Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An affirmation to start the school year

Recently I had a discussion with a friend who has a one-year-old about what her educational choices will be for her son.  Her preference is to home school and if that is not possible, she will send her son (and future children) to private schools.  Public schooling was not an option because, as she stated, most public school teachers are terrible, do not care about their jobs, and ruin children.  After the obligatory "oh, I said most, it doesn't include you", she told me about her educational experiences:  most of elementary school included teachers that she felt did not care much about her as a person, though she noted two standouts, and middle and high school was filled with perverts, demagogues, and the walking dead.  The bottom line--public school teachers, by and large, are only in it to collect a pay check.

Now, this sentiment really bothers me because I know that I have students and parents who think that about me--I am a "tough teacher" who puts on a rather gruff exterior so students won't take advantage of my inherent kindness (I am the person who would love to give everyone extensions and As, but know that I would be doing more harm than good to do that).  I also know that this is how the public by and large judges teachers--we do it for the summers off and short days, tax breaks and great pay--at least those who have been deemed shitty teachers, the rest do it because of some calling from God, so of course we need no financial payment for our work.  It's a dichotomy that makes it easy for the public not to balk when teacher salaries are frozen and furloughed and jobs are cut.

So how are teachers supposed to function in a "profession" where we are both revered and reviled?  We grow scales.  We smile through conferences where parents accuse of us lying and discrimination, calming addressing their child's needs, rather than the fears that elicited the accusations.  We hit reset every time the bells rings because one bad class should not ruin an entire day.  We go to happy hour with friends and coworkers and take the time to bitch about work because teachers are not angels and a little bitching is therapeutic.  And we set time for ourselves, whether it is "I will not check my work email after 5 pm or on weekends" or "this whole weekend (or evening) is mine, regardless of how many papers I have to grade." But most importantly, we persevere--we do not let parents bully us, we speak up when there are unfair working conditions (but we do not make decisions that will harm the students [but limiting written feedback does not harm the students]), we put ourselves first because only then can we properly serve our students.

As this school year begins, I will make no promises for how long it will take to get an assignment back.  I will give myself weekends and evenings off.  I will find a hobby and read books that aren't on my students' reading lists and take long evening walks with my dog and not feel guilty.  The dichotomy of how teachers are viewed pushes those who want to be good to work too hard and while they might be "good" in the classroom, they are not good to themselves.  I need to be good to myself to be successful in the classroom. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Your description of the slacker/saint teacher dichotomy was so spot on! I wonder what needs to happen in our society to break down that duality. It seems almost insurmountable. But your resolve to take good care of yourself this year seems an important first step.