I did it again tonight. I went to what was supposed to be a Football Tailgate Party for one of our church’s Sunday school groups. Instead of shooting the breeze, I made my time with acquaintances nothing more than a weird airing of grievances concerning the problems with being a teacher these days.
I stood behind a math teacher in line to get a hotdog. I asked her how her year was going, but I don’t think I really listened. I nit-picked what little bit I knew about the new Texas teacher evaluation system. I’m not really sure she’s bothered by the new system, though I thought I had several reasons she should be.
I sat down minutes later by a fourth grade teacher, easily starting a conversation about her school year too. Upon my urging, we lamented how difficult it is to watch children figuratively drown in school work that’s way over their head. We mulled over how many behavior problems stem from children being so far behind. Boy was I the life of the party.
I was an offering of sour grapes for dessert, by then, explaining why I couldn’t teach full-time anymore; how teaching only part-time is doable and so much healthier for me and my family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this to an unsuspecting teacher.
You see, I was a full-time teacher for ten years. I taught first and second grade. I loved the kids.
I mean, I LOVED the kids! I loved teaching them about the water cycle singing educational lyrics to the tune of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”…
Water travels in a cycle yes it does
Water travels in a cycle yes it does
It first goes up as evaporation, then forms clouds as condensation, then falls down as precipitation yes it does…
I loved the hugs they gave freely and the proud smiles they wore like an honor badge when they’d read a paragraph out loud with improved speed and inflection.
I treasured their pictures with stick figures and hearts claiming “Mrs. Burden is the best techer in the world”.
I quit on them about eight years ago. I’ve taught part-time since then, identifying (and remediating) students with dyslexia. I’ve helped out with ESL and taught a handful of children who were confined to home for a period of time due to an illness or condition that kept them home. But I’ve never went back, or even considered going back, to teaching full-time.
While I loved the kids, the coworkers and administrators, what I didn’t love was the paperwork. There were loads of papers to grade and record and seemingly innumerable essential elements (later called TEKS) to schedule neatly in tiny boxes of time.
There were notes to write to parents and notes to look for hurriedly in backpacks, daily, in case a parent changed after-school pickup plans that day. I quit at a time when lesson plans and attendance had to be done both on paper and on the computer. I was overwhelmed with busy work when planning and teaching was busy enough.
I’d had a wealth of wiggle room regarding scope and sequence my first few years of teaching. I was the only one teaching my grade level in those schools. If my class struggled as a whole in math on the concept of borrowing, it didn’t matter if the the lesson plans said that we were only doing borrowing on Tuesday. If need be, I could teach borrowing on Wednesday and Thursday too.
If the kids were particularly dragging one afternoon, I could stop what we were doing and read them a chapter or two of Junie B Jones while they layed their heads (without anxiety) on their desk to rest for a bit.
We had recess those days. It was a space where students learned conflict resolution through the time and opportunity afforded outside a lesson. They learned the concept of taking turns and getting along with someone who was different. The playground was a canvas for the imagination.
Eight years ago when I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, the climate was rapidly changing. Test scores dictated entire curriculums, stifled creativity and sucked much of the life out of lessons. Paperwork, mounds of it, designed to prove you were doing your job adequately, stole time from teaching.
And then there were those kids I loved. Many of them battled not only learning to spell (We could pretty much handle that.), they were battling things much too heartbreaking; like my second grader who was checked out of school in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. When they called her on the intercom to bring all of her things, she was as surprised as I was. Her parents needed to get out of town quick. I won’t ever forget her looking at me as if begging me to do something while we quickly cleaned out her desk and I placed her much too heavy backpack on her shoulders with a hug that would end up being our last.
I taught kids who bore marks of being burned with a cigarette, one who was whipped until black and blue with an extension cord, and others who endured abuse too horrible to mention. (There was a a year or two that several CPS caseworkers knew me by name.) I had to let each of those kids go home at 3:15 everyday when the bell rang regardless of the fact that I knew some of them weren’t being released to a safe place.
It was when I taught that I was introduced to migraines and muscle spasms. It’s the time when my weight dipped low because of a chronically upset stomach and because, often, the school day kept me too busy to eat.
I quit teaching full time because I didn’t feel strong enough to handle it. I stopped because I felt robbed of the time and energy I needed to be a mom and wife. I was never able to master the “Don’t take your teaching home with you” policy.
I guess it astounds me that some of you still do what you do.
Teaching, good teaching, is hard. Yet you do it anyway.
You stay up to date on ELLs and ESL, AR and ADHD, TAKS and TEKS, RTI and IEPs.
You deal with parents who underestimate your devotion to their children and scores that seek to put a number on your effort.
Still, you enlist every August to June, investing in a room full of students. You face the discouragement of failed lessons, constant distractions and new rules to play by.
You stick with it another year even though it’s difficult to balance two families (your school family and your family at home).
I applaud the restraint you show when you just want to eat a hotdog but someone like me rambles discouragement instead of just saying thank you for what you do.
This generation and generations of children to come need you. They need your hugs and the inventiveness you sneak into lackluster lessons. Keep singing them songs. Keep inspiring them to write, to read, to try again.
As for me. I’ll be more conscientious of the job you do, the kids you haven’t give up on. I’ll pray for you. And I’ll devote myself to saying tomorrow what I’m saying now,