Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Am a Teacher

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.

18 comments:

Man of la Book said...

I don't know which political "genius" decided to vilify teachers in order to overhaul the education system - but I don't agree with that approach.

I also know that 99% of the people I talk to, even though they spew propaganda, when you ask them some poignant questions they also agree that most teachers are not the problem.

bibliophiliac said...

@Man of la Book--*vilify* is precisely the right word. You are right, the propaganda does not really reflect the reality.But I wonder, who will want to enter this profession, given the low pay, low status, and hideous treatment of teachers in the political arena?

Felicia said...

How soon they forget how important educators are. Maybe they would do better if they remembered.

Great post.

Bellezza said...

I have to disregard the ridiculous ignorance of those who don't teach; even my beloved parents don't understand the issues in Wisconsin from a teacher's perspective. I know that I teach because there is no job which is more fulfilling. For twenty-six years I've done my best to instill in my children a love of learning, an inner self-confidence, and a strong academic foundation. Who dares to scorn that? No one who's ever stepped a foot in my classroom. Nor yours, I'm sure.

bibliophiliac said...

@Felicia-Amen!
@Bellezza-Beautifully said! Sometimes I think the only person in my life who *gets* my job is my husband--he's my personal witness to all that I pour into this vocation!

Katie said...

Your students are so lucky to have you! As a teacher myself, I try not to even listen to the negativity from the media. Only those of us who are truly in the fray can ever understand the value of our work. YOU are valued!

Lisa said...

As the daughter of two teachers, I am a staunch defender of teachers. Unfortunately there are a few who taint the reputation of the majority. My daughter had a Latin teacher who had them watching movies three days out of five. She had completely lost the desire to teach. I'm not in the least opposed to teachers being unionized but if it were easier to get rid of teachers like this and move in those that are eager. That said, I'm horrified by what the government in Wisconsin has done!

Sam said...

I am a teacher in the UK. The public has the same opinion here - that teaching is a really cushy job as obviously we only work 9-3 every day and get long holidays. I used to get really frustrated with it for all the reasons you mentioned but now I don't even bother to argue with people who think that, I just make a comment like "you should try it then."

But my job is tough. I work 60 hour plus a week and I work in an area that has the highest unemployment levels in London. I have a class of 30 seven to eight year olds, of which three have severe special educational needs or emotional/social issues. Including one with severe aggession. I don't have any support. One of my boys is in a gang (at seven). I have been sworn at by parents repeatedly.

I chose to work in a school like that because I genuinely do love it, but the workload is the same for teachers everywhere. Over here they are now talking of reducing pensions for public sector workers :/

bibliophilica said...

It is depressing to read about the vilification of such an honorable profession. I have no idea what I can do about it beyond just thanking you - and the other teachers who have commented here - for all of your hard work and dedication. I'm sure there legions of others who strongly support teachers, maybe they just lack the voice or publicity of the politicos...
-Jay

tough jelly said...

"Greedy teacher" isn't that an oxymoron?

bibliophiliac said...

@Katie-unfortunately, I think politicians and others who have their own agenda are creating the terms of the conversation about education, and teachers voices are rarely heard.

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa-I think politicians are being disingenuous-they pretend to care about the quality of education, but I fear their real motive is to do away with public education altogether.

bibliophiliac said...

@Sam-it sounds like teachers are really under siege in the UK as well. Keep fighting the good fight, those children need you!

Short Story Slore said...

I've been loving The Daily Show's coverage of the Wisconsin issue - he almost makes up for all the people who make it seem like teaching is a part-time hobby. On a book note, I saw If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This at the store and that title hooked me! I can't wait to start it.

Kerry said...

I love this post. Thanks for sharing. Like you, I watch the news coverage and wonder how we got to this place, how people can think like this. Thank you for everything you do, and for the difference you make. I still remember each and every teacher that inspired me.

Sean said...

Its the same here in Australia, though recently things have gone quiet.

Same issues though, 12 weeks holidays, only work till three, etc.

Sad thing is though sometimes the rot starts from within the ranks. I had a mouthy student who spouted that relief teachers (substitutes) did nothing all day - turns out her mother is a newly graduated relief teacher.

Funny I have always found rocking up with a days notice, and being expected to manage kids with whom you have no rapport and get them to complete their regular teachers work quite a challenge.

Bybee said...

Sadly, the way teachers are treated in the US makes me want to continue teaching abroad more and more each year.

Kate said...

So well said, Lisa. I love the last story you shared about the student who plans on writing to you. That would make me cry too. It's so nice to know you've touched someone's life that deeply. You can't put a price tag on that.

I linked this in my Friday Five!