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Don't let your babies grow up to be teachers

Memo to my children: Whatever you decide to do in life, please do not become schoolteachers. Instead, try to find a career in which the working conditions are slightly less stifling and authoritarian, such as the Marine Corps.

Let's be clear: Teaching at any level is a noble profession. Indeed, some might say it's not a profession at all but rather a calling. All I'm saying is, if you get the call, don't pick up.

I haven't always felt this way. There was a time when I would have been pleased for my children to become teachers - even though teaching is a relatively low-paying profession and an often thankless job. But I used to think those drawbacks were more than offset by the intellectual stimulation and relative autonomy teachers enjoy.

Now I look at the school calendar and see one long string of standardized tests, most with codenames or acronyms that would make the Pentagon envious: CogAT, Gateway, PSAT, CRCT, GHSGT, ITBS, BOGUS. OK, I made that last one up.

I've often said computers will never replace teachers, although they could very easily replace administrators. Now I'm not so sure. Given the glut of redundant testing that pollutes our educational landscape, and the parade-drill precision with which the curriculum has been standardized as a result, it seems policy-makers have reduced teachers to little more than information-dispensing drones.

So much for intellectual stimulation.

How about relative autonomy? For those still deluded enough to think teachers are in charge of their own classrooms, the Georgia State Board of Education recently dispensed a clarifying dose of reality. The board agreed, in upholding Gwinnett County's firing of Dacula science teacher Larry "Doc" Nease, that the 23-year veteran had been "insubordinate" when he refused to change the grade of a student he'd penalized for sleeping in class.

If that ruling doesn't have a chilling effect on Nease's colleagues statewide, it's only because they've been inhaling too many fumes in the chemistry lab.

Gone is any lingering illusion that K-12 education in this state is a collegial enterprise in which highly educated professionals resolve differences through reason and consensus. If a teacher can be fired for "insubordination" because he or she disagrees with the administration on policy - and on principle - what's next? Will some poor social studies teacher at Parkview be charged with treason for wearing a maroon tie on the day of the Brookwood game?

And so, kids, even if you feel genetically predisposed to be teachers, even if you have natural teaching ability, I suggest you find another profession. Should you choose to ignore my advice, then at least remember that you can never, ever disagree with an administrator's decision, on anything from classroom discipline to the decor in the faculty washroom.

Oh, yeah. And learn how to salute.

E-mail Rob Jenkins at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.