The Courage to Stand Up

I did a thing today. A BIG thing! I put in for a personal day at work. Not just any personal day, however. I was a part of a concentrated effort of teachers in my corporation/union who all put in for personal days on Tuesday, November 19. It was to let our administration know that we all intend to attend and be a part of the Red for Ed Action Day and rally at our statehouse in Indianapolis. We all intend to let our legislators know that we protest that systematic destruction of public education.

I have rarely been one to make a racket, never having been one for public protests or crowds. I have often supported such movements in different ways. But this…this is my career. My day in and day out. These are my students we are talking about and the schools that serve, teach, and attempt to prepare them. So, on 11/19/19. I will screw up my courage, stand with hundreds of fellow educators, and fight for our students and their needs.

Provided by our union president, below is a short list of some of the actions being committed at the state level to public education:

1. The state requiring teachers to serve 15 hours in the business community in order to obtain/renew their teaching license.

2. Attempting to hold schools accountable for what students do AFTER they graduate. 

3. Different rules and accountability measures for private/ charter schools that make the latter “look” better.

4. The racist roots of vouchers that drain money from public schools and  “school’s choice” as the initial reaction to Brown v. Board of Education.

5. A Senate Chairman of the Education Committee who believes voucher money goes straight to parents and doesn’t return to public schools. This same senator did not know how much vouchers saw an increase in a budget he voted for, and the list goes on. 


Nope, Not My Problem!

I do not deal well with other people’s unpreparedness. I have spent my entire day, week even, sorting out irresponsibilities that students of mine have turned into their own personal emergencies and are now trying to make mine as well. Today was the end of the quarter and field trip due date so I have been flooded with and spent my day sorting permission slips, novel quizzes, cash, and checks from people who have had literally months to take care of this business beforehand. And then I opened up my email on my phone a little while ago to check another account, but it opened to my work one. Was the franticness over?

Not by a long shot. I just had a student email me (it is 9:33pm on a Friday evening, mind you) in a frantic state because of an assignment that he did not complete, and a pretty hefty one at that, and therefore the 0% dropped his grade substantially. The due date was today and he has a laundry list of excuses as to why he didn’t complete this assignment. I considered being sweet and forgiving and “Oh, no…it’s okay, we can get it done on Monday.” Then I decided, “No.” I asked him why, as often as I spoke about this assignment in class over the past nine weeks, didn’t he speak to me about his difficulties with completing the assignment earlier in the quarter? It’s the weekend, there’s nothing to be done about it now, but he’s responsible for getting it taken care of on Monday morning. Have a good weekend.

Sometimes I just cannot be Ms. Nice Teacher. I will not allow your irresponsibility to become my emergency and cause me any more stress than I already have to deal with.

I wonder if I had forgotten about this part of teaching?

I am exhausted, I am still twitchy from an overwhelming week, a stressful day, and even the wine isn’t helping my mood much. So this is me leaning into my vulnerability, my annoyance, and my weariness before a weekend of grading. Much like the poor fellow below, I’m ready for a break.


Faking It Too Well

Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what they tell you, and, sometimes, it’s very true. Sometimes, you have to act like you know what you are doing while learning exactly what you are supposed to be doing. That is rather how I feel about teaching. I feel like I am constantly acting like I know exactly what I am doing or supposed to be doing when, all along, I am barely staying afloat.

Studies call this “impostor syndrome” but the truth is that who I am as a teacher often feels very different from who I feel I am “in real life”. Teachers need to have a polish to them, a presence. It leaves my poor introverted soul tired and, maybe, even joyless at times. However, there is no denying that I am good at what I do. I am a good teacher, though maybe not as involved with as many shiny tricks as others who have been doing this longer or have it as more of a passionate calling. Nevertheless, I am organized and knowledgeable, even enthusiastic when I am teaching literature. I’m good at what I do. I have never gotten a bad evaluation from an administrator. I don’t pull punches with my students and push them to do their best and improve on it. I admit when I don’t know or I am wrong. I know how to hold my corner-classroom kingdom. But that me often feels very different from me.

One of my students asked me last week if I am bipolar. My answer was, “No.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed.

“I’m sure,” I replied.

He was a dog with a bone. “Because you’re usually really nice and then you can get all mean.”

“That’s not me being bipolar. That’s me being tired of people’s crap. I’m an introvert. I don’t deal with other people’s crap well.”

Who I am in the classroom takes a force of presence and authority that takes a lot out of me, leaves me weary and wanting to crawl back into a safe little hobbit hole to recover. But recovery time for teachers, as you know, is slim to none. Ditto and double for moms, which honestly makes it a double-whammy. So going back to work is not just a change in how I do life but, once again, a change in how I feel about who I am. It’s an extra twist in my self-vision that I sometimes wish I could untwist and smooth out at the end of the day. Some days are more successful than others, but there are successful ones.

Going back to teaching is the best thing for my family right now, and that is what is important. That is the driving force. It is allowing my daughter to go to preschool and daycare every day to gain social and academic skills that she will so desperately need in the coming years. It is also allowing us to put money aside and save up so that we can start dreaming new dreams again.

I will find a way to reconcile all this change. Right now, though, it’s difficult at times, I will admit. But there is always a way.

What I Am…

Almost everyone “knows” what makes a great teacher. They’ve seen the movies, after all: “Stand and Deliver”, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, “The Great Debators”, “Freedom Writers”, “Dangerous Minds”, and, coming soon, “Here Comes the Boom”. I mean, obviously, these teachers are bold, bucked the rules, and used rash and unconventional methods in order to get to their kids. I mean, that’s what it takes. Right?

I don’t know. You tell me. I am most certainly NOT that type of teacher. I’m not going to give up my family life to be at school until 9pm every night tutoring students. I am not going to put myself in the way of bodily harm (especially not now) to save a child from what I judge to be a bad situation; couldn’t do it legally, even if I wanted to. I’m not going to allow my work as a teacher to so consume me that I end up hospitalized from the sheer stress and pressure on my system.

I will tell you what sort of teacher I am, however. I am a teacher who is there every possible day, there for my students with the information and help that they need. I will stay after for a certain while or be there early if students need some extra time of mine in order to do better in their work. I am willing to explain when students don’t understand. I am more than happy to answer questions that feed into the building of their character, not just the development of their academic skills. For example, today, during a reading of “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara, my lowest level class (and the one with the largest personalities & discipline issues), one of the students asked, “Why would you make fun of someone with special needs?” I should point out that this particular student has huge problems with impulse control and failure to think ahead. However, his question allowed for a quick lesson on character to this class, to which they all listened (!) and, I hope, took to heart.

So while I am not the teacher in jeans and a leather jacket showing off my marine training to my kids, or promising students who can barely do basic algebra that they will pass the calculus AP test, I AM a teacher who does my best to give my kids the best I absolutely can. However, as I tell them at the beginning of every year, I can give them all the tools they need but, if they choose to do nothing with them, there’s nothing I can do about that.

I am not a “stand and deliver” teacher. I am not. And I never will be. I believe that movies like that can create an expectation, not only in people outside of the education profession, but also in teachers like me to disregard what we already are. I refuse to watch those movies because they make me feel badly about myself, like I am “not doing enough” if I am not changing lives that dramatically. Or at least, that publicly. But you know what? I do what I do right now, even if I won’t do it forever. I do it for my students, not for myself. Miracles do not need to be cataclysmic, apocalyptic, or even just earth-shattering. Miracles can be quiet little things that few people even know exist.  I think Taylor Mali said it best when he simply said,

“I am a teacher. This is what I do.”

“A Teacher’s Revenge”

The noise was incredible. Twenty-three hyped up eighth graders and one poor teacher with a migraine. Not good odds. Her hands felt tingly and so did her head. Light, like she was going to pass out, but too full to do that.

The kids just wouldn’t shut up. “Will you just be QUIET?” she screamed mentally.

And the noise stopped.

It wasn’t just complete silence. It was a profound silence.

Blinking, Melissa looked around at her class. Each and every one was totally silent, mouths closed, eyes open wide. Some with surprise, others with fear. She could see some of them trying to open their mouths and failing and the eyes growing wider still.

They couldn’t speak, none at all.

Could it be true?

Out the corner of her eye, Melissa saw a girl in the back jump up as if to bolt from the room.

Petrificus! Her mind leapt out before she even knew to think.

And the girl froze in mid-step!

So it was true! Finally! It was about time that Powers That Be lent teachers a hand.

Quietly raising a finger to do so, Melissa wordlessly mobilicorpus’ed the girl back into her seat. And there she stayed…after Melissa petrificus’ed the entire class to their seats.

Then, picking up the book, she opened to chapter I and began to read.

“When Jem was thirteen, he broke his arm badly at the elbow….”

The twelve pages of the first chapter flew by and Melissa even saw some students relaxing and beginning to actually listen to the story as she read and stopped in a few places to explain. She reminded them of their assignments and projects and when the bell rang for the end of class, she silently released the spells that held them and let them scamper away fearfully, not daring to open their mouths until they were out the door and casting glances back at her as they went. They were probably afraid that she’d turned them into something next. She was sure they were all vowing to never return to that classroom and they would tell everyone they knew. That was fine.

Who would believe your teacher was a REAL witch anyway?