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Seeing the "Ah-ha!" in the Eyes of Kids:
By Bob Sharp

What is teaching like today? Who should do it? And who shouldn't? This Education World series features essays on teaching by teachers as they answer the question, "If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a teacher?"

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The decision to become a teacher is such a personal one! Not because it is a decision that will determine a person's financial, as well as professional, future, but because the wrong person in the profession will affect hundreds or even thousands of students' lives.

I ask those people who are considering teaching to volunteer in a school setting a lot before making the final decision. I recommend that they evaluate their financial position and decide if a teacher's salary where they live will allow them to survive.

I also recommend to the younger candidates that they prepare for two careers -- teaching and another that will allow them to survive and/or escape if they decide they've made a mistake, or if they find they need more money to support a family and get the additional schooling the profession requires.

I could add tons more, but that really is the gist of it.

If I had it to do over again, would I? If I knew the job that I decided to go into in 1971 was going to be the one I have today, I would not have gone into teaching.

Today, we feed most of our kids two meals a day. We have many kids who come to school not having seen their parent (note, I do not say parents,) since dinner the night before -- if they even saw them then and if they even had dinner the night before. Some of their parents are not working at full time jobs. They work at minimal wage jobs or they go from job to job, all of which pay a minimal wage. If a parent is working full time, it is not a 9 to 5 job. Very rarely are there two parents in the household.

Most people feel that NCLB is a school, or more directly, a teacher responsibility. The focus of accountability is the teacher, then the principal, and finally, the school. Too many people ignore the fact that the person most responsible for the receptiveness and preparedness of a student for learning is the parent.

I have a master's degree plus 90 additional credits. I'm proud of my degrees and additional education. I have 31 years teaching experience, the last 21 years in this state, with the bulk of that time in the same school district. My district feels that since I have a certain type of teaching certificate, an older one that the state says qualifies me to teach K-12, I can teach any subject. I started teaching here in a computer lab. About five years ago, the district decided to move me to another position. I have held three different teaching positions in the past five years. I did not apply for any of those positions. I was put into them because that is where I was needed from an administrative point of view.

During a recent open house, I introduced myself and said I was new to the position. One parent immediately said, "Great. Can you communicate the knowledge to kids?" When I replied, "Well, very likely. I have taught technology, math, and science in this district for eighteen plus years, and have been very successful." Her response was, "Oh." Then she walked away.

So, I am an old timer.

When I started teaching, salaries were one-fifth to one-eighth of what they are now. Yet, most cars, houses, and major items today cost ten to twelve times what they cost then. If life were fair(er), the ratio would be much closer. So life is not fair, but at the current inflation rate, a person going into teaching today is starting out at a disadvantage. And the gap will only become greater unless society changes.

Could I leave teaching at my age and get another job? Yes, I could. I have an extensive technology background -- from hardware to software. I could consult. I've worked the last eight summers for a non-profit organization setting the specifications of equipment, working with ISP's and other vendors and teachers, providing networking and other technologies for educational trade shows. I could start another career, but I love teaching.

I love the "ah-ha!" in the eyes of kids. I know from talking to a class when most of the kids get a point, who is listening, and so on. I like being able to diagnose a learning problem from my students' questions, and I like being able to prescribe a course of learning for the group.

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Robert Sharp

Bob Sharp graduated from Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University, Pueblo) following a tour of service in the U.S. Air Force. Since graduation, he's taught in Manitou Springs, Colorado; Malvern, Iowa; Garden Valley, Idaho; Kent, Washington; with the bulk of his teaching career spent in Bremerton, Washington.

During his career, Sharp has taught biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, health, physical science, earth science, and general science at the high school and middle school levels. He also has been a middle school computer lab, mathematics, Math Academy (a second hour of math for students needing more help), and middle school science teacher.

As a technology specialist, Sharp has repaired computers and taught Kindergarten students and students in elementary through middle school about -- and how to use --computers. As a computer lab teacher, he taught grades 1-5 half time for a year. He's also taught adult classes in computer use, and provided networking support for summer technology institutes and summer technology education conferences sponsored by The Learning Space.

In 2001, Sharp, who currently teaches science at Mountain View Middle School, in Bremerton, Washington, was honored by his colleagues with their Members Achievement Award for the online and face-to-face support work he provided while training more than five thousand teachers to use online technology during the execution of their NEA/U.S. West Grant.

Sharp has been teaching for 31 years. Together, he and his wife, a disabled teacher who, despite her physical impairments, deeply misses teaching, have sixty years combined teaching experience. They have a thirty year old son who graduated from Northwest College of Art and received an M.F.A in painting from Washington State University. He is starting his own graphic arts business in Tacoma, Washington.

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