I’ve got the blues.
Most of my teacher friends get them on Sunday. My husband usually has a particularly crippling case. When I check in on Facebook, most people are lamenting the end of a weekend and looking forward glumly to a Monday of work (or school — many of my FB friends are former students who are now in college). Many of us have “homework” we’ve procrastinated all weekend. At 4:00 this morning, Odie got up to get our thrashing-all-night baby another dose of Tylenol and couldn’t go back to sleep. I heard the all too familiar shuffle of paperwork as he used the insomniac hours to catch up on grading.
Grading. The bane of my existence as a teacher.
Planning is creative and often fun. When a lesson goes well, the act of teaching can be like performing opening night in a play to a sold out crowd with a standing ovation at the end. When it goes badly, it can be like trudging through a performance of “The Glass Menagerie” at a senior citizen’s dinner theater matinée (paradox completely intentional).
Grading is tedious, mind-numbing, and time-consuming, but I see no way around it. When I have a stack of papers that shows everyone did poorly on the assignment, I know I either designed the assignment badly, explained it poorly, or taught it inadequately. Then it’s back to the old drawing board.
On Friday, I felt that if my classroom had been equipped with an emergency evacuation slide, I might have grabbed a couple of cold beers from the galley and quit that bitch.
My students don’t listen. They feel totally comfortable turning to each other while I’m teaching and having a completely separate conversation. Not even in a whisper. Nothing surreptitious or polite. In fact, they might decide to include someone in the conversation who is sitting on the opposite side of the room. By shouting over to him. They are speaking a language that I don’t speak, and somehow my not being able to understand them translates to my not being able to HEAR them. Like some sort of verbal cloak of invisibility.
So some days, like Friday, I just want to run screaming from the room. Knowing that my own child is at day care instead of with me while I’m being ignored by teenagers makes it that much more challenging. There is nothing I want more than to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter. But we spent all of our savings so that I could do it for her first year, and now we simply can’t afford it anymore.
We live in a world where people tell me I’m “lucky” to have had the time I did have. I realize this, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. Not that bitter pills are bad. Xanax has a terrible taste, but OH, MAGIC PILL, I love you so… Where was I?
I could have continued to stay home with Baby V. It would have meant giving up tenure. Something I just found out Oprah and Bill Gates think is ruining America. I caught a rerun of The Oprah Winfrey Show Saturday night, and it was an advertisement for a movie called “Waiting for Superman.” This episode had her basically stunned that teachers get a job “for life,” and that it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers. Oprah, of course, knows everything about being a teacher and running a school. It’s not HER fault the school she created in Africa hired teachers who sexually abused the students. That could happen to ANYBODY.
Child abuse allegations aside, I really hate it when people who have never stood at the front of a classroom think they know how to fix education. Know who to point their diamond encrusted, manicured fingers at. It’s those LAZY teachers with their cushy jobs that they can’t be fired from. It’s very frustrating to see teachers, and particularly teachers unions, vilified. I don’t want to get into a discussion of tenure and state testing, though I have plenty of obscenity-laced comments to make. Believe it. What really got my knickers in a twist was Oprah’s belief that teachers should be available by cell phone at 11:00 at night to answer homework questions. THOSE are the teachers who are dedicated. THOSE are the teachers who care about students’ learning.
I’m asleep at 11:00 at night because I need to be in my classroom at 7:45 in the morning to teach my first class of the day. And I have a family of my own. Is the future of American education really dependant on me or Odie interrupting our family dinner to take a phone call from a student? Because what really makes a difference in a student’s education is PARENT INVOLVEMENT, and when I’m off the clock, I need to be a parent. The student who’d be calling me would most likely be a student who had the opportunity to ask that question in class but was too busy texting on his cell phone to look at the homework and see if he understood the directions. No thanks.
I know teachers who are dedicated like this. Good for them. Huzzah. I have an air-horn I’m blowing right now in their honor. Seriously, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. I’m standing up in my living room and lighting a match.
I wonder if Oprah believes that teachers who are “on-call” until 11 pm (not sure if we get weekends off. Probably not) should be paid hourly for this service. What? We’re supposed to do it for the love of teaching? Yes, that’s what I thought. Teaching is supposed to be a “calling,” not a job. It isn’t the priesthood, folks. Teachers don’t take vows of poverty and obedience. We have degrees and expertise and we deserve to be paid for our work. Like doctors. Like lawyers. Like Kim Kardashian. Brian Crosby wrote a superb book called The Hundred Thousand Dollar Teacher, and a follow-up called Smart Kids, Bad Schools, that says all of this better than I could any day of the week. If teachers were properly trained, they’d be more effective. If the profession were properly respected and appropriately compensated, it would attract the best minds. Read his books if you care about this subject. He’s a bit conservative for my taste, but he makes a terrific argument.
Whenever I write about these issues, I don’t do a very good job. It makes me SO MAD and when I get mad, I don’t exactly get articulate. Or funny. For that, I apologize. I saw my city’s local newspaper a few weeks ago and the headline trumpeted the school district’s successful test scores. I don’t teach in the city where I live. I rent. My town is incredibly expensive and a teacher could never afford to buy a house here. What I know about test scores is that rich kids get high test scores. Schools in affluent neighborhoods have high APIs. The biggest determiner of success in school is the socioeconomics of the parents. Period. The teachers in the schools here are good, bad, and mediocre. The parents hire private tutors and send the kids to test prep academies on Saturdays.
So, I have the blues. I’m prepared for class. My weekend papers are graded. Tomorrow I’ll walk in and smile and give them the best performance I have in me, even after a night of comforting my teething toddler through her pain. I’ll shake it off and do what needs to be done. I will be ready, willing and able to answer my students burning, pertinent questions.
Which undoubtedly will be, “Can you turn the air conditioner on?”