I went to the park today with my husband and daughters. It was my idea, even. For the last eight months or so, I’ve been fogged in like a San Francisco airport. Sometimes, the whole weekend would go by and I’d realize Monday morning that I didn’t even go outside. I’m back, baby. I feel myself healing from the shitfest that was this past school year.
Part of it was paper grading, which can be endless for an 11th grade rhetoric and comp teacher is she lets it be. Most of it was me cocooning myself in because getting from Monday to Friday took everything out of me.
I want to write about it all. I want to tell you every single degrading, terrifying, infuriating, stomach-lurching thing that happened this school year.
But I can’t. Don’t be mad. Let me explain.
Do I have to say it? Google “teacher fired blog” and see what comes up. I have. It’s infuriating. Every teacher I know has said something similar to what Natalie Munroe did about her students. Okay, maybe not “rat-like.” The First Amendment may protect us, but that’s still something decided in court. The article I read about Munroe says her principal “was forced to take her back.” How delightful. I’ve seen administrators in that position, but teacher tenure is a whole ‘nother Oprah.
This past school year, I found myself more frustrated than I’d ever been with the learned helplessness of my students. That’s not what drove me to anxiety and depression so bad that I considered (however temporarily) in-patient treatment.
The group I abandoned in 2009 mere days before the AP Exam for maternity leave was especially dear to me. My own baby is five and “graduating” from pre-school this summer, but my other babies are graduating from Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Bennington, and MIT among others. They post their Facebook pictures – smiling, capped and gowned – and I well up as if they were my blood.
My expectation that it would be the same when I went back was not unrealistic, but it ended up way off base. A comedian can do a hit show in Chicago then have the exact same set tank in Atlanta. Likewise I found that I don’t play well to every class I’m in. “Tough room” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Every class has its own personality. Contributing factors include the time of day, the class they just had, the position of Saturn in the heavens, and some mysterious whothefuckknows that together make up the energy of a group. Not only do individual classrooms have it, but whole classes (meaning the class of 2009 or ’10 for example). Every class has students I bond with and inspire, but this group did not click with me.
Once you’ve been in education for close to two decades or more, everything old is new again. When I started my career, our state had adopted new standards so everyone was in professional development prepping for the new new tests. As a wet-behind-the-ears noob, I was eager and enthusiastic (for me, anyway). The eye-rolling, world-weariness of veterans rubbed me the wrong way.
“Shoot me if I ever get that cynical!” I commanded my coworker Mary.
Thank God Mary doesn’t own a gun.
When our state adopted Common Core, I turned to Mary and whined, “Didn’t we just adopt new standards?”
So far, I’ve only looked at Common Core for the summer school class I’m teaching. It doesn’t look a whole lot different than the standards we already had, but I’m looking at 9-10 ELA. I trust the professionals at all levels who have concerns about the new tests. They’re the experts, so they can be trusted to know what is best for their kids. Imagine if legislators also believed that, what a wonderful world this could be!
I am still enough of that apple-polishing student who became the master underneath it all to believe that it can get better again. My first year of teaching AP a decade ago was a disaster. An unmitigated flop. The next several years were the opposite. By September, I will be ready to give them my best once again.
Which is unfortunate, because school starts in early August.