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?”
Hey. Happy Monday.
I taught for ten years in a wonderful school district. It wasn’t affluent by any means, just a sleepy little central Florida town. “An unrealistic teaching environment, you lucky dog,” was what my directing professor told me when I got the gig.
I taught English, or Language Arts as it’s referred to in middle school.
To teach middle school, you have to be ready to perform the freakin’ Cirque du Soleil every day to get their attention and keep it. I’d get all excited about a unit I was teaching and so happy when the hands went up. The questions usually went as follows:
“Didn’t you wear that dress on Wednesday last week, too?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Were you riding a horse down highway 495 last Saturday morning?”
Anyway – I did it and enjoyed it for ten years, but I don’t miss it. I am now a SAHNSM – a stay-at-home-noncustodial-stepmother. Don’t hate my ‘perfect’ life *snort*- to be me you’d have to be pushing 60.
Oh, and BTW Oprah – when you and your team members unilaterally decide to keep a young Jeffrey Dahmer out of your classrooms, you’ll be damned glad you had that tenure.
Have a great week – looking forward to your next post.
Hahahaha! Rad. I swear, the questions seem to always be like that. I explain an assignment then I pause. “Any questions?”
“How long have you been married?”
“Do you like figs?”
“When is Thanksgiving?”
“Do we have to do this?”
Ah, precious angels.
I think that the Sunday night blues might be universal. No-one I know says “Yahoo, back to work tomorrow.”
I do not believe that teachers should be on call, EVER! Kids should pay attention in class, stay after school if necessary and try to figure it out on their own. I believe this is a generation of lazy learners and include my teeangers in that. If they tell me one more time that they don’t do well because the teacher doesn’t like them I could scream. I have told my children repeatedly that teachers are paid to teach them, not like them and as long as they are treated the same as ever other student, to suck it up cupcake. That being said my boys have had teachers that would have been better off being dog walkers or life guards, but I have never voiced that opinion to them.
It is a hard job without a doubt but it does have its perks and benefits and makes other professions jealous. No company I have ever worked for has ever came back and thanked me for helping them or improving their bottom line. I work all summer and still do work at home when necesary on nights and weekends. Maybe not grading but equally boring.
Try to find the joy, at least a smidge everyday. Otherwise you become burnt out so fast. I too wish I could stay home with the kids and believe me they need you more as teenagers than they do as toddlers. The decisions and choices are much harder.
Okay, I think maybe I have started to rant a bit, back to work for me…..
Happy Monday (and only 4 more days until Friday!)
It’s SO true, Shellie! Some teachers really ought to have chosen a different profession. I agree, too, that we have a lot of perks other working stiffs don’t get. The vacation time is grand. We make less money, but we also work 10 months a year, not 12. The kids can really be a joy, too. Today, a kid did something that irritated and infuriated me, and instead of getting mad, I laughed. And then he laughed too. And we had a nice moment. It was a good day. I think I found a smidge of joy today.
Of course, when I picked my daughter up from day care, it was nothing but hoola hoops, “Olivia,” and happiness.
God almighty, there is no way on this earth I could be a teacher, for all the things you just talked about and more. The loads of crap y’all are handed to deal with on a regular basis just astounds me. Props to you for doing such a great job and getting so little thanks for it. I certainly don’t have the stones to do your job, so I’ll stick to wading in blood and bodily fluids, thanks.
It’s funny, Kristina, because I’ve often wished I’d gone into nursing instead of teaching. One of my close relatives has had a chronic disease all her adult life, and she tells me nurses are either born nurturers or they’re sadists. And she’s 90% sure I’m the former 🙂
I agree with everything you’ve said. As a 12th grade teacher in a more affulent school in CA that scores high…you can’t compare us to a school on the other side of the district with English learners and who do not come from the same socioeconomic level as my students. It’s a language proficiency test–that’s the bottom line. My husband and I (both teachers) are big union people too. I’m sick and tired of people going after our pensions and tenure and acting like that’s the problem of education in America. I’m really disappointed in Obama’s education policies, especially since we knocked on over 100 doors in 100 degree Vegas weather in ’08 trying to get support for him.
The L.A. Times is publishing stories about the worst teachers in the district. I think we should do “worst parents” stories, because that’s where the problems originate. It’s not a big mystery why a lot of these kids are screwed up…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
And as a side note, I enjoy your commentary about the happy mommy blogger we won’t mention. I enjoy reading her blog posts, but it does make me feel inadequate half the time. My husband is always pointing out that she isn’t “real” and that she’s only posting the good stuff, which I understand, but it’s still annoying.
“…I really hate it when people who have never stood at the front of a classroom think they know how to fix education.”
I am a former teacher and I couldn’t agree more. Very nice post.
Thanks, Lola. The only people who get told how to do their jobs better more often than teachers are mothers.
There are a million working parts to every teaching day, good and bad. It’s exhausting. I teach in a fairly affluent school district with a fairly high Academic Performance Index. I have to suppress a sigh when our principal gleefully announces our API score at Back-to-School Night, and all the parents applaud like Elvis just walked on stage. Do they know what that number even means? Do they know that their sons and daughters ask me daily what is the bare minimum they can do and still pass/get a C/get an A? Or how many Honors kids I catch cheating? I agree that things need to change, but the kids and parents have to be on board. Oprah has a pie-in-the-sky view of teaching that would be endearing if she wasn’t so militant about it. Her followers hang on her words, and agree with everything she says. She needs to be put in charge of a classroom for a week, without cameras.
When you said they applaud like Elvis just walked on stage, I laughed for real! And I pictured Homer Simpson chanting, “We’re number one!” Heh, heh, heh!
I saw that Oprah and as a pre-service teacher, found it rather disheartening. I feel that I can be a good teacher during school hours and not need to be “on call” after school until all hours. Where is my time to be a good wife and mother? Where are all of these childrens’ mothers? If I’m to be on call for YOUR kid until 11pm, what the hell are you doing?
Listen, Mrs K-6, you’re going to be a great teacher. You are part of the solution, not the problem. It can be disheartening, but there is so much more good than bad in this job.
Anyone who wants to tell teachers what we “should” do, should have to first teach for a minimum of 16 weeks in a school with no air conditioning, in a city where many of the parents don’t care, and in a classroom that has more students than desks.