It’s been hard to write here, on this blog, especially about the day-to-day of being a teacher. This blog was created when I thought to myself, hey, young teacher, you have something to say, so say it! I enjoy writing- it’s an outlet for me to understand my thoughts on a topic happening in life. I know my strength as a writer is in telling my own truth- I’m often not a great writer when I make things vague, attempt to hide what is really going on in my life, and/or when I’m telling what’s happening to someone else. And I wanted to actually share what it feels like to be on the ground as a teacher.
And I’ve been scared to say it. I write plenty on my Facebook page, which is blocked off only for friends and acquaintances to see. Facebook is also not the land where you write long posts like this. I want to share what I’m thinking and feeling, but I don’t want something out in the public like this blog to bite me later. I’m scared someone will look me up on an online search, see what I write, and that to eventually cost me something, like a working relationship with someone, a job down the line, something. And I worry about what others will think, attack me for, etc. I’m human, after all. (Sometimes, like with my anti-Teach For America writing, though, and the places I go to speak, I’ve already tossed away certain chances, or at least put my stance out there about certain things, but that’s because I’ve made that choice.)
If I talk about how hard it is to be a special education teacher for students with high needs, I’m going to be told I don’t care enough, or that what I’m doing is a “noble profession” and that it takes time to get better, or that being a special education teacher is hard and I have to truck through. And then someone might say I’m complaining, or not right for the job, or that maybe this isn’t my age group. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I go to professional developments, spend long hours at school, train paraprofessionals, in an effort to learn best about how to teach, and it is STILL hard. Teaching will always be hard, I think, but what I’m saying is that this work is hard and I need support to get through it.
If I talk about the fact that, in the 90% low-income school that I work at, that some of my students come in hungry, exhausted, needing clothes, then I might get labelled as someone making excuses. Then should I tell how I buy clothes that I leave in my room, snacks for snack time, leave out a bean bag chair for students to nap in when they need, then get back to them later in the day? People are going to call me a bad teacher, a good teacher, whatever. I do what I have to for my kids, and I don’t get credit for that side of teaching. And that is tiring, exhausting, especially when I don’t see the system, city around me really trying to improve those conditions for my students. We know as educators kids are ready to learn when they have their basic needs met: food, clothing, shelter, enough sleep. And if they don’t come in with these things, we do the best we can to get them to that point. And we work with parents, we call them and check in, to try to best support students’ whole lives. But we can only do so much.
If I talk about the curriculum I don’t have in my school, how I’m killing myself looking for curriculum, good curriculum, and following the pull of so many people who are all telling me to do different things, only to be asked why I’m not listening to one, or why, with all the time I’m spending looking for materials for my classroom, I’m not doing enough, then I’m risking backlash from those who are asking me to do these things. As someone told me, I’m a teacher, not a curriculum developer on top of that, but I have to be that person, too, if I’m to do this job and well.
If I talk about how many lost preps I’ve had, how much (little) time I get in the day to actually prepare for my students, and how many late nights I’ve spent at school, god, I would just depress myself. And to write and be spent after writing is really hard, especially when you have to go in and teach the next day.
Luckily I don’t really deal with standardized testing, because my students generally don’t take standardized tests (they take alternate assessments), but I hear enough from my colleagues to make me cringe and hope never to have to face that again. In the old charter school I spent three months administering the NWEA test in individual or small-group settings on the computer, and that was three months my students weren’t getting instruction. Oof, I hope never to have to do that again.
If I write about my teacher evaluation processes, how, as a new teacher, I’m being asked to follow frameworks which I don’t fully believe in, that I need to obtain a certain rating a certain number of years before I attain tenure my fifth year, and how much pressure it is to be observed four times a year, to prepare day and night to make sure these observations go well, emotionally and physically, with all materials and such ready, getting observed, and then, on top of that, fight for my rating to be fair and accurate, someone might start the argument that every profession needs accountability and that I am just not strong enough for it.
In fact, people who I’ve taught with in the past have called me out on not being strong enough, especially after I left TFA. Here’s an example of a former co-worker on my Facebook page (who has since de-friended me) who claims I “couldn’t hack it” at the charter school we worked at, and which Julie Fain, a fellow education activist and friend, retweeted.
(For context, I was an elementary ed major in college who decided to switch to special education through Teach For America- I was fired by the charter school and then let go by TFA after a year. I was tweeting #ResistTFA which many, including this former co-teacher, disagreed with.)
Those words still sting, and I’ll probably address this “survival of the fittest” nonsense in another post. But there’s this mindset that we should just take it and fight the system and keep going, especially for our students, and be stronger for it.
But I do that too often as a teacher, and so do so many teachers, many of the teachers I know. And that’s why teachers are leaving the profession- burnout is 50% of teachers within five years- they don’t get respect and appreciation for what they do. They’re many times not compensated enough, especially for comparable education levels, and they do far more than people think they do, while being attacked constantly for not doing enough. And it sucks. I feel decently compensated, but I don’t work in a right-to-work state (which might change if Illinois governor-elect Rauner has anything to say about it). But I do feel attacked.
And so far, I’m not leaving the profession, but I can definitely see myself leaving if the attacks just keep coming with little support. Enough people think, after hearing and reading all the above, that I’m crazy for sticking it out as a teacher, but then I tell them I’ve been wanting to do this work since I was six and I want those kids in front of me to have a caring, empathetic teacher who’s always wanting to grow, in front of them. Right now I’m that person. I hope I’m that person in a few years- if I’m not, that’s when I leave. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, I’m here.
So why bother when I’m going to be attacked for it? Because if we don’t speak out as teachers, we’re letting other people tell the story, and that’s not right. We might not all agree on what’s happening, but at least we can share our perspectives, and not let others tell these stories of teaching. Especially in this age, when teaching is just really, really HARD.
And I write to reflect on this stuff. It’s powerful for teachers to not live on islands, to know what’s going on elsewhere, to know what’s within their control and what’s not, and to feel some power to fight back.
So what do I say? I think 2015 I’m going to begin a habit of just writing, then picking and choosing what to publish here, as I’m still not tenured, and I’m still a young teacher in this profession. But, as many veteran teachers around me say, this profession looks so different from what it once looked like, and I gotta say it, as scared as I am. Getting beat down everyday, then struggling to get up to serve others every day is no way to live. 2015’s about thriving, baby, and speaking out, telling truth, figuring it out with others around me who are willing to work with me, and I them, is a start.