Wednesday, January 06, 2016

I Am Not a Teacher/I Am a Person Who Teaches

This is an important step. I must move away from being a "Teacher" as an identity. For too long I have put my job before my health, my sanity, my talents and even my family. This is the way the system is set up. It used to be that there was a clear division between one's work life and home life. Education, as practiced today, isn't like that anymore.

Oh sure, you'll have those trolls who chortle "but you have summers off." Define "off." In the past five summers I have attended five AP Summer Institutes, written curriculum twice, attended twenty "trade days"(which are a special torture I will explain later...), taken repetitive and often meaningless professional development (Bring your best lesson plan ad infinitum) which all are spaced just far enough apart to make taking a college course, a vacation or even getting my house clean an impossibility. I don't know of a single teacher who thinks of summer as "off" time. It's catch up on cleaning, fix the bathroom, paint the baby's room or even mow the lawn time. It's time when we get to do or have to do all the things normal people do on weekends during the school year while we're frantically grading into the wee hours hoping to make the gradebook deadline.

I have to learn to be a Person first. I can't just keep being a Teacher Creature who exists on test data, IEP's and has so little time to be an individual that I have no hobbies and few friends. This has to end. I cannot continue on this path. Please don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike teaching, but like some sort of aggressive mold, teaching has taken over my life sucking out any time from reading or painting or drawing or just taking a walk in the park. I have stories that make me smile. Like the girl who showed up today from U of Arkansas who told me that she was a Graphic Design major. We laughed because she was a mess when she was in my painting class. I celebrate that there are kids out there, some that I may never know about, who chose art and design as a career. But for every story like that there are so many others with kids who don't care, parents who live to crush the spirit of teachers and administrators far more interested in data than people.

I don't know how anyone does this for thirty years. I honestly don't know how I have done it for seventeen years. I didn't plan on staying so long. And unfortunately because of my age, I find I have to stay a few more years just to have some sort of money rolling in during what is laughably called retirement. I've seen retirement. Oh sure there are those who travel to exotic lands, sampling life by the wine glass. But far more often, especially with teachers pensions, I've seen the type of retirement where 80 year old retirees feel compelled to sub three days a week. I don't want to be doing that at 80 or 70 or even 65. I'll work as a Walmart Greeter before I do that.

It would be nice to think that teaching was some sort of shadowy modern version of "Good Bye Mr. Chips", but instead it seems to be a world that is trapped in meaningless trends hinging on test scores and special populations. In the workroom, we older teachers spend some time worrying about the future. We also discuss the past. I have watered down my lessons three different times. As more special populations are parachuted into general education classes, the regular students suffer from neglect and I fear the backlash will be horrible to behold. I look at my five year old grandson, so eager to read and do math and then I look at the tortuous methods they've concocted to teach these concepts which I fear will mess him up as New Math did me fifty years ago. What are we doing? When did teaching become facilitation rather than caring? When did scripting replace common sense? When did administrators become so wobbly that they fear even the most idiotic demands from parents?

This can't end well. But it will end. Education is a very trend conscious endeavor. I've lived through New Math, Open Classroom, Self Contained, Departmentalized, Whole Language and more fashion statements all with their own little zippy promises of higher test scores. In reality, like it or not, some things are better learned by rote.  The alphabet, the multiplication tables, the names of states and such can be learned by heart and probably should be. But the current trend is that rote learning is bad and that it is better for a student to stumble through a hundred other possible solutions before finding an answer. I've never liked estimates. I never believed them. Any contractor who gave me an estimate always ended up costing twice as much. Between this unstable method of answering questions and the electronic distractions of tablets and phones, I fear the next generation will grow up illiterate. And where will that leave us.

I suppose that's why I still teach. Someone has to care about things like deadlines and absolutes and quality. I don't like the philosophy that complete is good enough. I hate it that people, including adults, think all limits and deadlines are more like suggestions than requirements. Sometimes you have to do what you're told to do when you're told to do it. That we currently have a nation where that's not the case for everyone explains why schools are in such disarray. And why I must become a person who teaches instead of a teacher.

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