Archive for March, 2011

Why do I teach? (hint: It’s not for the money)

March 28, 2011

WARNING: This is not a puff piece.

I am a new teacher, three years in at two different schools and two different grades, so many would say I don’t have enough perspective or experience to comment on the field of teaching.  They might be right, but like I tell my kids, everyone has a right to an opinion and the only way to learn is to share your own.

I teach because I had the example of parents who both taught.  I teach because I am grateful for positive experiences certain teachers brought to my life.  I teach because I see the awesome effects particular teachers and schools have had in my children’s lives.  I teach because it is more important than almost anything else I’ve done (for what’s more important please note I’m married and have kids). I teach because I like to work hard.

There, I’ve said it. The flack out in the media these days is about teachers having a cushy job with summers off, snow days, and all those state holidays, too.  Pretty sweet! Does anyone comment that the snow days are made up in June in non air-conditioned classrooms? I teach on the top floor of my school and in June it can be over 95˚ on a sunny day in my room – By the way, when it hits 95˚ road crews can stop working because it’s too hot.  Does anyone mention any vacation a teacher takes is during “peak” times?  We all have the same vacation time, so going anywhere means paying top dollar, something we don’t make.  As to the state holidays – talk to your legislator, but I don’t think he or she wants to go on record of being in favor of forgetting the person or persons involved in some momentous occasion that made it a holiday in the first place (a note to my tea-party, flag waving friends – these are mostly celebrations of events that you cherish).  I don’t expect a crying towel here. Like I said my parents both taught so I went in to teaching with my eyes open.

I also went into teaching after thirty years in the “private sector.” So when I say teachers work hard, I actually have a basis of comparison unlike most of the rants I hear.  When I get to work – usually about 7:30, kids come at 8:10 – I’m greeted by a nearly full faculty parking lot.  When I leave, usually about 6, there are still a couple of cars left. I bring home stacks of papers and have to prepare lessons for the next day. Weekends are taken up by correcting more papers, doing more lesson prep and  doing the work for courses I take to improve my practice or to gain more expertise in my subject area.  House cleaning, bill paying, etc. are squeezed in somewhere just like everybody else.

What do I teach? I teach kids that an adult can be fair.  I teach kids that I love learning new things because it helps to understand the world in which we live. I teach kids that even when I’m disappointed with their last effort, I’m always ready to be excited by their new effort.  I teach kids that they have something to teach me and that it’s important that they try.  I teach that they might be the best teacher for the kid sitting right next to them explaining what we just covered; that the act of asking a question is hard because it means you understand what you need to know and that making a mistake isn’t nearly as important as fixing it after.  Oh yeah, I teach History.

History has taught me that every great civilization has tolerated differences.  History has taught me that change comes about not from one great leap, but from all the little steps that came before.  History has taught me that education is subversive, but it always improves the lives of those who have access to it.

What do we, as teachers, need to learn or remember? Please – remember the students who wander in and out of our classrooms deserve to be respected.  They are still kids and are learning how to be in this world. They aren’t bad – yet. They will make infuriating mistakes; they will lie; they will cheat; they will do the minimum or less and they will test every boundary. That’s their job; they’re kids, they do that. Our job as teachers (and the adults) is to keep steering them back as best we can all the while respecting that they are still people, people with very little in the way of practical experiences, skill sets or moral compasses. They may be little ids with legs, but people nonetheless, people in progress.

What else do we, as teachers, need to remember? Please – remember that we teach at the behest of the parents of the kids in our classroom. They sign our paychecks. They entrust us with their kids. They should be respected, even if you think they don’t discipline enough, take your class seriously enough or stop their kid from dressing like a prosti-tot or a gang-banger. Say this with me, “They are not our kids – they are their kids.” Repeat it. Say it over and over. Can we be an example of another way to be? Absolutely! But we can’t undermine the parents, even the lousy ones.

Daily, I hear teachers complaining about principals caving in to the demands of the parents.  At least those parents are demanding something; they are concerned! Be respectful of that and remember that if you were the parent and you felt strongly enough to go in and fight for your child, you too would want to come out a winner. After all – they’re your kids and in America you have the right to raise ‘em the way you want.  I wish more parents fought for their kids. Be happy that some do (I told it was a hard job).

In the confrontational politics of today, teachers and their unions have become easy targets. We are asked to meet impossible test criteria with more kids in one classroom each year as budgets get cut. Remember how easy our job is? All that time off? Teachers are held in high esteem in almost every society besides ours; elsewhere being an educator commands respect. Be it our culture or the times, we are no longer respected. Maybe the real problem is the voters that were once students in our schools and were disrespected as they passed through.  Maybe they felt looked down on or thought they were treated unfairly. Now? Payback’s a bitch.

This is the world we teach in and this is where we start. You don’t like it? Don’t like the kids? The parents? Do the profession a favor – GET OUT.  You are making a hard job harder for the rest of us. Then we can start respecting ourselves, the people in our classrooms and their parents. Do what we ask of our students all the time – think before you speak. How will what you say or do be perceived? Be consistently honest, don’t sugar coat, don’t condemn. Set the standards, make them known and hold the kids and yourself accountable for achieving them. Get excited by differences; redouble efforts with the kids who like you least, and most of all, be subversive – model that behavior we claim to cherish – to do our best.

¡Viva la Revolución!