I’m a Teacher. Don’t Arm Us.

I don’t engage in arguments in Facebook.  At least, not often.  It often devolves into a metaphorical shouting match, and despite people’s claims that they are “looking to understand” or are trying to be “open minded,” I truly think very few opinions are changed on Facebook.

But.  I love reading it all anyway.

Maybe it’s that same part of humans that loves reality TV: the drama.  I also think that people are a little more direct in writing, so you can try to follow the discussion better than in person.

Naturally, the topic of the last several weeks has been the Parkland, Florida school shooting.  And because I have many teacher-friends on Facebook, the topic shows up often.  Specifically, the “solution” of arming teachers.  I have read an extensive amount of Facebook argument on this particular topic.  I have read both sides carefully, and resisted writing ALL CAPS, curse word-laden responses to some comments, in an effort to try to grasp the basic concept of both sides.

This is my conclusion.

DO NOT TRY TO ARM TEACHERS.

I hate emphasizing that.  Like many others, I am fed up.  I’m tired of the shootings, I am scared for my students and my colleagues and I’m devastated that this is the reality that I have to consider.  Please, as a society, let’s try literally everything.  Nothing has been done so far except practice scary and inaccurate drills.  Obviously, we need to start implementing all the solutions we can think of and we need to start doing it fast.

But not this.

 

Let’s talk about why it won’t work, starting with rebutting the three main arguments.

It will deter potential shooters.  They’ll think twice if they know teachers are armed.” 

I don’t know if you’ve been around a teenager lately, but high schoolers are idiots.  I say that with all the love of a warm-hearted teacher.  I love my kids, dearly.  But they can be dumb.  Student forget to bring pencils to class literally every day.  They just ain’t thinking about whether people are armed.  The kind of student who wants to shoot up a school is not thinking that far ahead, they’re just not.

Arming teachers would give them a fighting chance of defending themselves and their students.” 

1. I don’t have training.  I’m not interested in getting training.

2. Even people who have training say that’s a terrible idea.

3. I would never be able to shoot a student.  Not just because I’m certain that my aim would be shit in a situation like that, but also because I love my kids.  I very much see my job as a nurturing one, coming from a place of extreme empathy and compassion.  While I obviously cannot state what I would do in a “what if” situation, I have extreme doubts that I would be capable of shooting a child.

Molly, you wouldn’t need a gun.  Someone around you would need one. Just one or two in each school would make a huge difference.” 

Yeah, that’s not how a school works.  I don’t have a clue what is going on in my colleague’s classrooms.  I teach next to the kind of teacher that during a lecture regularly shouts for effect.  Regularly.  I don’t even pay attention any more, because I assume it’s part of a lesson but I don’t really know.  Do you know how quickly a shooting goes down?  Seconds.  Literally seconds.  And having a teacher down the hall, or even next door, who has a gun isn’t going to solve a damn thing in the literal seconds.

I student taught at a school where teachers carried.  Utah, man.  Here’s the thing. In a faculty meeting at that school, we were told that if/when SWAT shows up during an active shooter situation, then make sure that you are not holding a gun because you will get shot.  Well then, Utah policeman, WHAT IS THE DAMN POINT OF THE TEACHER’S GUN?

I would also like to point out that the teachers I liked the least were the ones packing.  It was the teachers who hated students, who said things like, “That kid needs a good beating to shape him up.”  They were the ones with the guns.  And it made me incredibly uncomfortable to know that the least stable people in the room were the ones with the guns.

 

We are humans.  Humans do stupid shit.  I’m sick of people acting like teachers have to be a step above.  I mean, in an ideal world, sure.  You want the best type of people to be the type to teach your kid.  But, like, that’s just not always the reality.  I’ve known teachers that were definitely alcoholics, teachers with substance abuse problems, others (including myself) with their own mental health issues.  I’ve been the teacher who didn’t sleep the night before and is running on empty.  99% of the time, teachers are amazing humans on their A-game.  But on the day that a teacher is “off,” and something goes wrong in a classroom, do you really want that untrained or barely-trained individual to have a gun?

Setting aside the training issue, who would pay for it?  My school didn’t have the budget to buy me a bookshelf.  Where are they going to find the money to pay teachers a compensation adequate to ask them to defend a school?

 

Let’s also take a moment to talk about UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

For example, let’s talk about how scary it is when students start fighting.  We need training to learn to just not intervene in a fight.  What happens when a fight starts, a teacher is desperate to end it, and they have a gun on their belt?  I’m NOT saying it will happen.  I’m saying that teachers are humans and they are reactive, and sometimes teachers make poor choices.

What’s going to happen when kids do stupid shit and a teacher pulls their gun because they legitimately believe that it will solve the problem?  Then we have a whole new debate on our hands.

What if a black teacher is carrying a gun when the SWAT team rushes in?  What kind of fuel will that add to the fire?

 

We HAVE to do something.

Right now, I am socially expected to throw myself on a bullet for my students.  Don’t get me wrong.  If it comes down to it, I’ll take that damn bullet for a student.  But I’m fucking pissed that it’s come to that.

I shouldn’t have to consider leaving my son behind because of my profession.  I’m a teacher.

I signed up to teach.  And some parts of teaching are shitty: the drama, the testing, the bureaucracy.  Fine, I knew that was part of the job.  I didn’t sign up for bullets.  I just didn’t.  I didn’t sign up to have them fired at me, I didn’t sign up to take one, I didn’t sign up to fire them.  And fuck you, society, for acting like this (along with all the other shit I have to deal with) is also my, the teacher’s, responsibility.

It’s not fucking fair to put this on teacher’s shoulders.  We already carry so many burdens, we are consistently told that we cannot do our job from all sides, and then all those sides add more to our burden.  Anyone who has worked in a beaurocracy can tell you how the paperwork and demands mount.  I face an innummable amount of challenges every day.  I am not just responsible for the academic growth of my students.  Assuming that is ludicrous. I am responsible for social growth, emotional growth, psychological growth.  Politicians want me to do more, administration wants me to do more, parents want me to do more, in ALL of those areas. Now you want me to carry a gun into school?  No.  Just no.  How about we listen to the teachers begging for more resources?

Let’s get moving.  Let’s do everything.  Let’s tighten gun laws, let’s beef up mental health supports.  Let’s support parents and love kids and get resources to the individuals that can best use them (teachers).  But don’t you dare try to put a gun in my hand.

I’d Rather Be a Shitty Teacher

When I was a student teacher, my cohort group would meet every couple of weeks.  Our coordinator (the liaison between the university and the middle school) was this tough old woman with the kind of zeal for education that anyone would find enviable.  She also had a resume the length of my arm: teacher for a billion years, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, HR coordinator.  Unwilling to completely retire, she guided the fresh faces of the student teaching program.  She walked slowly, vocally despised driving of any kind, and her nails were always perfect. I loved her.  She was experienced, she was direct, and she answered every little question with brutal honesty.

And she looked shockingly like this stock photo woman

One day, us student teachers were talking about the work load.  Let me stress: the work load for new teachers is immense.  It is overwhelming at best, and burn-out worthy at worst.  Linda, the coordinator, leaned back in her chair and glanced out the window, which overlooked the staff parking lot.

“When I was a principal, I hated seeing teachers leave late.  Every school has a couple who do that.  They come before everyone else, when it’s still dark.  When they leave it’s dark too, and they’d often be lugging stacks of papers and carts of projects.  I knew they were going to go home and keep working on school stuff.  I hated that.”

We all looked at each other and looked at her.  Isn’t that a hallmark of a good teacher?  The kind of person that goes early and stays late?

Linda sighed.  “In this profession, you have to take care of yourself.  You can’t give 100% to your students every day.  Give it to them when you can, sure.  But if some days, you have to give them 70%, so that you save your sanity, do it.”  She looked at us.  Leveled with us, the kind of honest gaze that people of a certain age can just lay on you.  “It’s better to give 70% and still be in the profession in five years.  Your students will be okay.  You need to be okay, too.”

I clung to that advice like it was a ship mast in the middle of an epic sea storm, because that’s what student teaching feels like.  I worked my ass off most days and some days… I didn’t.  Some days I rested or ignored school, or let papers sit for a day or three extra.  I left student teaching excited about teaching, not scared of it.

My last day of student teaching.

I continued to set boundaries with my teaching.  I refused to take work home (except essays.  Essays almost always come home.)  I came early many days because I liked it and I felt productive, but I often left exactly on time.

We glorify teachers who ruin their lives for teaching.  Take Freedom Writers, that Hilary Swank movie.  In the movie, the selfless teacher slaves for her students, going so far as to get a second job to support her classroom supplies, so that she can be everything and more for her students.  She works heinous hours.  Her marriage falls apart.  She about loses her mind.  And yeah, she helped those kids.  And that’s great.  But at what price?

I mean, yeah this is ideal. Sure. But sacrificing everything for this? Nope.

I work with a phenomenal teacher who consistently amazes me.  He is a department head, his lesson-planning is superb, he coaches like three different sports, is working towards administrative positions, and volunteers all the time.  One day I was asking about his personal life.  He told me that he had a girlfriend.  When I asked about kids, he kind of shrugged and said that he didn’t really have time for them.  From his tone, I felt like he was implying that he wanted kids.  When I inquired further (because I suck at boundaries,) he admitted that he didn’t think he could be a good father because of all the stuff he does at school.

I am not the end-all be-all for my students.

My students are not my end-all, be-all.

I am not their friend.

I am not their counselor.

I am not their parent.

Point of fact, I am someone’s parent.  He is not my student.  As of this publishing, he is 20 months old and happily asleep in the next room.

I want to take care of my students.  I want to give them 100% on the days that I can, because I like to and they need it.  But more than that, I want to remain in the profession.  And more than both those things, I want to be a good mom.  And yeah, sometimes I have to choose between being a shitty mom and a shitty teacher.  And I can promise you, when it comes down to it, I would rather be a shitty teacher than a shitty mom.

Right now, I am the end-all, be all for my kid.

And in many ways, he is my end-all.

Good teachers go home on time.  Good teachers take care of themselves.  Good teachers work to balance their home life and their professional life.  I don’t always get that balance right (in fact, I often fail,) but at least I know what my priorities are and I work towards them accordingly.

The Whiteboard Set-Up

As the first weeks of school get rolling, a common teacher blog post is the classroom set up.  I love reading all the set up stories, instructions, and creative ideas (I really do,) BUT… I find so little of it useful to me.  At my last school, teachers were very limited to what they could physically do to the classroom.  I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t add to or change the furniture in any way, and I was just barely allowed to hang up posters.  The system gave the school a uniform and professional appearance, but left me itching to add a personal touch.

Uniform, Professional
Uniform, Professional (And insane bright light at the end of the day, sorry about that.)

Hence, the whiteboard set up.

Almost every classroom has a whiteboard.  Mine had two: one behind the projector screen (which I rarely used, because projector) and another up front and clear.  The set-up I used (still use, actually,) worked extremely well for me – so much so that my colleagues asked where I had gotten my materials and if the students liked it.  You are welcome to modify and make use of it for your classroom.  I find that this set up is helpful to the students and myself, appeases administration demands, costs nothing, and looks great.

The purpose:

This is another way to give your students (and your admin) a very clear purpose for the day.  It’s about organization and consistency.  It’s about state standards.  It’s about flow and expectations.

The materials:

  • Colorful whiteboard markers
  • An eraser
  • Magnetic strips or colored tape (I used 12 inch strips and lined them up)
  • Whatever else you deem important (for me, that’s some colorful/relevant paper posters)

The sections:

The white board areas

  • 7th grade week ahead
  • 8th grade week ahead
  • Journal prompts (or whatever else you would like to call/decorate your weeks)
  • The daily agenda
  • The assorted area (that blank space in the upper left)

7th and 8th grade week ahead:

Week ahead from August

Using your tape or magnetic strips, divide out two (or however many classes you teach) vertical sections of board.  Yes, I do recommend using something physical to divide it.  Drawn lines will work, but the physical separation of something they can’t slyly erase helps the students mentally divide the sections.  Students are… special like that.

Most schools now require teachers to post their daily objective or a state standard focus.  I post one for every day, starting on Monday.  Administration sees I am following the rules and students see the purpose and goal of what we are learning. I used used the SWBAT form (Students Will Be Able To), which I talked about with my students.  Currently, I use “I can” statements, because admin likes that phrasing. By posting it for the whole week, students can look ahead and feel like all is planned and I, the teacher, can stay on topic.

Helpful hint: Color code.  On my board, homework always shows up in black (it’s the easiest to read; none of that “I couldn’t see it from back here”).  Make your own color code.  Do students need certain materials on certain days?  Do you have a weekly quiz?  This is especially helpful for students with an IEP or 504, as the colors provide a sort of built-in organization.

Journal Prompts:

I use my journal prompts on the left to mark out the days of the week (made by this fabulous friend from whom I am always stealing things,) but you can use your own way to indicate days.  Again, I highly recommend something tangible, not written in dry erase.  It really helps add that sense of physical separation.  Plus, do you really want to be writing “Monday, Tuesday…” every week?

The daily agenda:

I am a firm believer in the daily agenda.  Not only do certain students like to see what we are doing all class period, it helps me.  You know how it is: you get rolling, a discussion happens, then you’ve forgotten to take roll and announce that really important administration thing.  By posting the agenda, I keep myself on track (and if I don’t, you can bet the students will).

I always write the homework here too, so students are never interrupting class to ask, “Do we have homework?”

The daily agenda and the assorted section

The assorted area:

This one varies based on what you need.  The only trick is: it shouldn’t be a working area.  It should be semi-permanent (like the rest of the board).

Right now I’ve got the TRIBES learning communities agreements up there (thanks again, to that great friend,) but that’s just for a couple weeks as I reinforce these agreements.  The first week of school I wrote the class schedule.  Next week, the class is learning about something called alpha and beta goals, so I’ll write Mrs. M’s beta goals up there.

Full
The full picture (Yes, I know 7th and 8th grade are the same this week. It worked out that way.)

I usually do my entire board in one sweep before school starts on Monday, then add little changes as the week goes.  Administration loves it because they can see I have a purpose behind every day.  I love it because, frankly, it appeals to my aesthetic nature and it adds personal touch to an otherwise uniform room.  The students love it because it gives them vital information and has a consistency that I know they crave.

I have used this format in all three classrooms I’ve taught in, including summer school in a room I didn’t even have a desk drawer.  It works everywhere.

I couldn’t find a picture, but I took a still from a video that was used for a class project.  In the background, you can see this set up.  Looks nice, works nice.

 

{This post originally appeared on SecondaryDreamTream.  I have edited for clarity and added based on experience.}

What Teachers Do During Summer Break

Lounge.  You know that first Sunday you have off in a while, where you don’t get out of bed if you can help it? And you DEFINITELY don’t get out of your PJ’s, even if you leave the house?  Yeah, that was the first 3-5 days of summer.  Exhausted, burnt out, and a little bit pissed off over the last-minute shit shows of the year, I mostly watched Friends on Neflix.

Life saying.

Every household chore.  When you’re grading 60 final essays and trying to decide the best way to keep the fleeting attention of teenagers, your fridge fills up with take out boxes, your bathtub gets a ring, and the carpet grows it’s own wig.  Those situations become REALLY obvious when you’re at home those first 3-5 lounge days.

Me, when I finally take a look around my pigsty – I mean, house.

Reconnect with the family.  I don’t think I saw my son during the last week of school.  Seriously, between the tests, and the grading, and the sheer drama of it all, I was up early and home late. If by some miracle I made it home, all I wanted to do was crash.  He was surprised to see me when summer started – like, “you’re still around?”  I kid, but it definitely felt like this some days.

Cram ALL THE FUN into summer.  Vacations, stay-cations, all the home projects, and all those things you SAY you want to do (the zoo, that new aquarium, a play, one of the museums you hear so much about.)  Yeah, those things don’t get done during the school year.  Let’s go people, gotta have some fun RIGHT NOW.

My poor toddler.

Professional Development.  I think it’s hard for any teacher to really, truly “put away” teaching for a whole summer.  I’m currently reading three different teaching books (teaching books, I’ve got another three ‘fun’ titles,) keeping up to date on teacher blogs and online communities, and researching how in the hell I’m going to get my master’s.  We want to get better at what we do.

Figure out how to make more money.  The statistics vary (A LOT, by time and by state,) but roughly half of all teachers work a second job over the summer.  I worked summer school.  I know others who do private lessons or tutoring.  Some go for retail.  Bartending is a common one, I know another who worked for Kohl’s.

Survive the nightmares.  When I was in school, I had test nightmares: show up for a test you’ve never studied for.  When I was in theatre, I had theatre nightmares: on stage for a play I’ve never rehearsed, usually in my underwear.  When I waited tables, I had restaurant nightmares: too many tables, angry customers, no food.  Now I have teaching nightmares: it’s the first day of school and I have nothing planned, and I may or may not be wearing clothes.

Plan next year.  You cannot show up on the first day of school and just “wing it.”  Seriously, I dare you. I’m not just talking about the lesson plan, although that takes up an inordinate amount of time. You have to plan your discipline process and your curriculum (long and short term goals/materials/tests.) You have to design your room layout and count your school supplies.  If you’re a new teacher, this process takes longer.  If you’re working in a new building, or with a new grade, or with a different administrator, ALL of these things take additional planning. Trust me, the 2.5 days you get in August before students show up… it’s just not enough time to fully get the job done.

Painfully Accurate

 

Suck it up and go back and do it all over again (hopefully a little bit better, because that’s the point, isn’t it?)  But for now, I’m trying (TRYING) to enjoy this little slice of break.

How to Survive Pregnant Teaching

Snacks.  Everywhere.  All the time.

My favorite line of all time: “You’re tired?  I’m growing a human inside of me.  Wake up.”

Tell students you’re pregnant.  I’m an advocate of telling students sooner rather than later.  I remember as freshmen in high school, we constantly wondered if our English teacher was pregnant.  For the whole year.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense in retrospect but teenagers are idiots.  I told students that story as a lead in to “By the way, I am pregnant.  Yes, this belly has a baby in it.”

Make best friends with the teacher nearest you.  You will need to pee ALL THE TIME.  So find that teacher nearest you, suck up like your life depends on it (because your pants definitely do depend on it,) and work out a system.  I would knock on the neighbor teacher’s door with a thumb’s up.  That was my signal: “I am peeing, make sure no one dies.”

Don’t pretend like it’s not there.  It is there.

Milk that shit.  I worked with middle school kids; this tactic may not work as well for my current high school kids, but I would connect rules to the pregnancy.  It’s human nature to feel for the pregnant lady.  “Class, please put your backpacks under your chairs.  I currently cannot see my feet.  Do you really want to be the one whose backpack tripped the pregnant lady?” All those backpacks went right away.  “Class, can you move this stack of books?  I can’t lift it.”  Books moved so fast it was unbelievable.

Make sure that you can teach the occasional lesson from your desk.  Some days, you are not going to want to walk.  Prior to pregnancy, I often wouldn’t sit at my desk until the day was over. During the pregnancy, I had trouble walking just to the blackboard.  “Elaina, could you write today’s date on the board?”  Boom.

Don’t answer any questions you don’t want to.  No joke, a student asked me, “Are you going to breastfeed?”  To be fair, I know this student had an infant sister, so I do not think there was anything inherently creepy about this question. I was still not going to answer it, however.  Instead, I gave him (yes, it was a boy) a death glare.  He didn’t understand why he shouldn’t ask, but he walked away.

Loose clothes are your best friend.  There comes a point during late pregnancy when your little kicks become BIG kicks and they are visible.  There is no quicker way to derail a lesson than a student shouting, “Woah, your belly is moving!”

Make it funny.  I got a sudden charlie horse mid-lesson and bent over very quickly.  I also probably yelped.  Dead silence.  When I looked up, my little middle school kids were watching me in terror.  “Are you in labor?” One of them finally asked.  I burst into laughter, explained, then we all laughed.  I also had to reassure them that if I went into labor, it wouldn’t look like that and I was DEFINITELY not having the baby inside the school.  Apparently some students feared that.

DON’T TELL THEM THE BABY’S NAME.  Kids are cruel.  It’s already hard enough to find the right name, since that AH-MAZING name “Wyatt” was that pain in the ass kid that one time.  Kids will always tell you exactly what they think or who they know with that name.  They will also ask you if you will name the baby after them; some ask jokingly, and some do not.

Remember: you’ll get through this.  And for realz, it’s worse to be a teacher and a parent of a newborn anyway.  You’ll survive though.  We all did.

 

 

Why I have Mad Respect for Elementary teachers

What high school teachers do:

Try to encourage some critical thought, grit their teeth for an hour if the students are being twerps, and send them out of the room at the end of the period.

What elementary teachers do:

Teach literally every subject to the same exact group of young-uns for the entire day MEANWHILE taking care of their physical needs like wiping noses and tying shoes.

Like, at least if my kids suck, I only have to endure them every other day for about a semester.

Elementary school teachers have to deal with them ALL DAY for a YEAR.

Damn.

Mothering is by far my least favorite part about teaching.  I love my students, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely worry about them.  But I don’t pick up after them, I can be very harsh with them, and I generally do not feel responsible for their overall emotional well-being although I do try to be sensitive to it.  El Ed teachers mother the shit out of their kids.  Well, from my perspective they do,  and I admire the hell out of them for that.

Also, they teach THE ENTIRE DAY.  Right now I am teaching summer school and it is literally seven straight hours of material. It is THE WORST.  During a regular school year, I teach six different classes the exact same lesson in a row.  El Ed teachers have to plan materials for an entire fucking day, AND it has to be interesting; attention spans of eight year olds are about the same as goldfish.

And here’s my big one: they literally teach children to read and count.  El Ed teachers are the basis upon which all society is built.  How the hell does someone teach a person to read?  I have a degree in English and I basically have no idea how to do this.  Like, I have been able to read for so long that I don’t remember what it was like to not read.  At least I can remember a time when I didn’t know the meaning of the word “metaphor.”  I can relate to that.  I can find a way to teach that lesson.  Teach a kid to read?  Nope.  Blows my damn mind.

Sure, you say.  But what if a kid cusses you out? Little kids don’t do that.

1: They totally do that.  Have you ever met an inner city teacher?

2: Want to know what I do when a kid cusses me out?  (Yes, it’s happened.)  I do this: “Go to student services.”  That’s it.  I tell them to leave my room and later I write a referral and I let someone else deal with it.  If they refuse to leave (also happened,) then I call the student resource officer.  It is literally not my problem.

Okay fine, you say.  But you’re teaching complicated topics that require more learning.

No, no I’m really not.  I like to think I am, I do.  I like to think that I am teaching this beautiful word of Shakespeare to the bright and receiving minds that will take it far and away and do glorious things with it, but here’s the thing: if you put in an effort and turn everything in, you will pass my class.  That’s that.  It’s not complicated. Like most things in life, it’s mostly about showing up, putting in a half-assed effort and getting your paycheck, I mean… grade.

But highschoolers deal with bigger problems.

Yes they do.  Sex and drugs and drama, oh my! But, are those problems MY problems?  Definitely not.  See above: literally all I have to do is put up with them for a couple hours at most.  Otherwise, not my problem.  El Ed teachers have to put up with minuscule details alllllllll day and actually act like that splinter is really tragic.

Elementary Ed teachers, you are the salt of the earth.  I cannot sing your praises enough.

The Charter School Glory Days and the Title I Trenches

My first teaching job was at an upscale charter school for college-bound middle schoolers.  I loved it.  I was passionate about it.  I was great at it.

My current teaching job is at a public high school using Title I funds on an intervention class for at-risk freshmen (in this case, they are “at-risk” for dropping out).  I love it.  I am passionate about it.  I am sometimes okay at it.

They are the two sides of the education scale.  Soooooooooooooooo different, I need that many O’s to even start to get across the point.

 

Working with College-bound middle schoolers:

I ran my class with military precision, high expectations, and a non-negotiable pace. No unit lasted longer than three weeks.  Students turned in assignments almost daily.  My class was a well-oiled machine.  Even when I wasn’t present, my students followed directions.

When I asked for bookshelves, they delivered immediately.  When I requested a class set of books, they were provided.

The parents were so involved it was suffocating.  A parent emailed me on the second week of school to request that I move on to my next unit because it was “too easy” for her special snowflake and the girl was bored.  THE SECOND WEEK.

I had another set of parents that would email me within minutes when I posted an assignment grade and it was below a C.  Convincing parents to step back was my biggest chore.

The most scandalous thing to happen was a sixth grader caught smoking in the bathroom.  Another kid brought a pocket knife.  Both were expelled.

My students always had their pencils, they never asked to go to the bathroom, and most were pretty healthy.

I can honestly say that I taught my students important skills in the realm of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and behavior.

 

Working with at-risk freshmen in a Title I (AKA low-income) school:

My class is either a mad house of over-enthusiastic, off-task energy OR the students are literally asleep on the desk.  I aim for something in the middle and some days I hit it for a couple ten-minute bursts.  My units started out as academic powerhouses and have evolved into life-skills boot camp.  If I am not physically present in the classroom, nothing gets done.

The first time I walked into my room, I had to hold back tears.  It was a hot mess.  A window-less, eggshell white, cinder block mess.  Part of my ceiling is buckling and there is a crack running up the wall.   I immediately sent requests for furniture changes, permission to paint, necessary supplies.  Half of it was given to me no questions asked.  The other half, I was told by the district they wouldn’t provide, with no opportunity for negotiations.  How does one DENY bookshelves to an English class?

The parents are so distant, I have yet to hear from them.  I send emails and make calls every day.  Radio silence meets me.

The details I have gathered about students’ parents are dismal.  One student wrote on her Goals project that she wanted to be a “Dancer.”  And I’m not talking about ballet, I’m talking about stripping.  When I pressed for her reasoning, it became clear that “dancing” is her mother’s profession.

There are fifteen boys in my class.  Twelve of them come from fatherless homes.

I have a fifteen year-old girl who comes in every day smelling like cigarette smoke and I don’t say a damn thing.  Want to know why?  Because if she passes my class, she can go to an alternative graduation program and get her high school diploma.  If she doesn’t pass my class, she will drop out of high school.  I want to scream at her about the dangers of cigarette smoking, but instead I celebrate that she’s actually coming to class (because I know she ditches all her other classes) and hand her a breath mint.

A gun was brought on campus in January, so now the school holds random student-searches, where students are taken out of my class, their backpacks searched and their bodies wanded for weapons.  That’s the most scandalous thing to happen this calendar year.  It’s March.

My students are suspended so often that I had to make a deal with the disciplinary action team that allowed students in in-school suspension to still attend my class.  If I hadn’t made this deal, I would lose literally half of my class every day.  Daily, I have to have conversations about appropriate behavior.  I’ve derailed more than one fight in my room.

My students don’t bring anything to class.  One student doesn’t even come with his backpack, because it was literally stolen off his back two weeks ago.  I have a revolving supply of pencils and paper.  I don’t let them take supplies outside of the room.  Their journals, their worksheets, their pencils stay in my room because if they go beyond my door I know they will never come back.  I have to make double copies of everything I hand them because of this.

I have one student who has a skin disease so painful that he cannot sleep in his bed at night and struggles to stay awake in class.  How do you teach a kid about figurative language when their body is covered in scabs and he can’t keep his eyes open?

Some students are just apathetic.  They have been told their entire lives that they suck at academics, so getting them to even give half an effort is a giant win.

I can honestly say that every day is a different battle.  Sometimes I teach a student an important skill like using his words instead of smacking his neighbor.  Sometimes we have an amazing discussion about how our choices today are impacting our long-term goals.  Sometimes a kid voluntarily tells me that he’s sorry he messes around.  Sometimes a girl will hand me her cellphone so it’s not a distraction.

Sometimes, none of that happens and most times I don’t know why.

Most days, I try.  I can honestly say that I don’t know if they are getting anything out of my class.  I sure as hell am not teaching them Common Core skills, although I like to think a little academic skill trickles in.  I like to think that my frazzled determination sometimes pierces their thick apathy and a bit of wisdom gets in.  Perhaps, if nothing else, they have one adult who cares about them.

 

This is the battle that meets teachers on the daily grind.  Our jobs are demanding and fast-paced and tricky at best; they are heartbreaking at worst.  To my students, I have to be knowledgeable and available, loving and hard, silly and serious.  In the space of an hour, I can go from drill-sergeant to mother hen to nurse and back again to academics; while maintaining an awareness of my room so everyone can be safe both physically and emotionally.

I don’t know why I write all of this, other than to show the vast array of skill that is required of an average teacher.  This kind of nonsense is why teachers leave schools or the profession altogether.  And I’m not writing this for pity.  As I said above, I truly love my job, which is something I am proud to say.  I just want to offer a glimpse of my world.