Friday, November 4, 2011

On Teaching...

I was six when I first started playing school with my sister (who was ten at the time). We would play for hours in the basement--I at the rickety brown desk (circa 1815) and she barreling around me telling me what to do. Occasionally, she would even TEACH me--using purple copy paper that left ink all over our hands and faces to make "worksheets" and spelling tests for me to master.

We revered our teachers--even the cranky ones who should have retired twenty years before they taught us--because we were TAUGHT to do so. Our parents never indicated, even for one second that our teachers were less than 100% worthy of our respect and admiration--regardless of what happened at school each day. I longed for the day when I would be the teacher, making my own worksheets and grading my own papers. This feeling stayed with me throughout high school and college, until I eventually had all of that and more. Oh so much more.

At sixteen I began volunteering at a local child care center/preschool because I was too young to be hired officially. They could not pay me the $3.95 an hour the others were making because legally in New York State I was too young to "teach" the children. I didn't care; I just felt so very LUCKY to be given the opportunity to go there every day and to essentially "play school" with real students--and I got to be the teacher! We sang songs, we played games, we made projects. We even spent two weeks trying out ten different play dough recipes (one including dryer lint). Why WOULDN'T you want to do this forever--even without getting paid?! I would spend my "free" time coming up with more fun ideas of things to do with my "students" and practicing activities with the different families while babysitting and actually making SOME money.

I started out making $1.00 an hour babysitting, but once people saw what I was willing to do with their children, they paid me sometimes up to $15.00 an hour to stay with their children. Not bad, considering what teachers made then (and make now)!I never wrote my volunteering experience on my resume, nor did I expect the families I worked for to pay me--I didn't want anyone to think I was doing it for the wrong reasons--I simply loved what I did, so why WOULDN'T I do it? I never got the "credit" for it that people would probably expect (and in retrospect, deserve), but after two years of volunteering for fun, the center was finally able to hire me and to pay me legally. I felt guilty taking the money since I was doing something I loved. It took a while for me to realize that many teachers have this altruism and too many people take advantage of it.

After getting my undergraduate degree (and working at a child care center on campus along with two other jobs while doing so), I consulted with my sister (yes, she also followed the calling!) as to what my next step should be. She graduated and struggled to find work, as that part of New York State was very good to their teachers (and had school districts worthy of the teachers who taught there), so there was very little turnover and as a result--no jobs. In NYS at the time, I believe I had five years to get my Master's degree before I would lose my teaching certificate, so her advice was to get my graduate degree immediately since she had been waiting for years to find a job. We knew too many graduates who lost their teaching certificates BEFORE they were ever hired as teachers. Her point? Maybe by the time I finished school there would be a job for me. Sadly, there was not, so I relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina where they boasted one of the largest school districts (I'm still not sure why this was a GOOD thing...) and there was no union and the transiency rate of teachers AND students was astronomical. FOX news never touches on the cause of THAT.

After I married, I relocated to Virginia and taught high school (for the first time)in Prince William County (another proud, large district, though Fairfax boasted about being THE largest). Teacher unions were also illegal in Virginia. Correction--STRIKING was illegal in Virginia. They had unions--they just couldn't DO anything. For the first time, I experienced disdain from parents and in turn from the students. There was ONE parent rallying other parents and students to practically bully me out of my position (Evidently being new to a position is not allowed when one teaches, nor is losing your grandmother. Who knew?!)

The long hours coupled with the constant harrassment and insecurities that developed almost led me to leave the profession, but there were no other options for me. Teachers are teachers because they WANT to teach and there is really nothing else they want to do. The job truly consumes you, which COULD BE a good thing (at least for the students) if people weren't so angry, judgmental and full of hatred. The problem is, teachers become punching bags for those who are too ignorant to take responsibility for their own actions and to teach their children to do the same. Luckily, all it takes for a true teacher to keep going is for ONE student to say or do the right thing or for ONE parent to show support to try to properly parent to get her child moving in the right direction.

My first year of teaching, a seventh grade science teacher said to me "You could have a day full of positive wonderful things and it only takes ONE disruptive student or hate-filled parent to cancel out all the good that you have done. The hardest thing to do as a teacher is to let out the bad--to let it go and to learn from it (after all, you can only change yourself) and to let all of the good that you do each day overpower it, but you can do it!" Great advice, but how hard is it for people in a profession that is filled with people who give of themselves until they have nothing left to give and who love and care for other people's children as if they were their own to NOT dwell on what they've done wrong and to NOT take it personally or to feel like a failure when they are constantly berated and belittled?

Sadly, there is no way I could possibly make a living as a teacher AND pay off my student loans, yet society demands that I have an advanced degree. I don't hear them discussing THAT on FOX news either. Maybe if I actually WATCHED FOX News...NAH! While in high school, I worked at a nursery ($4.00 an hour in 1990) with a girl who taught at a Catholic school (making $9,000 a year) during the day, simply because she WANTED to be in the classroom. Teachers WANT to teach. My entire life I've heard people complain about the "easy" life of teachers and always wondered what these people were basing their negative assertions on, since we ALL had teachers in our lives and most of us saw with our own eyes what they needed to do for us. We saw them leaving the buildings (sometimes well into the evening hours after coming in before the sun in the morning) carrying bags and briefcases FULL of papers to grade, books to read and plans to make for the following days, weeks, months...for what? For people to complain and badger them about not doing it quickly enough or well enough or neatly enough. Most of us spent some (or A LOT) of time after school getting extra help, counseling or tutoring and ALL of us had SOME education--enough where we can look back to see that at least a few of our teachers put forth more time and energy than the average high-powered attorney or accountant in April. So why then is there so much anger? Are we really so self-absorbed that we don't NOTICE all the work that is being done by people who (generally speaking)do not complain about doing it?

I know that we live in a world where the grass isn't just always greener and better--we have to throw weeds into our neighbors' lawns--but how are people able to REALLY say anything worthwhile about something they have NEVER done and feel okay about it? A few months ago there was a debacle concerning a five second exchange (or "rant" as it was called in the news) with Matt Damon about his support for teachers. His mother taught for years and Damon is known for speaking up for teachers and the work that they do. I say, good for Matt Damon and good for his mother for raising such an amazing son. What a proud moment for her as a parent--I was beaming for her. It's sickening the twists the media took on the "rant" (really? It was like two seconds long and it was HARDLY a rant. The "news" that followed, however...) that was "...strewn with obscenities." Damon spoke of the...well, since my eldest child is seven, we'll go with "poopy" pay for "poopy" hours (I don't want FoX News to get a hold of my disgusting language, so I won't use the word s*$tty) trying to simply put it for people who don't seem to understand. His exasperation was evident. He saw firsthand how hard his mother worked and for how little. He knows about how much time she gave up for everyone else's children, because any teacher I know refers to her students as, " kids..." and treats them as such. Instead of being angry with his mother and jealous of the thousands of students who shared her love with him, he clearly admires and respects her and SHE clearly did an incredible job--as a mother AND a teacher.


  1. I taught for a few years too, and sadly, as much as I loved it, you couldn't pay me enough to go back. The bad outweighed the good for me, and I just can't go there again.

  2. I LOVE teaching and often find myself doing it daily with my daughter (who is 1 3/4). I taught ES and now I am teaching at the graduate level, because I know I can't give the kids 110% anymore, since most of that goes to my daughter and family! Great post!!

  3. Hi, I have enjoyed reading your blog and will be back. I am following you and hope you'll do the same!

  4. Nika: I hope you're turning this all into a book!?
    I am definitely reading everything you write, & most of the time get a good laugh. TLF

  5. Thanks for the compliment--and thanks for following! I'm definitely hoping to publish SOMETHING some day--if only for my own collection! I hope it's always entertaining for you!

  6. You are the best teacher I ever had and one of the major reasons why I became a teacher myself. :)

  7. Lenae, YOU (and people LIKE you) are the reason why teachers even GO to school each morning! I hope you are blessed with a student(or studentS!) who is just as lovely and wonderful as YOU are!


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