Wednesday, June 02, 2010

After the following essay I wrote several years ago was mentioned at Larry Ferlazzo's blog in his recent interview with Renee Moore, I decided to post it here:

Wonder Teacher:
I was talking to a friend the other day who is also a teacher, in a school much like mine, but far away. We laughed about the similarities of our situations, the kids, the administrators, the politics, and the unpredictable nature of our days. As I went down the litany of what I had done in the course of my day, my friend said to me, "You must have worn your cape today! Who are you? Wonder teacher?"

Knowing his day had been of the same intensity, I laughed at his comment. But later it started me thinking about our jobs as teachers, how much is expected of us, the wide range of skills we must possess, and how little we are rewarded in return for our efforts.

Maybe instead of the mundane teacher postings most districts advertise, they might want to consider the following:

Job Opening:Wonder Teacher
1. Must have own cape and able to use it to fly to ubiquitous locations at any moment.
2. Ability to mold (not the fuzzy green kind) small minds.
3. Able to change actions mid-stream and head in an entirely opposite direction without a paddle, canoe or any flotation devices.
4. Make do financially on less than any other professionals and use a portion of those funds to supplement necessary classroom materials.
5. Work long hours, with summers and holidays off but devoted to additional training/professional development at your own expense, despite the fact you already have earned a Masters degree.
6. Deal with irate parents who think your main goal in life is to hinder the progress of their child.
7. Deal with administrators who have either never taught or have simply forgotten what it is like to be "in the trenches" on a daily basis-be subjected to their whims, mood swings, and half-baked ideas.
To apply, please contact your local school district.

That job description was written in jest, initially. Then I started thinking about each of the individual components of the "posting".

The first qualification: Maybe teachers don't need an actual cape to perform their daily duties, but they certainly need to be able to be in more than one location at a time In starts with hall duty, separating students in a scuffle at one corner as another student chats about their night, and four more ask what assignment they missed when they were absent. Two students are seeking a band-aid as another one strolls by in severe dress code violation—all before the day actually begins. And when the day does begin, it only gets more complicated, with six students in the class on task, four more finished early and bored, 12 needing additional help, three who were gone yesterday and are lost, one with ADD, one with ADHD, one with OCD, one with ODD, and a few others as yet unclassified. Does Amazon sell capes in my size?

The second qualification: Able to mold small minds. Teacher preparation classes at universities attempt to provide students with the necessary skills to teach all youth we will encounter by giving us a repertoire of lesson strategies, assessment tools and classroom management skills—most of which, once teachers are in a real classroom with real students, seem woefully inadequate. Think of a forest fire and a bucket. No matter how hard you try to put out all the flames, they just keep popping up. There is always one more student needing one more thing. There is always another stack of papers to be corrected, another parent phone call to make, another lesson idea to work on. It seems all those mundane tasks of teaching suck up more time than the time actually spent "molding young minds" until the teacher's mind is the one covered in a furry green substance.

Band concerts, fire drills, IEP's, intercom interruptions about the next dance or bake sale, schedule changes, observations, knocks at the door, guest speakers, unannounced assemblies, snow days, and on and on. The best-planned lessons are interrupted; the most well designed schedules disintegrate without a trace. It feels like you're on a torrential whitewater river, crashing downstream in a $4 blowup raft from the Dollar Store, bouncing over sharp boulders, with no steering device or safety equipment.

The third qualification: Teacher pay is simply not comparable to the compensation in other careers that require similar education and levels of professionalism. It begins with low starting salaries and it's compounded as you find you're required to pay for your own continuing education, all the while climbing up the salary ladder at a turtle's stately pace. I just heard about General Motors cutting back on a program that previously paid employees up to $10,000 a year for graduate classes. Now they must settle for $6500 a year (the same amount offered to employees working towards their bachelor degree). Holy cow! Imagine $6500 a year for graduate school tuition. I'd dance naked in the streets (trust me, not a pretty sight) for that kind of tuition reimbursement. Teachers everywhere would be overjoyed with such a support system. Keep in mind that continuing education is required for maintaining teacher certification, and the classes are offered either nights, weekends, or in the summer. While this makes it possible for teachers to take the classes, it cuts into time with our families. Few other occupations require as much commitment of outside time to keep your current position.

The fourth qualification: In the course of many years of teaching, most parents I have dealt with have been terrific. They are positive, supportive, and yes, even appreciative of my efforts on behalf of their children. However, somehow all it takes is that one irate, irrational parent to negate the entire positive past interactions. Every teacher has dealt with parents who are of the opinion that from 8 until 3 each day, their share of the responsibility for raising their child is zero. We've also had that parent who defends the actions of their little angel regardless of the evidence. We've had parents threaten us with physical violence, with lawsuits, with rumor and innuendo, seemingly thinking we get out of bed every morning with the sole purpose of picking on their child.

The fifth qualification: Having the support of your principal and your superintendent makes the job bearable-or not. Knowing that when things are rough, you have someone who will support you, stand with you, and acknowledge your efforts, really can make all the difference. When administrators don't listen to the professionals upon whom their own success depends, the teaching life can become pure drudgery.

Maybe the title Wonder Teacher is appropriate after all? When you look objectively at the job, sometimes it does make you wonder why anyone chooses to become a teacher.
For me though, objectivity has never been a strong suit. Waking up each morning, thinking about the day ahead, the smiling faces I know will be there to greet me, the enthusiastic questions, the wonder at learning something new, the perseverance through rough times, the laughter, the note passing, the corny jokes, the smell of markers, the chalk dust in the air, sound of lockers slamming, the cafeteria cuisine, the forgotten textbooks, the missing pencils—all that makes up for the anything the parents, the administrators, or the school board can toss my way. Most days, I just can't believe they actually PAY me to come here, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Does that make me Wonder Teacher? Not at all. Just your normal, typical everyday American classroom teacher.

By the way, do you have to dry clean these capes?

No comments: