Monday, March 26, 2007

It's No Fun Anymore

Okay, I admit it, I was one of those starry eyed student teachers who loved school so much that I decided to stay in school for life. I loved the reading, the writing and even the arithmetic. I enjoyed the flow of days from Autumn through Spring. I enjoyed new pencils and tablets of paper and the smell of new crayons. And up until now, with a few small glitches, I still enjoyed the turn of the wheel. I am not sure I feel that way anymore. Not after today.

See, I am one of these teachers who likes to bring students into the program and tries to find some way, any way, that they can work. But I can't fight a gossip campaign, especially when it comes from inside the school. For some reason this year, our freshman class has been particularly and some would even say, deliberately, immature. There are some great kids, but there is a prevailing character of disrespect, destruction and chaos that makes it difficult for the good kids to get the education they deserve. This isn't the kind of inner city urban issue that one associates with a mass exodus of teachers, but it does give one pause. I seldom write referrals, and this year I have written more in one class than I have in the entire previous year. Students are often defiant, refusing to do work, and their parents support this behavior. They justify this by claims of teacher retaliation backed up by reports from the student in the class. What is worse, we have a good number of students whose parents work in the school. The athletic director's wife works in an office, the basketball coaches wife is an aide and so on. So if one of these parent-educators decides they don't like you or your class, then they begin a whispering campaign. And since they live in the neighborhood with most of the kids, what begins as a whisper can become a roar.

I had a conference today. It seems that in comparing a student to one of my favorite students from the past, I have inadvertently labeled the student. I am not sure how comparing a student to another good student is bad, but for some reason it is in the eyes of this parent. Because of this, her student has done little or no work, barely passed the exam (which was a scantron test, but somehow it's my fault the student nearly failed...) and according to the views of this parent, his lack of work is justified. I am not really sure how much of this is the student making excuses and how much of it is the parent taking things way out of context, but if it weren't making my life so depressing and stressful I would have to laugh. This kid plays a sport. A highly competitive sport. I wasn't an athlete, but my dad was a coach. I have been around coaches and they don't mince words when it comes to making corrections on the field or court. So I have to believe that our coaches must go up and whisper corrections to our athletes, because according to this parent, the child has never been told to sit down to be quiet or to not throw paper in class. I know in the vast scheme of things, this is small potatoes. But when you see and hear and have to deal with these sometimes irrational and demanding parents, it wears you down. It makes teachers who care and who work hard figure that it just isn't worth the time and effort. And as they teachers wear out or burn out, they either simply stop teaching or they quit.

I have this recurring nightmare where I have a heart attack while in class. And as I lie on the floor, the students throw things at me and taunt me. It's a scary dream. And I would like to think that such a thing wouldn't happen because I know there are some good students out there. But then again, how much longer can this nation last if we continue to feel that we must extend parenting to the point of suffocation. We aren't allowing our kids to suffer the consequences of bad choices. Too many kids are rescued at the lower levels of mischief which allows them to think they can do anything they want. That ends when they turn 18, but I still hear of parents bailing out kids who have gotten on drugs, or are in jail, or pregnant or any of a million other circumstances. Fifty years ago, at 18, many parents would tell a kid that they were on their own and have a nice life. Now we encourage kids to live at home until they are thirty. Such constant attention destroys a kid's self-confidence. And it erodes the sense of responsibility. How can we expect these people as adults to make good choices, when we never allow them to fail until their parents die or retire?


Darren said...

Sorry to hear you had such a rough day.

I have what I call my "rainy day folder". In it I keep things, good things, to remind me of why I do this job. The thank you note from a parent or, even bettr, a student. A list of little victories, of students whose lives I felt like I touched or who touched mine. Things like that. It helps to take the edge off of really bad days.

Looks like it's raining outside. You should check your folder.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Sorry your day has been awful, but don't give up. It sounds like you're in a building with a really unsupportive (and most likely ineffective) administration. Before you quit, because we need people like you, you may want to look at work in another building. It's not always like that. We have our nutjob parents (and how!) but we have an administration who has always backed us up when it comes to discipline, behavior, you name it. The sweetest words I ever heard from my principal was "I've got your back."

Hang in there!

Ellen K said...

Thanks for the comments. I really do appreciate it. See, here's the deal. Our school is all about athletics. Everything, from eligibility to scheduling centers around that fact. This time of year, I have scads of parents who suddenly become aware that their child won't make the cut for signing up for next year's team if they are failing. And rather than admit they simply aren't doing the work, the kids lie. They accuse us of grossly inappropriate behavior and the parents blindly believe it because they too are more concerned with Johnny's place in the line up rather than his reading ability. I will state again, I am not against sports because they should have their place, but our society has become ridiculously obsessed with sports. And our children are ending up mindless boobs because of it.