“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” ~Dante Alighieri – Inferno
Most teachers I know believe that this was their calling. They wanted to work with society’s youngest and most impressionable. They wanted to “make a difference” and “change the world”. The wanted to inspire and mold the next generation; the generation that would undoubtedly take over when they eventually perspired.
This was not me. I never wanted to be a teacher.
I started college as a pre-med student, wanting to be a surgeon first, then a medical research scientist. Once I discovered that chemistry and I would never be friends, I changed my major (to be honest, there were about 50 in-between) and picked up a dual degree in psychology and sociology. I was going to go to graduate school and do research about the world; why it was broken, and what I could do to fix it. Or I’d work at a non-profit. Or join the Peace Corps. Eventually I would probably teach, but to the “big kids” and the grown-ups who had a choice about taking my class.
But, as life has a way of showing us, it didn’t work out that way. My senior year of college brought forth: a disastrous internship at the Baltimore ACLU, the GRE’s, 9 grad school applications sent out (1 acceptance), and a part time job working at the pre-school on campus. It was there, working in the pre-K/kindergarten class, where I discovered my love of the little people; the tiny scholars who would one day change the world. I discovered beginning writing, circle time, centers, recess and story time. I discovered a lovely world full of hope and amazingness.
And I also discovered something I was actually good at. I remember the exact day, sitting on the carpet with my “friends” and realizing that this is what I wanted to do…forever. I immediately found graduate schools education, got my M.Ed. in early childhood education, got certified, and embarked on my life path. I was ready to change the world, one five year old at a time.
Fast forward to 6 years post grad school. I am no longer a teacher. Yes, I work at a public school in Baltimore. Yes, I am in a classroom. But I am no longer a teacher.
I am a data analyst.
I am a paper pusher.
I am a photo copier.
I am a lesson planner.
But I am not a teacher.
I was hired to be a teacher, but I very rarely get to do my job.
Beginning writing is now forced handwriting. Circle time and morning meeting (character and community building parts of the day) only happen if we can keep it under 10 minutes. Centers are nonexistent because I’m usually either still teaching my pre-prescribed scripted lessons from the district (yet still have to write multi-page lesson plans) or I am testing and the rest of the class has to do busy work. Recess? What’s that? We barely have time to look out the window to check the weather for our weather graph let alone go outside and PLAY.
The other part of my day I get to be a bouncer and break up fights, stomp on sassy attitudes, and continually call and text parents of disrespectful students. Why? Because their ENTIRE day is one big structured minute after another and they get NO time to act their age. We can barely take a bathroom break without it interrupting too much instruction. And even then I could bet you that most of them don’t actually have to use it: they simply just want to get up and walk around for a minute and just be. But I have to get through it all. Whether they can do it or not. Whether we’re ready or not. Because if not, I’m the failure. Not them. Not the system. Not the district. Me.
If I’m going to be completely honest, I think this may be the year I decide to not be a “teacher” anymore. It’s just too much and I can’t keep up with all the “extra” non-teaching things I have to do on a daily basis. I’ve said before that there is no way I can be an effective parent and an effective teacher and I whole heartedly believe that because by the time I get home after working a 8+ hour day I still have to make dinner, pack lunches, and spend quality time with three of my own little people. By the time I finally sit down at 9 pm to do the 2-3 hours of nightly work that I have before going back to school tomorrow, I AM DONE.
So something gets dropped. We eat pizza instead of a healthy meal. I put on a movie so I can work. I just don’t get the school stuff done and I look bad. And once I’m caught up, the vicious cycle starts over and over and over again.
There are lovely moments, don’t get me wrong. But that’s what they are – moments. Fleeting glimpses of what teaching used to be. Smiles and math manipulatives and bright-eyed understanding. And it’s always just enough to get me to think maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe I can keep doing this. Maybe I’m over reacting.
But then I check my email. Or get a text from an administrator about something I forgot to do. And I realize there is no winning. Not for me, or my colleagues, or the students. There’s simply getting by. And I know this isn’t enough.
Are we ever going to be able to just TEACH?