A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So you think teachers are overpaid?

I sigh, and say, "Bring it."

After what we deal with all day, what's a few more brickbats thrown our way?

So let's review:

Indiana's legislature wants to take away collective bargaining rights for teachers.

So does, as we all know, Wisconsin's legislature and governor.

Tennessee's governor wants to lengthen the amount of time teachers wait to get "tenure," which apparently no one understands as being operationally null as a concept. Tenure does NOT guarantee a permanent job-- it just guarantees that due process must be followed when dealing with teacher retention and evaluation.

Idaho gutted both tenure and collective bargaining.

And there are dozens more stories being propagated of lazy teachers being promised a job for life, getting a generous pension that amounts to robbery from the rest of society, and so on.

Here's the life of teachers from the inside:

In any class that we teach, we are watching about three students for signs of emotional distress based on previous history. Then there are incidental crises among the other students that occur based on fighting with parents, break-ups of relationships, health scares and injuries, potential eating disorders, parental or personal alcoholism, divorces, pregnancies, and suicidal tendencies and/or harming oneself. Thanks to a lawsuit from, once again, Wisconsin (is it something in the water there?) emails may be considered public records and so, to maintain confidentiality, if I have a serious concern, I must walk to the counseling or administrative office during my plan time to discuss those concerns face-to-face. If I have a student in immediate distress, I escort them to the counselor or principal personally, hopefully during passing time. We scrutinize for lines of scabs on arms, bloodshot eyes, poor hygiene, lethargy or mania.

We remind students to make up missing assignments and or tests repeatedly and individually since apparently many students think that teachers declare a moratorium on assignments or assessments in the wake of absences. Students will ask for exhaustive lists of missing work even though assignments and tests are posted on classroom bulletin boards and websites as well as online on the internet-based grade-book program our school operates.

As we move through the hallways, we monitor students for signs of distress (last week as I was on the way to the restroom, I helped a young man to the counselor who was wedged into a weird little blindspot in an empty hallway in tears). We stop kids from harassing each other or roughhousing, which endangers themselves as well as others. We watch for those students or adults in the building without visible ID and direct them to a check-in spot. We greet kids with a smile (in case that's the only smile they get that day) and complement kids on their wardrobes. Over there is the kid who was shot and wounded outside his aunt's house and is using a crutch until the wound heals. There is a kid trying to sneak into the bathroom to hide in a stall until passing time is over so she can wander the building and skip her English class (in which she currently has a 7% average and twenty-two absences this semester alone). We round a corner and loom into view of kids squaring off to probably fight, and eyeball them until they either drop it and go away or continue to shout at each other in the hopes that we will intervene and help them save face without actually appearing to back down themselves. We congratulate that kid who has a bunch of enormous birthday balloons and we give the big high-five to the kid who just got into the college she wanted. We ask kids where they are going and why they aren't in class. And meanwhile, we don't get to the restroom. We sniff for the wafting of smoke from the john or the miasma of marijuana on a kid's clothing.

We write recommendation letters personalized for each student and insist that they sign up for the ACT or trade school.

We utilize electronic technology in the classroom which is, on average, at least three to ten years old, which means it is roughly equivalent to using the Rosetta Stone to translate a Shakespearean soliloquy. And that's if we are lucky. Many of us rely on whiteboards or even, yes, chalkboards and overhead projectors. I do not even have a DVD player in my room. We sit on rickety furniture which is at least a decade old (ask not for whom the chair creaks, it creaks for thee) and use teacher and student desks missing screws and braces and sometimes held together by duct-tape.

We email or talk to parents/guardians/aunts/grandma regarding student progress, and almost every year we get one or two parents who claim that we are too hard, unfair, mean, capricious (although they never use that actual word), or that we pick on their kid or just flat-out make up crazy claims about us. We then must defend ourselves against these claims because no matter how exemplary our conduct administrators are never willing to simply ignore claims that fly in the face of observation or rationality.

We obey the orders of administrators and school board members even though they change and contradict each other weekly or sometimes even daily. We gather data and analyze it even though no one will implement the changes necessary to improve the outcomes that the data exposes. We construct assessments and plan lessons after everything else has taken up our planning time. We attend IEP meetings on our planning time, as well. We attend hour-long faculty meetings that could have been summarized in a three paragraph email and listen to powerpoints being read to us. We fill out surveys, the results of which will never be shared with the faculty, especially if they contradict the plans administrators are determined to carry out anyway.

We collect shoes for Africa and pennies for patients and wear pink for breast cancer and collect clothing for the family whose house burned down or for the refugees of natural disasters. We slip kids lunch money and notebooks and pencils and registration fees to take the ACT. We buy boxes of the good kleenex because the school doesn't provide anything but paper towels and single-ply toilet paper for the legions of kids who come to school sick. We diagnose pink-eye, strep, sprains, influenza, attention deficit disorder, broken hearts, and senioritis. We stay after school to tutor kids for free and use babelfish to translate notes home into mom or dad's native tongue. We go to plays and concerts and graduations and buy coupon books and frozen pizza we don't need to raise money for band trips or new golf shirts. We go to professional development. We pursue social justice.

We attempt to model compassion and responsibility and citizenship and engagement with the world and the pursuit of maximization of potential. We help kids rise above their circumstances and make no excuses for their failures just as we encourage them to celebrate their successes. We insist that education matters when the world and Snooki seem to prove otherwise and TLC used to be The Learning Channel but now tells you what NOT to wear and showcases toddlers in tiaras and people who eat laundry detergent.

Oh, and during the majority of our time, we teach kids subject matter and skills and try to get them to think about what their lives will be look outside the plastic bubble that is school.



At 3/15/11, 7:06 PM, Blogger Ms Characterized said...

Amen. And yes. It breaks my heart. Right now I know that no matter how much I care, or how much I do, it won't be enough, can't be...that sucking sound is the whirlpool that will swallow me up and dump me on the carpet where I'll be called to answer for everything I didn't do.

I'm alternating between "bring it on" and "I'm done" right now. Thanks for the post.

At 3/15/11, 7:20 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I can't think of anything to add, and you said it beautifully! It is a very trying time to be a teacher. (Oh, and you left out Florida, where our *ahem* morally challenged governor wants to "improve" education at the same time he's proposing to slash %2 BILLION from the education budget.

At 3/15/11, 9:46 PM, Blogger Jim Connolly said...


At 3/15/11, 10:10 PM, Blogger chris barry said...

Thank you for saying it all so clearly!

At 3/15/11, 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trumpet notes to that, sister.

At 3/17/11, 11:41 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

You left out the part about feeding kids who....just kidding...Wonderful post my dear. Have you e-mailed it to Congress?

At 3/17/11, 11:44 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

PS: Copied and soon to be posted at my school :-)

At 3/29/11, 6:59 PM, Anonymous birdermurdermama said...

This is all gospel truth, and one of the biggest reasons why the protagonist of my Birder Murder Mystery series is a high school counselor - to give credit to the great teachers that do so much for so many for so little pay....

At 5/5/11, 1:43 PM, Blogger Margie said...

You go girl! I am so tired of saying "I'm a teacher" and having everyone else hear this as "I am a terrorist."

Thanks for a blog I can turn to.


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