True confession #1: This blog post will have very little do with writing.
True confession #2: I'm not really happy being a teacher anymore.
True confession #3: I'm not sure I ever really was happy being a teacher.
True confession #4: It's terrifying to type that out loud.
True confession #5: It's terrifying because I have a mortgage to pay, a small child to raise, and a lot of Fear (note the capital F) in my current Day Job. Ask any public school teacher, and they'll tell you: morale is low these days, fear is high. Keep your mouth shut and do what you're told. No boat rocking allowed in the 21st century, because there are X number of cheaper, cuter, younger potential hires willing to have your job.
Here's the thing: I love kids. I got into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. I remember in many a conversation with my dad (a complicated but ridiculously loyal and dependable man with a penchant for doing research about anything and everything just for the sheer hell of it) I was told over and over: No matter where you go in the world or what you do, make sure you leave the place in the world just a little bit better than you found it.
Over and over I was told this, until it became an ingrained part of my psyche. It's a part of who I am to be kind and compassionate, with a healthy sense of loyal responsibility, to be fully aware it's important to leave the tiny parcel of planet Earth I'm standing on a little better than how I found it.
True confession #6: Today, given the stuff going on in Public Education World, I'm really struggling with whether or not I'm leaving my planetary parcel better than how I found it. REALLY struggling. I love kids, a lot. I love their brains, and helping them with all their stupid kid problems (and believe me: kids have a lot of stupid problems. Every day on the playground, I have to deal with things like: "He told me I was playing tag wrong!" "No I didn't!" "Yes you did, you said I tagged you wrong!" "Nu uh." "Yes! Yes he did!" Which always ends in me saying something like, "Are you two serious, for real?? THIS is your biggest problem? You have no idea what a big problem is. You don't even pay taxes yet; go play hide-n-go seek and stop tagging each other.")
I love their stories, I love their hugs, I love their notes, I love sitting and talking to them and hearing the kid version of celebrity gossip ("X told me she thinks Mr. B is really cute! I bet she wants to marry him when she grows up!"). They just wrote me a bunch of End of the Year thank you letters with their Literacy teacher, and I shall cherish these forever and ever, amen. They were thankful for me because I read them Peter Pan, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlotte's Web, and Edward Tulane (2nd grade spelling version of that name: Ed Word To Lane). They loved that I always showed them the movie versions so they could contrast and compare. They REALLY loved the winter party I threw them (I must admit: I do throw a great party.)
They said thank you for always helping solve their problems (here's how I do it: I tell them about my tax bills and mortgage payments and credit card debt until they start weeping--I feel it's important to compare your problems to other people's problems so you understand what a real problem actually is). Several of the girls think I'm the prettiest teacher and many of the boys told me they like how kind I am. They like that I'm silly and funny and do the voices when I read stories. Six of them apologized for acting up all year and ten expressed deep regret for not getting me anything in return for all the fun stuff I bought them.
These are sweet children, and I am desperately worried about the 6 who acted up all year. These 6 were the bane of my existence, and I'm not afraid to say they probably know that. But I could see their hearts, and I told them this all the time as I was taking them downtown for whatever major/minor infraction that hour--I can see their sweet hearts, and I know this misbehavior stuff is not what they really want, or who they truly are.
I'm not sure what these 6 will do in their lives when they're grown ups. I had a lot of real talks with those 6, and all of my class. I wanted them to know the world is big and magical and beautiful, but it does get harder and harder as you grow up, and so you should do something with your life that lets you enjoy the beauty and the magic, but also you need a roof over your head and the government will be asking for a portion of whatever is left over after you pay for the roof so make sure you can afford that. And make sure you get along with others and follow directions, so you don't keep getting fired because they WILL fire you. And stay away from credit cards! Those are nothing but dark, dangerous coal mines with fire breathing dragons waiting at the bottom.
True confession #7: Should I be having these talks with people who are 7 and 8? Holy crap, why am I having these talks with little kids??
Because Common Core says they need to already be thinking about their futures and which college they'll attend, that's why. At seven. SEV-en. What were you thinking about when you were 7? Do you remember? I do, and I can tell you it wasn't which University I'd go to; I was thinking about how dreamy Barry Manilow's eyes were, and which imaginary, dead historical figures would be in the audience during my Saturday matinee of The Wizard of Oz this weekend at The Bedroom Theatre.
Some times I feel I'm my dad talking to my 19 year old self who had been at Illinois State University for going on 2 years, was struggling with what major to pick, and had just expressed an interest in majoring in English with a minor in Theater. And I'm saying things like, "What are you going to do with that? Write television scripts for a living?" (Well, actually, uh, kind of, yes?) And: "Let me tell you about Hollywood, Amy." (Because my dad, with his degree in Political Science who parlayed that into managing a manufacturing plant for Corning, was an expert on Hollywood. Remember? Researcher: Paragraph 5 above.) "Let me tell you about Hollywood, Amy: Hollywood is where girls go to become waitresses or end up dead on the side of a road."
FYI: He never explained exactly how girls who go to Hollywood to be waitresses end up dead on the side of a road or, god knows, why he knew that. But I certainly had no desire to end up dead on the sides of any Los Angeles freeways, so I quietly put aside my writing/acting/theater dreams and thought about what else I could do that would keep me from ending up dead on a California road.
And here I am today, trying desperately not to crush anyone else's little dreams, but still feeling the need to warn them: Be careful what you do! Choose wisely. Don't be Me.
Because (True Confession #8): I feel like I'm in the wrong profession. But then, I don't know. Some days I feel like it's okay, and maybe I'm just in the wrong version of it. I don't know! I don't know! (I'm letting you in on some of my inner angst, things that give me occasional insomnia.) I do get to write every day. I get to do a lot of acting every day (not just with kids, either). I get to read all the time. I get to tell stories. I get to be highly bemused at the inner ramblings and workings of the Child Mind (a veritable amusement park, I assure you).
But I'm also under a lot of stress. I checked out on my own family more than once this year. I'm restless. And I'm doing things with and to children I don't agree with. The term "Educational Malpractice" pops into my mind a lot. I disagree with testing small children; I don't see the necessity of it. I don't mind being held accountable, but please find a different way to do this. Childhood is so fleeting; can you please just let them have it? I think this testing obsession and Common Core are very adult-oriented things; adults want to make sure their Return on Investment is high (taxes). Testing little kids to death and making them think about future careers before they really need to doesn't seem to bother adults a bit, and why would it? Grown ups have to fill out endless paperwork and take tests and do hard work and worry about the future all the time...if it's good for us, ergo ipso facto it must be good for kids.
But it isn't! It isn't good for kids. Kids need to play and create art and be wildly imaginative and exist in impossible worlds. They need to socialize and talk and laugh and be really loud and silly and not worry about what career or college they'll choose. Not when they're ages 5-10, at least.
And some of the kids I work with come from extremely sad and hard, hard homes; after 19 years of doing this job and willfully choosing to only work with low income families and kids (because those are the ones who need the most help), I could tell you story after story that'll break your heart. Those are the children who need to play and be silly and find their inner storyteller and let go and let creativity in. Let them go to school and dream and have some magic and fun for 8 hours a day.
True confession #9: I'm worried this country, possibly the world even, is losing its ability to dream. I'm a little angry about that, because I'm a big proponent of daydreaming. I think it's healthy. Where can I find a job where dreams are the focus? Pixar, I hear. But I'm not sure they're hiring. In addition, I'm 19 years into this job I have, I have a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's in early childhood, and I'm 42 with a kid and a mortgage. That's not exactly a great time to make a huge life change. If I were single and childless, it'd be a no-brainer. But I am not. And so (I'm letting you in again) I struggle inwardly with doing what I know would make me more fulfilled, and protecting my child and giving her everything she needs to fulfill her own dreams. (Life gets expensive as you age and tack on baggage, I'm learning.)
True confession #10: Hardly anybody reads this blog (hi mom!). But I'm afraid someone will find it, judge me, and try to get me fired. (I got stalked once online several years ago by a fundamentalist Christian who did that, amongst other scary things.) But I am so worried about my choice in vocation and the roads it's going down these days, that I can't not write about it. It's the end of another long school year fraught with stress and worry, and I'm in the middle of reflecting and spewing, is what I'm saying. I'm living out loud. Taking a risk. Putting it out there, for good or bad.
Praying like that crazy stalker Christian fundamentalists won't find this blog because I have a small child to rear and need to keep a roof over our heads.