How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who Wins?

     I am a high school English teacher. I work on an average of 10 to 11 hour days. During prom, homecoming, football games, parent nights, it is not unusual for me to put in 15 or more hours a day,  none of which I am paid for. There is no overtime pay for teachers. There is no forgiveness. There is no understanding. In the past five years I have become America’s number one enemy.
     I spend most of my weekend hours at home consumed with creating detailed lesson plans that the administration picks apart with a fine toothed comb, murdered with red penned slashes due to my "verbage" or “warm up activities”.  I live in fear that an administrator will walk in my classroom to evaluate me while Linda is having a meltdown or Harold is making farting noises and doesn’t have his eyes trained on his “group activity”.  Evaluations: perfunctory and punitive according to some pre-tailored checklist that don't incorporate a check box or standard for farting Harold.
      I love “my” kids, I nurture them, I laugh with them, I cry with them. I hug them, I help them, I encourage them, I listen to them. I cheer when they succeed and mourn when they have a baby while they themselves are still babies of 15, and/or drop out of high school. I am baffled daily by their lack of base knowledge, their lack of reading skills, their lack of social skills, yet I am blamed for all of their deficiencies.  They are passed to me from their parents, their pre-schools, their elementary schools, their middle schools, and I must sink or swim according to their deficiencies or talents.  I have nowhere to pass them to. The so called buck stops with me.  I am trained to teach to the median student because they are the ones who have a higher chance of passing the standardized test (one test from which all of the glory or guts is hung). Those students achieving below standards are “remediated” in a fast paced, whirlwind gluttony of regurgitatable information. Those students who exceed the standards are left to drown in their tears of tedium in the back corner of the classroom filling in multiple choice bubbles. Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) is the unattainable Holy Grail of 21st century education.
     I am tired to death of reading how bad teachers are, how overpaid we are, how many holidays we get. I am tired beyond death of educational jargon like “NCLB”, “standardized testing”, “unpacking the standards”, “AYP”, and “differentiation”, when they are little more than buzz words constructed by high paid educational consultants and lawmakers who know nothing about MY students or any other student in the real world. You want to talk political doublespeak? Education in America is crammed with more doublespeak than politics could ever dream of on their best doublespeak day.
     I want to thrash those who parrot the uninformed belief that teachers are riding a gravy train. What with our glamorous pensions (60%  of pay after 30 years- if we make it that long), our wondrous health care benefits (premiums jump every year, benefits go down, and co pays and deductibles increase), and our relaxing summers off (eight weeks, of which two are spent in professional development and six spent furthering our own educations), it’s a mystery to me why anyone wouldn’t want incur to thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt to climb aboard this golden train while it’s still running.  
    And what about the out of pocket expenses it costs for a teacher to just to walk into a classroom?  I buy at the very least $400.00 worth of school materials a year. I supply pencils, pens, paper, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, notebooks, folders, snacks, and contact lens solution to students.  I buy my own posters for bulletin boards. I buy my own staplers and staples. I buy paper clips. I buy erasers and copy paper. I scour garage sales and flea markets so I can furnish books for students whose parents have never taken them inside a book store. I give away me. I don’t ask for recognition. I don’t want much. But neither do I want to be vilified by a media saturated populace who know nothing about the day to day workings of America’s schools or education system.
     Teaching is one of the most stressful, demanding professions there is. According to Dr. Stephen J. Walsh, assistant professor of community medicine and health care at the University of Connecticut Health Center at the School of Medicine, high school teachers have a 143% higher chance of contracting an autoimmune disorder than any other profession.  High stress levels are one of the contributing factors of autoimmune disorders. Yes, sounds like a real gravy train to me. I wonder why more people in the private sector aren’t jumping aboard?
    Teachers are pulled between the love for our content and our students, the demands of administration (most who have never set foot in a classroom), and educational laws and policies.  We stand by helplessly as our students fall further and further behind in basic skills, knowledge, and critical thinking abilities.  We muddle through curriculum devised by “experts” and regretfully push into dark corners those sparkful, creative moments because they are not part of the “standards”.
     After 12 years, I have decided to leave teaching. I want to curl up and mourn for “my” kids that I will be walking out on, but I am beat; literally and figuratively. They won. All those “experts” won. The policy makers won. The administrators won. All those who berated me to teach the test; continually canceled my after school tutoring on a minute’s notice  because a faculty meeting was more important than my students; made it impossible for the school athletes to gain extra writing assistance because after school practice needed to win the Friday night game was more important; reprimanded me because my Word Wall was not “interactive; walked in my class and sneered because my standards were not worded verbatim on the board, and in doing so failed to notice the light shining in my kids’ eyes after reading JFK’s inauguration speech; insisted that I do not teach literature but standards while I stood my ground and argued back, "I teach literature"; sat back and piled illogical educational policy upon illogical educational policy; and did nothing to counteract the media witch hunt aimed at teachers everyday.  They won. My students lost. I lost.
     But, I will always be a teacher. They can’t take that away from me.

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