I had a discouraging week, Internet. Are you insomniac, too? Let's talk for a bit.
So I've made a really hard, big life decision: to put in for a transfer to a different school. The school I'm at, I've been at almost my entire career: seventeen years. Seventeen years of little poor kids, many of them from other countries. When I was in college, all I ever wanted to do was work with little poor kids from other countries. I got into teaching to help children, to make a difference. I wanted to leave my little corner of the world better than how I found it.
I am not a stellar, award-winning teacher. Teaching someone how to read or do math or use correct punctuation and capitals does not come naturally to me. Over the years, I've learned some techniques for how to do these things, but I've also learned that if they don't get it this year, they'll get it next year. And if they don't get it next year, then they'll get it the year after. And if they don't get it the year after, then something may be wrong in their brain or their home. And that this has been an ongoing issue since humans started walking up right. And I've also learned that some kids love to read, some prefer math, some are better at music or physical education or selling stolen goods off the black market. Everyone has a talent; sometimes it's not school. We should all know how to read, write, and do basic math, though. I think because...I hope it will keep our traffic accidents down.
But telling stories and listening to others' stories does come naturally, and so does fixing boo boos on lost lambs' little broken hearts. That I could do all day long, and weave some reading/writing/rithmetic in between. But they don't really want that anymore; they want 100% engagement and test success, and if you're going to do Art, it better be mostly learn-y and not artsy. They want talented teachers who will magically yank little kids out the dream that should be childhood and get them to pass tests so adults can feel good. (You do know that kids only feel good when they pass tests because they know it's going to make some adult in their life very happy, yes? Kids don't give a crap about passing tests...unless it's part of a video game.) This is very, very, very hard to do without proper home support.
I think I've made it abundantly clear here that I'm about 2 steps away from being a card carrying Socialist. I'm a left-leaning, borderline Commie pinko. I think it's possible for everyone to get along, enjoy the same spoils of the hunt, and just generally be awesome. And I think people who want to hoard wealth for themselves and turn around and tell poor people and others who are struggling to make ends meet: "We're doing this for YOU; it's helping us help YOU" are a special kind of low life. I hope there's a really horrid 10th circle of Dante's Inferno for them.
What's happening today is that we are no longer doing what is best for other human beings; this is a GLOBAL problem, you guys. I'm not just talking about teaching, though that's where I'm personally seeing it happen. We're doing what's best for someone somewhere very far removed from us, from our situations, and they're reaping the spoils of the hunt we're doing all the work on, and then they aren't sharing. I know that sounds like I'm crazy and I'm not going to apologize because it's 2 AM and you're allowed to be crazy when it's 2 AM and you're an insomniac constantly operating on 200 hours of sleep deprivation.
I just...I can't do poor people's kids anymore. This hunt has exhausted me, and I'm not even getting to enjoy the spoils. But I got into teaching to help children, so I'm going to try a different demographic and see if that helps. I struggled and struggled with the decision, but I pulled the plug last week and announced I'm going to try to transfer to a school in a different area. I'm going to see if that freshens and changes my perspective on what's happening in education. It'll also give me a chance to work closer to my house and be at a school my daughter can go to (are you reading what I'm saying there? I can take Miss M to the school that I work at...but I can't. And that's all I will say about it. Well, wait--I will say one more thing about it: the school faculty is not why I can't place her here. And THAT'S all I'll say about it).
I am all kinds of gutted about this. This was the school that taught me how to actually be a teacher. I've made countless friends here--people who are long gone from my work environment but I still stay in touch with because I just think they're fabulous. I have memories of my father walking around this school. I pass by classrooms and go: Oh, I remember when I taught 1st grade there. Oh, I remember when my friend X taught there--so many memories there. Some of my highest highs and my lowest lows have been spent at this school. I've gone through most of my rites of passage here--my dad's death, my marriage, buying a house, one separation, one reconciliation, my baby, turning 40. I started teaching here when I was 26. Now I'm about to turn 43. I've worked for 7 different principals here, 100 different assistant principals (not that many, but that's how many it feels like). I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids and families; I have thousands of stories that'll break your heart and renew your faith. THAT'S how dedicated I've been to this school and these low income families and their sweet babies.
But 1998 was a lot different than 2015. Teaching doesn't look anything like it used to. It's become something I didn't really sign up for. Usually, I can adapt and change and roll with the punches but...this feels different. This feels very, very different. And many of the families that are in my school's area right now are absolutely uninvolved and I don't think it's disrespectful to say this out loud; I think I'm making a firsthand observation that I could back up with a lot of hard data (which they love so much). Anecdotal data example: in 1998, there were posters plastered all over my school with an image of a house and an image of a school with the message, in English and Spanish, What happens HERE (the house) affects what happens HERE (the school). Now, we have posters about how programming code is going to be part of school curriculum just like learning to read and write and do math (this is elementary school, y'all...some of us are still trying to learn our addresses and tie our shoe laces). And posters with pictures of student chairs and desks with messages that say The more you are here, the more you'll learn and succeed.
Which is true! It is true: the more you're at school in your chair, the more you'll learn....if you're not too distracted by mommy and daddy's big fight last night...or hungry...or worried about being hit again...or worried about whether mommy will have to work late again...or freaked out by mommy's new boyfriend. There's a lot going on in some kids' homes these days, and it's a daily struggle. To get them engaged and 100% successful and able to pass tests. With little or no home support. And a lot of pressure to show growth in the data. Somebody somewhere always wants to see growth in the data. (What if you're at 100%? How do you grow past that? What if you're just having a really bad year and you're not able to show growth and need about 180 days to just suck--do we have room to let people have a really bad year and really suck?) (The quick answer to both appears, to me, to be: NO. No perfection or suckage allowed.)
So I'm going to try to get closer to home, and I'm going to try a different demographic of student. I'm nervous about it; I'm worried my decades of teaching low achievers will leave me unprepared for families who are involved in ways that I'm not used to--I don't work well with people breathing down my neck. I'm worried the work I give them will be too easy or too hard or I'm just not talented enough.
I worry, daily, that I'm in the wrong profession, that I'm just not talented enough. I think I'm a good teacher. I just don't think I'm naturally talented at it, and there are some things I just don't do well...like, say, Math. Because the feeling I get these days is they want talented at everything--they want 100% exemplary and talented and good at everything, and they want it for as cheap as they can get it. (This is how 21st century corporations think--if we can't get cheap talent here, we'll outsource to India. If we can't get it there, we'll outsource until we find it.)
I am tired, you guys. I am overwhelmed and disorganized and really tired. And I want to spend more time with my own little girl...this week, she celebrated 100 Day at school. I couldn't go to her program because I couldn't get a sub that fast. She sobbed, "But mommy! We're singing 2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate? and then we're going to point at the audience! And you're not going to be there so I can point at you!"
And there were really, really big tears running down cheeks, hers and mine.
I am at work from 7.45 AM til 5.30 PM most days. Wednesdays I leave early because M has a gymnastics class and I've been asked to participate in her after school activities more. C is doing a lot of the mommy things because of my teaching job. Isn't that crazy? Teaching has traditionally been a female career because people think the hours are 8-3 and, really, 2+2? How hard can that be to teach? (Oh, you'd be surprised.) If you're a traditionally-minded dude who'd like a wife to do traditionally-oriented home life roles? Don't marry a teacher. And if you AREN'T a traditionally-minded dude, then still don't marry a teacher because you're going to be doing a lot of (translation: all of it) laundry, cooking, and child rearing. (I don't do M's homework with her, C does. M and I read, we read lots. But I can't bear to sit and do writing and math and handwriting and all that...after just finishing 12 hours of doing it with 25 other kids.)
This is a really stressful career to go into. You are responsible, now, for more than just teaching 2+2...you are responsible for things other people refuse to be responsible for. The forces at the top don't want to hear about how X's mom keeps switching schools so he can't be placed in special ed, meanwhile it's affecting your entire classroom environment and how much you can teach. The forces at the top don't want to hear about how children are coming to school TWO YEARS BEHIND, with few social skills because they got parents who think good parenting means feed 'em, bathe 'em, put 'em to bed. (No. That is not parenting. That is keep your butt out of Social Services jail time.) The forces at the top just want their data increased, the end. Git 'er done.
When I was in high school, my Advanced Placement U.S. Government teacher (where are you, Lucinda?) told us a story about her first teaching job. It was in the backwaters of Kentucky, and when she opened her classroom door she realized she had no textbooks, not a single thing in the room except desks and a chalkboard. So she went to the superintendent and said, "Where are my textbooks? How am I supposed to teach with no textbooks?" And he said in a thick Kentucky drawl, "Good teacher just teach. Good teacher don't need no textbooks. Good teacher just need chalk." And she said, "Well, I have no chalk either."
And the next day, in her workroom mailbox, there was one piece of chalk.
That's what I feel like is happening in teaching right now except it's not textbooks and chalk, it's human resources and a basic understanding of some of our poorer families' challenges.
I am most heartbroken that we don't seem to care about what's going on in the homes, or we do but aren't willing to do what's right and necessary to rectify it. (Quick: which is worse? Knowing there's a problem and turning a blind eye to it, or knowing there's a problem and having the resources to do something but in the interest of time/money management and political posturing turning a blind eye to it?) I suppose I could find a way to deal with the lack of human resources (I hate talking business speak about education; I find it highly inappropriate)...what I need is to know you deeply acknowledge and understand how a child's home life can and does affect what happens at school, and an acknowledgement that all children can and do learn...but at different speeds and ability levels. We are no longer doing what's best for other human beings; we are focused on doing what's best for us. And I am now one of them. They have turned me into one of them. I have to do what's best for me, for my family. And I am absolutely gutted about this, most days of the week but particularly at night.
There are other reasons I have insomnia a lot. But that's a big one right now. And hurrah! You got to be in my brain for a bit (I hope you're reading this over your morning coffee, after a long restful sleep).