On Teaching…sigh.

I’ve really struggled with writing this post.  There are so many things I want to say about this and I have no idea how to even organize my thoughts.

This year has been one of great turmoil for me.  I’ve done so many things that I thought I couldn’t do, from leaving a toxic marriage to cutting ties with toxic people.  I even changed schools, moving from the only public city school I’ve know to a new school on the other side of town.  While the other stuff has been hard, this may be the decision I struggled most with, and the one I am still the most unsure about.

I wanted to leave my old school because it was a hard environment to work in.  Cattiness among co-workers, kids running rampant in the hall, a lot of protocol but no actual plans, a lack of communication between everyone, and a severe lack of under-appreciation made for a very hostile work environment.  When I switched schools I thought things would be better.  I thought I would like my job more.  I thought I would find the love of teaching that I lost somewhere along the way.

I didn’t.

Instead I realized how broken the system really is, at least in Baltimore City Public Schools, and how tired I really am of it.  Of all of it.

Simply put, I don’t know if teaching is for me anymore. I’m 37 and I’m tired of feeling this way every single day. I’m tired of counting down the days and always living for Friday.  I’m tired of just making it through…or simply thinking “If I can just get through (this week, this day, testing, staff meeting, observation, etc.) everything will be ok.”

I’m tired of having people breathing down my throat when 5 year olds can’t read, telling me to take my planning time to give more intervention.  Give more repetition.  Give more homework.  Work harder. Drill…drill…drill.  THEY. ARE. FIVE.  Let them rest.  Let them play.  Give them the opportunities to learn, but let them find their own way.  Max left Kindergarten hardly reading anything and now in third grade he is on a fifth grade reading level.  And it has nothing to do with me.  At 5 he simply wasn’t ready.  At 6 he was.  And because I didn’t push him and didn’t freak out and because his teacher was awesome and did the same thing he loves school and he loves to read.  Yes, by all means, if students need services and testing please get them early on.  But sometimes kids just need TIME and that’s Ok.

I’m tired of all academics all the time.  In grad school we learn that kids need play.  Studies all over the world show us that kids need play.  Do we do it?  NO.  Do you know why kids don’t know how to play anymore?  Or why they don’t know how to talk to another student?  Or why the only way they know how to play is to fight?  Because we don’t get time to teach them otherwise.  We need to teach them how to socialize, solve problems, work out different situations, be a friend, play games, how to be kind and respectful to every, explore, pretend, etc. and in kindergarten these days we are so focused on academics that the important stuff like socialization and problem solving get pushed under the rug.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the contributors to rising school violence.

Do you want to know why kids these days don’t respect their teachers?  Because a lot of times, their parents don’t.  To parents I’m seen as a babysitter or a necessary evil.  I usually have great relationships with my parents, but I know I’ve had some that I’m sure think that I work for them. I’ve had parents bust into my classroom yelling at me, yelling at other students, disrupting the universe and then people wonder why the kid doesn’t listen to their teacher.  Out of the 7 teachers Max has had, I’ve liked two of them and “strongly disliked” the rest.  Could he tell you which ones I didn’t like?  No.  Did I always stick up for my kid?  Yes.  Was I ever disrespectful to one of his teachers? No.  And you know what?  He never has been either.

I’m tired of giant class sizes.  30 kindergarteners with one teacher is too many, and I’ve seen classes with so many more than that.  You want me to have everyone reading on grade level?  You want everyone proficient in math?  But you also want to give me so many kids that I don’t have time to effectively work with each student…so my scores go down, my raise goes down, my “effectiveness” goes down, and somehow it’s all my fault.  Doesn’t quite seem fair to me.

I’m tired of not having time for my own kids because I am too busy testing, grading, lesson planning, collecting data, filling out reports, filling out referrals, staying for meetings, joining committees, plus taking classes to stay certified as well as earn a raise.  Along with that I’m tired of having less money for my own family because I’m spending it on my classroom.  No one brought snack?  I’ll provide it.  No one brings schools supplies?  I’ll provide it.  I need a housekeeping and blocks center, but there’s no toys and equipment.  I need cords to run the smart board, but there are no extras in the building.  My poor kids are constantly looking for toys I’ve taken into the classroom simply because I couldn’t afford to run out and buy another thing.

Lastly, but mostly, I’m tired of feeling completely unappreciated.  Administration…I’m coming for you.  For the love of God…say THANK YOU.  Tell me I’m doing a good job.  Find one good thing to say about me and my classroom.  And say it to ME!  I’m not expecting this every single day, but every once in a while can’t hurt.  Oh…so you don’t think I’m doing a good job?  Tell me constructively and help me make it better.  The same way I am supposed to do these things with my students.

I love my students, each and every year, even the tough ones (sometimes they are actually my favorite ones), but I’m so tired of faking enthusiasm every single day.  I read a post somewhere the other day that said “Kids deserve an excited adult”.  Maybe they do, but I don’t think that’s me anymore.  I’m doing this because I’m good at it, I have great benefits, and my pay really isn’t that bad.  But my drive is gone.  My optimism is gone.  My excitement is gone.

But in all seriousness I don’t know what else I’d do.  I just wish I had time to be able to figure it out.

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter the teaching profession

“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?

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My Ode to Collington

“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” ~Rumi

I was only at Collington Square Elementary for two weeks before contacting the local teacher union about transferring to a different school.  This wasn’t what I signed up for, I constantly told myself.  I had completed my student teaching at a technology magnet school in the “county”.  My first few years of teaching were spent at a well-to-do private school on an island in South Carolina.  My teacher education, while at a nationally renowned teaching university, had not prepared me for any of this; for the public schools of East Baltimore.

As I drove up the streets to the school for my teaching interview, the boarded up buildings should have been my first clue that I was completely out of my comfort zone; that I was completely out of my element.   My second clue should have come from the fact that I was hired immediately after a 1o minute interview.  At the time I thought it was because I was “that good”.  Now I know it was most likely because they were desperate.

I knew this would be a challenge, but I didn’t care.  I was an idealistic sociology and education major and I was ready to change the world.  I’ve always liked a good challenge and I was ready to embrace this one with open arms.

We heard teachers talk at the new teacher institute about things that were happening at Collington.  They talked about fights, disrespectful students, children who didn’t have shoes, incarcerated parents, an uncaring and absent administration.  I still thought I could handle this.

But on the first day, I realized how wrong I was.  I grew up poor, but this was POOR, in all capital letters.  I wanted nothing more than to run out of the building and never look back.  I wanted to find a cushy job in a place where I didn’t always have to feel like an outsider.  Those of us that were new banded together like a club, while those that were “seasoned” merely put up with us expecting that many of us would not last.  I was in way over my head.  I was promised support.  I was promised supplies.  I was promised a safe environment.  And while the school may have failed to provide me with any of these things, I was provided with so much more.

I have gained a kind of confidence that can only come from being in the trenches of a war.  True, my classroom is made up of the tiny friends of the school and we don’t have the same struggles the older classes have, but we do have our own.  I’ve learned how to solve my own problems and know full well that no one is going to solve them for me.  I’ve learned how to make something out of nothing.  I’ve learned how to scour back to school ads for the best deals in supplies, because I’m the one who provides them for all 25 of my students throughout the year.  I’ve learned how to negotiate for so many things.  I’ve learned how to ask for what I want, even though I know I won’t get it.  I now know how to not feel so intimidated, or at least how to hide it.  I’ve lost the feeling that I always had, the feeling that I needed everyone to like me all the time.  That’s not my job.  My job is to teach, inspire, encourage, create, and mold…and at Collington, I’ve learned that I’m damn good at it.

Every year I have the choice to leave and every year I make the choice to stay. I tell myself that it’s because I’m too tired or too lazy to find another job.  And maybe that’s part of it.  But really, I think I WANT to stay.  Because at the end of the day, Collington is home and the people I work with are my family.  Whether it’s the cousin I only see at random family gatherings or the sister I spend most of my days with, we are all a part of each other’s lives whether we want to be or not.

For the most part, we have each other’s backs and no mater what, we are always going to do our best to make each other shine.  We have to.  Because when it comes down to it, all we have is each other.  It’s time to embrace that, to hold hand, walk forward, and do what we can to create the change we want need to see.

In the five years I’ve been at Collington the school hasn’t changed.  We still have the parent issues, and student issues, and administration issues.  The school hasn’t changed, but I have.  And I’m ready to put that change to good use next year.

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