from having so much technology readily available to me. Plus, in the classroom, I would enjoy the curricular freedom that a private school generally allows (for example, next semester at Chinquapin I am teaching a 5 week course on current events in Biology).

On the other hand, when I write my cover letters for urban charter schools, I get extremely excited about the prospect of helping close the achievement gap and building relationships with students who may not be getting a lot of educational support elsewhere. While it is true that every student can benefit from a good teacher, students from urban, minority backgrounds need good teachers, while students from affluent families that attend elite prep schools will likely be 'fine' either way.

So my question becomes: To what extent do I, as an educated, compassionate member of society, have a social responsibility to work where good teachers are needed most and where I could have the greatest positive effect on society?

While my main concern is teaching, this question easily applies to all professions, most notably medicine. To what extent do doctors have the responsibility of working in Africa, for instance, where they could save hundreds of lives, instead of America, for instance, where the same amount of effort may only save one?



  1. First off, I love the label, Tough Questions. I feel like we basically spent the weekend trying to answer this question. This is by no means a complete answer, but something I came up with:

    You have to find some sort of career/lifestyle/whatever, where people refer to you as a saint, but your response is, "No, you don't understand, I would literally do this for fun." Kind of finding the intersection of the Ayn Rand model, do what makes you happy, and the social responsibility model, maximize your ability to impact the world. Perhaps an optimization function is in order.

    from ken

  2. I'm not sure this is always an either/or. All teachers should have an impact on their students, and one would hope that it would be an impact that will go beyond the immediate lesson of learning fractions or the double meanings in the wordplay of Shakespeare. All students (all children, all learners) need great teachers who will open their eyes to what they cannot see, the ways they can touch others lives in their own ways in order to make, build, create, something positive for the world.

  3. Good teachers are over-achievers, achievers and under-achievers (lack of better term). A teacher is someone who inspires and bring the best in any student.
    While it is noble of you to consider working in urban school setting it may be quite disappointing when your priorities/school/student priorities clash.
    IMO, you should consider something that appeals to you, a high-tech and customized classroom, where you can harness, explore and grow your skill set before setting abreast to help others.
    Do I make sense? not that i'm discouraging you if you want to help others :)
    You are young and have plenty of time to show the compassionate side!

  4. Have you gone back to take a look at the "Purpose" section of DRIVE by Daniel Pink?