Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Living the job

I have no kids and a wife that is a teacher.  Know what that means?  It means that I have a life that is surrounded by the environment of education.  Good thing or bad thing? 

I’ve noticed more recently that the teacher edu-blogs have become more and more introspective after the attacks from Education Nation.  The completely senseless attacks on educators has made many not rethink the profession as much as rethinking how much the profession dominates their lives.  Because Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada made such gross generalizations about teachers (pretty much all negative), those that care about their professions are taking inventory of their lives and asking, “Am I doing enough?” or “Am I supposed to do more?”.  The simple fact that teachers are feeling this way is a good thing.  Educators have been put on the defensive for years now and I’m hoping those that are introspective are going to find that they are competent and hopeful in the profession.  Hopefully they ignore the Rhee’s and the Meg Whitman’s of the world (she attacked teachers in the last debate) and look at how they teach with more perspective on their lives.

Which brings me to the topic of the “all encompassing teacher”.  Does the profession rule everything?  Mrs. Cornelius bristled at the idea that teachers should be constantly available to students at all times of the day.  Time off is time off, and the students that want constant communication are those that often don’t pay attention in the first place (something I’ve found to be too true).  On the other hand is Vicki Davis, who commented “You can't leave school at school - school does affect your life. Don't pretend that it doesn't”.  In my life this is also true.  But is it right?

I’m ten years into my career and I still love my job, although I’m more pessimistic about society’s view on Education than ten years ago.  It’s really to the point that dealing with classroom management, grading papers, and giving instruction isn’t that hard at all.  The hard part is doing things better.  Right now, “better” seems to be an issue of communication.  Some students and all basketball players have my cell phone number, and usually it is only used by basketball parents or AP students before a test.  I’m actually thankful for that.  My students have my e-mail, my Facebook page, and Edmodo to communicate with me.  When I’m home in front of the TV or grading I’ll have my laptop open to Facebook and my e-mail.  I’m constantly tweaking, twisting, thinking, doing something related to making things better in the classroom.  It is definitely a big part of my life.

The problem is that it should not have to be that way, and while I love the profession, I think the idea that every teacher must live the job is exactly why so many drop out.  The burden to do everything correct is on the teacher, which is like saying that everyone being healthy is the burden of the doctor, only society doesn’t see that.  People are obese because they make bad choices, and some die.  But in education people are all of the sudden stupid because teachers are doing it wrong, and failure is not an option.  Using that logic, teachers are trying to fix a problem with no cure because the patient is constantly being told they are doing everything right. 

Take the communication aspect.  80% of my student communication occurs after 9 p.m. on Sunday night, and the number one question is, “Did we have work due for Monday”.  Work is clearly listed online, on the wall of the classroom, and in the classroom in a spiral binder that is kept up by a student.  That question should never be asked.  But it is because the perception in many schools is that a teacher isn’t a professional, a teacher is simply “help” to reach the next level.  Regardless of the actual learning, the job of the teacher is to push to the next societal achievement.  I teach Seniors, most being “college bound”.  Parents could care if they learn their Senior year, they care about college, regardless if the kid has earned it or not.  That means that I’m serving a society that demands that I solve the problem of ignorance with the restriction that it fits within the entitled attitude of those people that complain that children are stupid.

In the end, it really is simple cost/benefit analysis.  I’ve spent ten years creating a structure that I think is beneficial for students.  It has taken much my life for those ten years.  The benefit was that I got to live my dream and teach kids who will go out and do great things and lead successful lives.  That fact that I’m looking back on that is a sign, I think, that I’m starting to find that the costs are outweighing the benefit.  I have the support I need from colleagues and from my site administration.  That rarely has been a problem.  But I’ve had to gather tools on my own that I should have had access to long ago.  I don’t feel like my district leadership is supportive and I don’t feel like the profession is moving anywhere in society.  I’m ten years in, I have the tools, I have the scores, I think I’m a pretty good teacher.  But I’m being told that it isn’t enough.  Ten years in and I still have to be concerned about someone complaining to the school board about failing a student, or worse, about basketball playing time.  Nope, I’m not willing to have it encompass my life.

I really can’t clearly explain how I feel about this topic because it sounds more negative that it actually is, except that it truly is a negative thought.  I love my job and I don’t intend to do worse at it, but myself (and my department) have often questioned “can we ever really meet our full potential when so much is wrong that we can’t control”?   

I’ve made education my life for ten years, pretty much all encompassing.  I don’t expect praise, I expect some help.       

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