In light of the ongoing attacks on teachers, a lot of people ask why someone like me would even want to go into public school teaching. It reminds me of the joke about the man who goes to his doctor and says, “Doc, it hurts when I go like this…”

Here’s what I tell them.

I just got back from a week in the Mojave with NASA researchers, engineers and explorers. I was part of an official NASA expedition known as “Spaceward Bound” that brings together current and future math and science teachers from all over the California State University system. It’s a long-term vision of inspiring the people who will need to inspire the people who will need to carry the torch of learning forward into the future.

For a whole week, we worked side by side with scientists and engineers, learning what they do and how they do it, and how they’re lowering the cost of exploration by building rovers out of off-the-shelf parts and even duct tape.

The astrobiologists on the team sent us forth into the desert to find samples of biological soil crusts — symbiotic communities of microorganisms that bond together to survive in the harshest environments — in much the same way teachers and schools are doing right now. They showed us how these communities serve as measures of our own planet’s health, and as possible predictors of life elsewhere.

At its best, this is the basic mechanism of public education. Whether it works well or works badly, everybody steps forward and says, “Here — this is the best thing I have.”

So when I get asked why I’d want to teach in the public school system, I tell people about this.

I tell them there are moments of grace — and of community — that can’t be found anyplace else on Earth.

And I tell them about this image that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s an image of one very tired math teacher and one very tired NASA scientist at twilight, both of them dripping with exhaustion but also dusted with wonder, practically dancing across a dry desert lakebed, dazzled by the tenacity of the life force here in California — even under the most hostile conditions.

With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Statmore.

 

Why I Teach 20 April,2011perspectives

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor