Monday, March 1, 2010

Will you allow me just one TEENY TINY melt down? Please?

I have often thought about writing a book. You might be thinking, "What could she possibly have to write about?" Or, more accurately, that is what I think whenever the urge to write pops up into my head. Usually the urge follows a heated debate or a rough day at work or just one of those, "no one gets me!" periods in my life and before I can make a decision about how to plan out my next move, I calm down, move on, and once again conclude that I don't have time for that. So what do I want to write about? What is so pressing that I stay up at night thinking about all the chapters? Teaching!

This past weekend, I had someone look me in the eyes and tell me that teachers are the reason kids are failing. Teachers. Well, to be fair, he actually said that teachers and administrators are the reason kids are failing. But I heard teachers. It didn't hurt me as badly as one might think.
"Why?" you ask. Because I hear it all the time. Maybe not in that context. Maybe not so blatantly. Maybe not while looking me in the eyes across from the table. But this has been the topic of conversation since "No Child Left Behind" and, I'm sure, long before that.

To say that teaching is a thankless job is actually not true. I get thanked. Each and every day. I get little pictures from my fifth graders saying, "you are the best!" I get a thank you gift every year from the PTA on Teacher Appreciation Day. I get Christmas, End of the Year, and other Holiday cards with little notes scrawled with, "Thanks Mrs. Howard! I love you!" I get thanked constantly!

What I would say is that teaching is a respectless job. Oh sure, people say, "I could never be a teacher... Your job is so hard!...To deal with all those kids...I don't know how you do it..." But in the same breath I constantly hear, "Well I know MY child...YOU don't give enough homework!... You give too much homework!...If YOU'D only make math FUN, my child would learn...YOU ignored my child when she tried to tell you she didn't feel well...YOU singled her out when she was cheating...YOU didn't pick her to win the speech contest." Of course, I'm lucky if I hear those things straight from parents. Oftentimes it's, "SHE yelled at her...SHE isn't doing enough to help her in math...SHE didn't stop the other child from hitting MY child..." and my personal favorite..."SHE did NOTHING when MY child told her..." shouted angrily at the principal over the phone or, unfortunately quite often, to the front desk secretary.

There was one particular time with a parent two years ago. She called me and shouted. Shouted. "My daughter tried to tell you her arm was hurt and YOU put your hand up and told her it wasn't an appropriate time." Was she right? Yes. But here is what happened. Her daughter got hurt during recess. She didn't tell a yard duty. She didn't even tell me. She waited through an entire period of math class. She came up to me in the middle of me doing a lesson. The middle. She interrupted me. She told me her arm was hurt. I put my hand up, asked her to sit down. I finished the lesson. I walked right up to her, immediately afterwards and talked to her. I explained that it wasn't appropriate to interrupt me in the middle of a lesson. I explained to her that next time she is hurt she needs to tell a yard duty and go to the nurse or tell me immediately upon entering the classroom. I asked her what was wrong with her hand. I checked it for swelling. I told her she could go to the nurse. I politely listened to the parent shouting at me. Shouting. And finally, after years of just listening said, "I'm offended. You keep talking about her being YOUR daughter. Well, I think of her as mine from 9-3:30pm. I think of all these kids as my kids. To say that I don't care is hurtful. I care deeply. I am sad that she was hurt...hence sending her to the nurse...hence checking in with the nurse on my lunch break...hence finding her at recess to see what the nurse said...hence at the end of the day, checking her hand one last time to see if it was indeed okay, giving her a hug, and telling her to take it easy that night. On my own time. I care. I do this job because I care. I didn't yell ("like you are doing to me," I thought). I wasn't mad ("like you are," I thought). I just asked her to tell me immediately. Or to tell a yard duty. And to not walk up to me in the middle of math, after having an injury for over an hour and interrupt class."

Now, perhaps if you're not a teacher, there are some things you don't know...Not because you don't care, but because they are tricks of the trade. One of those things is that if you cannot create order in a classroom, you cannot teach. If you do not have rules, you cannot teach. If you do not have protocols for EVERY imaginable situation, you cannot teach. If you do not follow those protocols to the letter of the law, you cannot teach. If you break the rules, the kids see through you and you cannot teach (who can learn when they feel like there is one set of rules for them and another for the kid next to them). I have thirty students (this particular year I had 33). Do you know what would happen if I allowed a child to interrupt math to tell me they didn't feel well...or their head hurt...or their teeth hurt...or they were hungry...or they were mad at a friend...or they didn't have a pencil...or they couldn't find their book...or they had a rough night...or they are tired...or they're wondering who is going to pick them up...or...or...or. Get the picture? Chaos. No teaching. Frustration. I have to teach kids to be self-sufficient and conform. I didn't make the rules. I didn't decide on 33 bodies in a classroom. I didn't choose any of that. I am dealt a deck of cards and make the best out of it. But to say that I don't care is just plain insulting.

This past weekend as I fought back years of frustration, I heard someone say to me, "The kids were failing at that Rhode Island School (see the article here). All the district wanted the teachers to do was stay after school to help." Do you know how much this angers me? This is the sentiment. This is how people really feel. This is what school district's constantly say to us..."Well if YOU cared about the kids' best interests, you would [fill in the blank]!" And that is how they get us. Because we do care. We do stay well after our contractual time. We wipe noses. We calmly and reassuringly tell the other students in the class to head out to recess when we have a student throwing up. We tell kids it's okay to be different. We listen to kids when they cry. We listen to them talk about their problems at home. We advocate for them when they don't have a voice. We hold them accountable to make them responsible. We love them. We help them on our lunch breaks. We come in early to create meaningful lesson plans. We come in on weekends to get our rooms ready for Open House. We leave our own kids to run intervention and enrichment programs after school. We attend PTA events. We work at McDonald's to raise money for them. We collect box tops for them. We spend hundreds of dollars of our own money funding the things they NEED. We collect shoes and clothes to help our students who don't have the money for those things. We donate Valentine's Cards for the students who forgot them. We find ways to donate Christmas presents to the students who wouldn't otherwise have them. We gather food for our families who wouldn't otherwise eat. We send home resources for free medical care. We hunt down resources for our students who need glasses, but can't afford them. We listen to horror stories about abuse and stay awake at night thinking what else we could have done. We listen to parents cry about their divorces. We listen to kids talk about their frustrations about their parents divorce. We leave our own families to go on overnight field trips with our students. WE take classes after-school and on weekends to learn how to be better. We volunteer on committees after our work day ends, when we're not getting paid, to help make schools better. We "punch out" our time clocks at 3:35 and stay to grade papers... or conference with a parent because they don't get off work until 5pm... or tidy up our room...or buy art supplies for a fun art lesson... or spend hours asking others if they have any good Mother's Day crafts we can make with our kids... or create project proposals to help fund books for our kids...or...or...or. We take our problems home. We fight for them. We council. We nurse. We teach. We care.

So, what do I say when people want to ask me to do more? What do I say when someone looks me in the eyes and says, "If you cared about the kids you'd..." I say, "If YOU cared about the kids, YOU'D pay me for the time I stay after school. If YOU cared about kids, YOU'D reduce class sizes. If YOU cared about kids YOU'D give me time to lesson plan. If YOU cared about the kids, YOU'D give me time to do report cards. If YOU cared about kids you'd provide me an aid to grade papers so that I could spend more time teaching and less time trying to cram everything in. If YOU cared about kids YOU'D see to it that you supported me. If YOU cared about kids, you'd advocate for them. If YOU cared for kids, you'd provide them counseling so they could focus on school. If YOU cared, YOU'D do half of what I do!"

So why am I writing all this? Why now? Do I want someone to reply and say "Thank You!" No, teaching is a job where I get thanked everyday - be it a smile or a hug or a "NOW I GET IT!" I'd like you to stop blaming teachers. Even in your head. Even without ever uttering the words to another soul. Stop assuming that we're not advocating for your child. Stop assuming that your 10 year old couldn't possibly have spun the story to fit his/her own agenda. Stop assuming that WE haven't done enough when we ask to be paid. You wouldn't assume a doctor would stay after work everyday and not get paid for it. You wouldn't ask a retail clerk to stay after work and not get paid for it. You wouldn't ask an accountant to do people's taxes for free in the evenings. But for some reason, in our culture, it has become perfectly acceptable to ask...and then...worse...assume...and expect teachers to do it. Because if we cared, we'd do it. If we really wanted kids to succeed, we'd do it. Because, we all know, that teachers are teachers because of the pay...and the perks...and the lavish lifestyle.

So. There. I'm done. Maybe some day I'll a write a book. But for now, I've vented. Thanks for listening.

**I want to clarify that I have no idea what really transpired at the school in Rhode Island. The teachers could have been out of line. They could have really, truly failed the kids and not done enough. They could have been failing when all other schools in the area (with similar demographics and socio-economic statuses) were doing well. And if that is the case, shame on them. But I'd like to see those numbers. A tiny piece of that article: "If it's only an hour or two, I think teachers can afford to do that," said a parent who worries about sending his 13-year-old daughter to the troubled high school next year." So, naturally, I can assume that he too will be donating his time to the school for the hour or two? I assume that he will be leaving his own family to make that sacrifice? And the district personnel? They'll all be pitching in every day for an hour and a half, right? That superintendent should have a credential. I'm sure he'll be at that school every day, donating his time, right? Right? **


The Schult Family said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

AMEN, sister! You have such an awesome way with words... I hope you DO write a book - I would read it! You are an AMAZING teacher and I agree with everything you said in this post! Can we send this to the editor's of all the state newspapers?

courtney said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

you should write one with her ;)

Katie Taylor said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I can't believe that anyone could say that the reason kids don't do well in school is because teachers don't do enough or don't care. Maybe that's the case sometimes, but to say that's the only reason children would do poorly, is absurd. They don't even take into consideration that you can only be present for half of their day, the other half is in their parents hands. To say that teachers don't care is ridiculous. Right, so that's why they pick a job that is extremely challenging and demanding of them, not only at work, but also on their time off, and a job that doesn't pay near what it should! Yes, clearly it's your fault that all of your 33 students don't go home and study for tests like they are supposed to and do their homework like they are supposed to. Yes, it's clearly your fault that most of them are so poor they can barely afford books or they are so worried about whether or not they will be properly fed by their parents they can't possibly focus on school. Yes, clearly the fact that you donate your own time and money to make sure that kids can have more of the things they need, like books and lunch, is a testimate to how little you care. Yes, obviously you aren't doing enough, you should follow each of your 33 students home and make sure they do their homework. I mean, it's not like you have a kid of your own.

The whole thing is ridiculous. I know exactly what you mean by saying that if there is no order or rules in your class you will never be able to teach. I know this all too well because often times I was the one who was trying to disrupt the order in class. I had this one math teacher who was far too nice and let us talk to him about our family problems or problems we had with our friends or just to talk about current events, which was great and we really liked him and could talk to him about anything, his big mistake was he did this during class time. I've never learned so little in all my high school or middle school career. He was never able to get order in the classroom and eventually blamed us for that which is ridiculous because he had conditioned us to behave that way by never setting any boundaries. KIDS NEED BOUNDARIES!

My favorite teacher, Ms. Smith, had a way of letting us know that we were not to talk back, or talk during her lesson, or talk about things that did not pertain to class, and if we ever forgot that, she quickly reminded us by yelling at us or sending us out of her classroom! However, after class we could go to her with problems we had with friends, or family, or ask her for advice, or ask for help on our college aplications. She cared soo much about us but she had very strict rules in her class, and I learned more in her class than any other english class. Well Mr. Sarkis is a very close second because he had a very similar teaching style as she did, he was just a little more intense as you know. Now, I have to say as awesome as she was and as much as she inspired me to care about poetry and short stories and novels, she couldn't follow me home and make me do my essays or read the books she assigned. I did ok in her class, I learned alot from her, but most of the time I would turn in my homework late and procrastinate studying for tests because unfortunately I cared more about a social life than I did about my grades. There was nothing she could do about that. That was my choice! So to say that she wasn't a good teacher simply because I didn't do my best in her class is beyond ridiculous.

Well, the point of all this, is that there are alot of people out there who understand that you can only do your job and inspire the kids to do well, set rules and bounderies for them, care about them and listen to them, and give them the tools to learn. Whether they use those tools once they get home, is up to the students and their parents. And anyone who knows you, knows that that's exactly what you do and you are one of the best teachers a kid could ask for! I love you!

Katie Taylor said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Oh and you should write a book, I'd read it! Trust me, I only spent 3 days or so in your classroom but they were filled with hillarious moments and stories I later shared with friends. And you have a great way of looking at things and expressing yourself. You should definitely write a book. You can do it, your wonderwoman. =)

Amy Walton said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I love this, and I love you!
You are amazing.
You should write a book!
And give me a chapter, because these type of stories are the ones I email to my mom, and she says I'm funny and should write a book.
gotta love Moms

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