Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When Idealism Attacks

You know, the only thing worse than random uninformed citizens who think teaching is easy and that teachers are well-paid is power-tripping administrators who think teaching is merely a matter of crowd control and data analysis and that teachers are idiots who need to be reminded to push in their chairs at the end of workshops on such tricky topics as how to take attendance.

I may have mentioned ten or twelve or a hundred times before that I love my job. What I meant was that I love the TEACHING part of my job: I love the hanging out with kids part, and I love the doing good part. I also love the advocacy part of my job; you can't be a good teacher without being the kind of person who reflects on what works and then advocates for policies that support or facilitate good teaching. You might be effective in your own classroom, but the title teacher -- at least to my way of thinking -- implies an investment in and passion for the overall process, regardless of whose classroom you're talking about.

It's the advocacy part, more than anything else, that kicks my ass. It's fairly easy -- although not in the way people who say teaching is easy mean it -- to walk into your classroom, close your door, and teach the children well (I'm simplifying. Some days just trying to do THAT makes me cry). But eventually you come out of your classroom and you hear other teachers talking about how they don't need to cover the Harlem Renaissance because it's not on the state test, or administators assuring teachers that their problem students will eventually drop out, and you feel compelled to remind people that that's not why we're here -- that teaching is about helping kids make meaning and instilling a love of learning, and that you do that with whatever fucking topic you can (bitches!) regardless of whether or not the state has deemed it important, that instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that problem students will drop out you should be trying to determine what the problem student's problem is and FIXING it, or at the very least fucking emphathizing with it.

I've been back at school for a mere three days now and I've attended a total of seven meetings. In my notes for each of those seven meetings, I've written somewhere "think about getting out of teaching." The first couple times I wrote it as sort of a silent sardonic response to something discussed in the meeting -- my oh-so-important obligation to confiscate cellphones, IPods, hats, COATS, and do' rags despite the fact that they almost never interfere with my ability to teach, or the likelihood that the assessments I've created for my class will soon be replaced with standardized assessments provided by central administration (and, incidentally, that those assessments will SUCK). But I'm up to seven "think about getting out of teaching"s in just 60 hours because. . .you know what? Things are FUCKED UP.

My department is short two teachers at the moment. (And, oh, by the way, school starts in five days. TOTALLY snuck up on us again.) We've hired nice, motivated, focused -- but unqualified -- long-term substitutes to temporarily fill these positions. From an administrative perspective, these are warm bodies. End of story. From a teacher/advocate/mentor perspective, these are warm bodies with potential who are going to be teaching kids and who need LOTS of help. And when I wasn't in a meeting, helping was pretty much how I spent my day. It's how my friend Steve spent his day, and how our friend Jess spent her day, and how our friend Mike spent half his day (the other half he had stupid football practice). Which means that none of us got anything done for US today, although we did attend a shit-ton of pointless meetings.

And this is how the advocacy thing kicks my ass. Because although you can't be a good teacher without being an advocate, if you spend all your time advocating you'll have very little time left for actually being a good teacher. And then you start getting crazy. Hell, Steve and I have already resolved to skip lunch tomorrow in an effort to catch up.

I needed to drop a few pounds anyway.

Plus I plan to make up all those calories (and more!) in Hoegaarden tomorrow. It's Cogan's Thursday! Which basically means that it's Thursday and I drag all my friends to my favorite bar (Cogan's) for some serious drinking. Cogan's Thursday is such an institution that when Jess registered for a Thursday night grad class, her husband looked at her schedule and said, "You're taking a class on Cogan's Thursday?" and Jess said, "Shit" and then promptly dropped the class.

That's how I ROLL, bitches!

Also how I roll is that my bulletin boards aren't done and I'm not quite sure what I'm doing on the first day of school. If you have thoughts on either feel free to stop by Cogan's after 6PM. If I'm not relaxing on the patio with a pitcher of Hoegaarden, I'll be in the back laughing while Steve totally kicks my ass at air hockey. On his quarters, hopefully. I need mine for laundry.


vikkitikkitavi said...

Man, I thought my work had some bad office politics. My sympathies, man.

I learned last year from a relative who still lives in the area that my high school drama teacher was killed in a car accident. I can't tell you how sad it made me to hear that. That woman changed my life, and even though I'm 45, there's not a month of my life that goes by that I don't think about her.

I hope you never quit.

Chris said...

I know this is the thing that would turn me off to being a teacher - the bureaucracy and indifference. I agree with Vikki, though. Our country needs you as a teacher, especially during this Global War On Terrah.

lulu said...

I have now read this entry to 3 different teachers (basically anyone who walked into my classroom). ANd everyone rolled their eyes in understanding.

Thank you. I think you speak for all of us, the teachers who care. The ones who come early and stay late and actually care that they are giving meaningful assignments.

My favorite part of yesterday's meeting was this comment by our principal. (who, for the record, I actually respect and feel is doing the best he can in a bad situation)
"An big indicator of if lids are going to graduate is the failure rate." Umm? really?

Brian said...

Just go all Dead Poet's Society on their asses; fuck 'em.

wonderturtle said...

I hear you sister, and you can always get a witness and an AMEN from me. I am continually torn between trying to work from within the system (where I receive a paycheck from an institution whose policies I fundamentally disagree with) or from without (where I could potentially have a wider impact but would lose the immediate force of the classroom). It is an asskicking job. I guess that's part of what makes it so great.

Megan said...

Vikki and Chris: Thanks. I'm not quitting. I just sometimes want to.

Lulu: I figured the experience was somewhat universal. And lucky you with a good principal!

Brian: Done and DONE. Steve and I had a chat about flat out refusing to do unreasonable shit. What are they gonna do, FIRE us? No.

WonderTurtle: I struggle with that exact same conflict. Wanting to do big picture good but being unwilling to give up the day-to-day one kid at a time good.

Maritza said...

That sucks. Schools are being run like corporations replete with bogus administrators and consultants. The complaint I hear from teachers in Hudson County is that their career paths depend on the amount of political support and fundraising they accomplish! Can you imagine?

noonan said...

Look, sister, you are NOT going to stop teaching. You are a teacher - it's what you're supposed to do. I'm glad that you're there for those kids (but know that we will fire anyone to get you back).

Megan said...

Anyone? :) Hey, did you hire my boy A-Rod back? I'm really only typing that here in the hopes that it will remind me to ask you when we actually talk.

Unclejbird said...

Observations on 4 days of preservice week: 7 hours per day. A 28-hour week, less 6 hours for lunches. 22 hours, 9 of which were spent in training or meetings. That's almost HALF.