Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery






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Saturday, March 05, 2011


Ode to Mr. Kotter

Okay, so there's too much to say about this subject to tweet about it. I'm not Kevin Smith and I'm not going to do a series of 85 tweets to have my say on any one topic. I'm not going to try throwing this whole thing up on Facebook, either. Dammit, there are some things that can be best said on a good, old-fashioned blog. So here we are again.

I'm a teacher. I think I may have mentioned that on here somewhere before. I got into teaching because, about eleven or twelve years ago, I read a Newsweek article that said that we were running out of teachers and we needed fresh blood to fix our broken educational system. This may or may not have been the same issue of Newsweek that talked about this odd new phenomenon of "reality TV".

When I moved to New York a couple of years later, with that article still in my head, I fell under the staggering influence of a series of subway ads for a city-sponsored teaching program, a program in which people left their current careers (in my case, scooping cat turds at an animal shelter) and, after a swift summer of study, were thrown into classrooms in under-performing schools to try and save America's future while we simultaneously earned our master's.

Now, I will be the first to admit that this program was massively flawed. I did not feel prepared when I first stepped in front of a class full of students who it was my responsibility to teach. In fact, once I closed that door for the first time, I pretty much just stood there frozen, not knowing what the hell to do. That feeling lasted the entirety of that very, very rough first year.

But I didn't quit. I stuck it out that first year, and the next and the next, trying hard to become a better teacher. I didn't quit that first year because I thought of teaching as something good and noble and I didn't want to give up on that.

I feel that way still.

Teaching is a hard fucking job. Very. Fucking. Hard. School of Rock--with its room full of eager-to-learn students who sit quietly and absorb every utterance their instructor mutters--is fiction. Summer School--with its lazy teacher who breezes through the year, barely working, and then loafs about for three months--is fiction. What I'm trying to say is that any movie or TV show that may have given you the impression that teaching is a cinch is more full of shit than a Port-o-San at a Jimmy Buffet concert.

And as far as the outrageous pay that teachers are supposed to be getting: go ahead and do a little googling to find the average teacher salary in your area. Then, when you stop laughing, c'mon back and finish reading this. I'll wait.

The reality is that teachers work our fucking asses off for ridiculously little money. We face overcrowded classrooms. We're expected to buy much of our own supplies. Many of us lack materials to teach what we're expected to teach. I don't know about the rest of the country, but that "three months off" is closer to two months in NYC and a lot of folks spend the bulk of that time teaching summer school because we need the money.

Many of my students are normal kids that would've fit right in with the fifth grade class I was in 1981. But I also teach some kids who feel like it's okay to tell their teacher to fuck off. I teach some kids who feel like it's okay to threaten to "snap your fucking neck." (Don't worry, they're fifth graders. I'm in no danger, I promise.) I teach some kids who place no value whatsoever on their education and don't give a thimble full of rat turds if anyone else in the class gets to learn, either.

I bring these kids up to say that this is what I'm dealing with. These are not bad kids. They're not. But they've got problems. And these problems they have are something I have to figure out how to handle every day. In addition to all the other challenges teachers face today.

Teachers get off at 3:00? Fuck you! I, like every other teacher out there, bring my work home. Sometimes, it's time spent planning, grading or entering grades into an online data base. Sometimes, it's patience that has been worn down to a puny nub from being disrespected hours on end, so that I snap at my family for no good reason. My work comes home, long after 3:00.

I don't know why teachers have suddenly become the punching bag for all our country's woes. I suspect we have become the new "welfare queens"; a group of people demonized by right-leaning politicians to convince people that cutting social spending is the way to save our economy, instead of forcing corporate executives to give up one of their eight houses.

Listen, I understand that not all teachers are perfect. Dare I suggest that the every profession is that way? I understand, as well, that our educational system is not doing as good a job as it should. But don't try to tell me for one goddamn second that this is all the fault of lazy, idiot teachers who care about nothing but lining our pockets with the taxpayers' hard-earned cash. And don't try to tell me that the solution is to get rid of the only voice we have, our unions.

Here endeth the lesson.

Thank you for what you do for our kids. Some of us with friends like you, and other teacher friends in several other states are very well aware of the hardship and the dwindling "resources." Some of us would somehow like to change the system...this idiotic system that deems education "elite" and aims to take it away en masse from people because...well, because if you're an individual who thinks critically then you're an enemy of the state. Thank you Joe for what you do. As a public employee in a state in which it's ILLEGAL for me to go on strike or to have my union collective bargain for my rights (Hello: North Carolina, you fucking shit for brains state), I support you and the people at the WI Capitol, and people all over the States struggling.
Preach Nigga Preach! Imagine my surprise when I walked into my son's kindergarten classroom for orientation and was handed a list of needed supplies by a PTA Mom. "You know, so Mrs S. doesn't have to come out of pocket.", she whispered as if not to embarrass the teacher, who stood nearby. I looked at the list,PAPER TOWELS? PENCILS? PAPER? What the fuck? I was hot! I "wanted to talk to the Manager...or whoever runs this place." My wife got me by the arm and took me into the hall, Mrs. S. followed. "Is everything alright?" She looked nervous. "No, everything's not alright."I said, "I paid 2800 bucks for my kid to go to all day kindergarten at a public school and I'm gathering that the school system is expecting you... by the way, My name's Andy and this is my wife Meralie. That's our son Drew over there trying to hug the little blonde girl. pay for pencils out of your pocket! How is that right?" She smiled and stuck out her hand, "First kid in school eh?" "Yeah" I said, "how'd ya guess?"
She said it was "alright, she didn't mind and some families donated and some didn't and don't feel any pressure and thank goodness we have an active PTA" and by the time she was done I could have kissed her feet cuz this woman is a saint and I'll kick the shit out of anyone who says otherwise.

Anyhow, my wife joined the PTA and I keep the treasure box full of prizes and we watch for good deals on glue stix and crayons at the dollar store and we vote for every levy and I got a "No SB 5" sticker on my truck and I say thanks to every teacher I meet. I pause now to thank you, Joe. I don't know what else to do but vote and be active in our schools. So that's my plan. Any other suggestions and I'll be happy to implement them.
I don't think I've been so depressed about anything public issue for a long time as this one. I listened to Obama's campaign and his speeches about the importance of education our children to compete in a global economy and thought surely the Republicans have to agree that it is imperative to invest in education. But no! I know the states have budget problems but this is not the way to solve them. From what I've observed teachers are well aware of the economic realities of their communities and are willing to compromise but don't take away their unions and don't lie about what they do everyday(Fox News!!)
I am in awe of teachers.
I agree that (and am amazed that) somehow teachers are now the punching bag of the Right. The only thing I can combat it with is that this is your future....sing it Whitney Houston....Children are who the ones suffers when teachers lose funding. Doesn't the Right care about our kids and the future stability of our country?
Teaching is tough. A lot of jobs are tough. But no other jobs are almost impossible to get fired from if you're not doing well, or if a better profession would be suitable. Therein lies the problem.

The problem is NOT that it's almost impossible to get fired. That would be the problem if an oddly high percentage of teachers were crap. Yes, the tenure thing probably could be discussed more, but MOST teachers are well trained and do their job, just like most people in all other professions. Teaching seems to be in this weird category of not being allowed to want good pay. Why is that exactly?

I'm a teacher and it's way harder than most people understand... It really really is and unless you've tried it you will never understand that. I'm still learning every day and I'm in awe of some of my excellent colleagues. I've only met one teacher in 6 years who I thought shouldn't be a teacher. But his kids think he's quirky and they do well anyway...

AND can you imagine teaching for 49-50 weeks per year?? NO ONE would do it. We'd go totally insane and quit after the first year. OR you'd have to pay someone a million bucks a year to barely scrape by with their sanity...

It's very different to many jobs (every other job I've ever had) where you can sort tune out a bit and check your email and make a call or get a coffee or take a long lunch or head home early and leave it all at the shop or hide from the manager or whatever you might try to get through the day.

It's about 30 kids saying ME ME ME, demanding all of your attention constantly. It's trying to make sure they're paying attention, learning, not bullying, bullied or disrupting, not falling behind, not hungry, all while knowing your stuff and routines are worthwhile for them to be in your classroom each day.

And now unfortunately it's also about really caring about your students and your craft while being personally and institutionally berated by back-seat driving assholes who couldn't handle grade fives in a private school.
I thought of you when I found this the other day ... it's a poetry slam performance by a teacher. It's pretty cool. Like this post.
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