I left school today at 3:00 (that's early for me) and my desk was cluttered with all manner of papers and books. I'll be going in to my classroom on Sunday, because it seems as though the only way I can work on grading without interruption is to go to school when the building is essentially empty. The quarter is nearly over, and even with ten-hour days at school, I can't seem to get it all done.
So when I read about all the bad, lazy, greedy teachers who are ruining public education in this country, I start to experience...cognitive dissonance, sadness, anger....
I can't process my responses to what seems like a concentrated attack on educators, and I can't understand how educators are being held responsible for poverty, social problems, and the disintegration of the family. But I do know that what I read and hear about teachers does not make any sense to me, nor does it in any way fit my experience of being a teacher. I am not exceptional, and I know that I routinely work 50-60 hours a week. Why do politicians and the American public continue to believe teachers work 30 hour weeks?
I've been away from the blog for almost two weeks, just too busy teaching, grading, and preparing to have time to post anything. I have been reading, and when things settle down a bit I'll be posting reviews of several books, including Robin Black's superb short story collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This.
Yesterday morning I sat at my desk before school, rereading a few chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird for class discussion. I experienced a brief moment of complete calm, losing myself in a story I have already read so many times before. Even in the midst of the pressure and stress of my school day, there is this: the pleasure of reading.
We started studying some of the strategies of rhetoric in my English 2 Honors class this week. We are reading speeches and analyzing the use of rhetoric--then we'll come back to To Kill A Mockingbird and analyze the closing argument Atticus gives in chapter twenty. I'm finding that rhetoric is a challenge for me and my students, so I ordered another book (so much for my book-buying moratorium). Yesterday it arrived: Farnworth's Classical English Rhetoric by Wade Farnsworth. I think I'm in love. First of all, the book itself is beautiful, and then it is filled with beautiful language. The explanations of the rhetorical terms are clear, and I love the intellectual clarity of classical rhetoric.
March is a time of year when students from past years seem to pop up out of nowhere. This week I saw three: a Marine in full dress uniform, trim and formal, who turned out to be a student of mine who graduated last year. I honestly didn't even recognize him. A young married woman, now a college graduate who is planning to apply to MFA programs for creative writing--I'll call her Esperanza. She was my student years ago, and bless her, she told my sophomores "This is the woman who made me want to be a writer." Today another former student stopped in to see me: she's in the Coast Guard, and was home on leave for a week. I've taught every child in her family, and feel as though I'm almost part of the family. This is what really constitutes the greatest reward of teaching. I know no greedy teachers: really, I don't know one single one. But we are all working for this kind of bonus: the student, or former student who tells us we made a difference. Like this young man, who sent me an e-mail before he left for boot camp, and told me: I will be writing to you, I want you to be a part of my life so expect a lot from me, because there's no room for failure in my life...I won't give up, and I know you won't let me give up either...thank you for your support.
Yeah, that one made me cry.