Prepare for whining and a revolting display of martyrdom. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There are so many times in my day that I sigh deeply that I can’t believe there’s any oxygen left in my classroom by 2:30.
I seem to go from being incredibly excited, exhilarated, innovative, inspired, and WAHOOoooOooo about my job to feeling as if what I do each day is pointless, unrecognized, useless, and hopeless. In fact, it’s the latter set of emotions that has had me wanting to go through the pain, sickness, and difficulty of growing a human being in my body before I’m emotionally, mentally, and financially ready to do so, rather than have to spend one more day trying to explain to my students the reasons why knowing the parts of speech and being able to recognize them in action is important and applicable in their lives beyond high school (when in reality it isn’t, it’s only applicable for the state mandatory test they have to take and pass in May). Now, you’d think that a reasonable person would be able to figure out what the triggers are for the 90 degree dives on this emotional roller coaster and either A) avoid them or B) find a way to eliminate them. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very good at being reasonable. Therefore, I’d rather take a minute to share my experience and invite you into my revelations that have resulted from pondering such thoughts…
I spend approximately 55 hours at school, in my classroom each week (35 hours are mandatory). Then, I spend an additional 5-10 hours each weekend working from home. I spend about $250-$500 of my own money on classroom supplies each school year including books, desk supplies, Expo markers, student supplies, tissues, and hand sanitizer. I spend hours each week creating power point lecture slides, collecting information, creating quality assessments, grading those assessments, picking up supplies, fine-tuning my lessons, creating lessons, updating the class website, putting together work for absent students, tracking down absent students to turn in work or make up tests, staying after school to allow students to make up work or learn what they’ve missed while they were absent, restocking the classroom, organizing the mounds of paperwork that accumulates each day, entering grades, returning papers, filing papers, calling parents, reporting on which parents I’ve called, speaking to counselors about where a kid is/if they’re coming back/ what do I do with the kid who doesn’t speak English or who just got out of juvy or who just got out of the psyche ward for attempted suicide. As you can see, teachers are very busy people (at least the dedicated ones are) and have very little time left in their days to dedicate to their own well being and sanity (hence, me).
Now, I could go all Taylor Mali on you and tell you that all of my dedicated hours, time, money, and loss of sleep are all for a good cause, that I make a difference in this world in a way that no one else does because I teach. However, despite feeling Mali-esque about my job much of the time, as my tagline reads, I won’t sugarcoat how I feel about my job today.
Every day I teach 15 and 16 year old kids who could give a crap less about what I have to say. Sure, I may be interesting at times. I may give them little nuggets of truth and knowledge that they might bother to pass on during a conversation or employ in their lives at some point. It’s even possible that I positively impact a few of their lives each year in a way that will not allow them to forget me or the lessons they learned in my classroom for the rest of their lives. However, most of the time my class is simply a means to an end (of high school, of their childhood, of their obligation to the educational system, of their journey towards their diploma) and to every sophomore, school is below everything else on their priority list. This makes my job pretty thankless most of the time. Despite all of that time and energy I put in each day, each week, each month, my students fail to turn in assignments, fail the class, don’t show up, don’t pay attention, and don’t care.
What’s worse? Their parents don’t always care either; in fact, many of them blame the schools and their child’s teachers for not properly motivating their child to achieve their best and to want to succeed in school. I had a parent tell me last semester that, “32% is better than last year and at least he’s improving!” Oh, right; that’s true, if your expectations are minimal, which mine are not allowed to be.
Not only am I not monetarily compensated for the amount or quality of work I do, I rarely get any recognition or gratitude from anyone for it. I am thankful and grateful to have a job in the first place, a job with insurance benefits to boot, but as a teacher I put up with a lot of shit with very little reward in any shape or form about 98% of the time. Then, our lovely state superintendent, Tony Bennett, has to go and not only badmouth Indiana schools as trash worthy of being thrown out and remodeled as charter schools (um, we’re 14th in the nation when it comes to quality of public education, no thanks to him) but to then try to push legislation that bases teacher salary on student test scores and eliminates our right to teacher unions and collective bargaining? Yeah, I don’t think so.
So, I’ll be going to the statehouse tomorrow to shout with the other teachers about how screwed up our educational system is, and how Tony Bennett will further add to the anger and frustration of my life as a teacher if his baneful legislation is pushed through. Maybe once I’m able to stop teaching to a test and start teaching to what my students actually need to succeed in the world I’ll start leaning towards Taylor Mali’s view on teaching more often than not. Until then, I think I’ll remain bitter and worried about the future of my profession and of the public education system at large.