Written Anonymously for TER

I didn’t go into teaching to change the world.

In fact, I gravitated toward teaching because I wanted to read and talk about books for my job. I chose the profession simply because, as I sat in my English class senior year, I wanted to talk about 1984 and novels like it forever. I was actually quite selfish and didn’t care much to inspire new readers or change anyone’s life. I just wanted to be paid to be in a book club.

When I started the education program in college, the classes were filled with students who wanted to teach K-12. The classroom management courses were particularly unhelpful and uninspiring as I had no idea if I would be teaching high school or middle school, but I knew for certain that ringing a little bell on my desk was not going to be a good way to get wayward students back on task. Educational Policy was another dud. Everything we learned was outdated by the next semester. Rather than teach us how and why to stay involved politically, we talked about current “hot topics” that would be irrelevant to us when we eventually got in our own classes years later.

I wasn’t inspired until I started taking my English methods classes in teaching literature and writing. In those classes, I was exposed to how reading and writing can change lives–because they changed mine. My instructors engaged us in the very units and assignments that are best practice and that we could do with students. My eyes were opened to the power of teaching, but there was a part of me that was still unsure. Part of me was still thinking, “This change the world thing is great and all, but I just want to teach The Great Gatsby in my old high school.”  I couldn’t picture myself teaching students who were exactly like me.

The best thing that happened to me as a teacher was something that scared me the most: I was assigned to student teach in a high diversity school district. In my mind, I would student teach in my old high school and then be hired there. I would work with my former English teachers and grow old teaching Shakespeare in the very room I first discovered him. I begged and pleaded the university to let me student teach at my alma mater. Thankfully, they would not bend. It was their policy to put pre-service teachers in schools with diverse learners.

My student teaching experience was fifteen years ago in the district I currently teach in. Since then, my district has undergone a lot of changes: due to poor government allocation of funds and flawed state “report cards” we have shrunk drastically in student number. We have also become Title I; my building alone has nearly 85% free and reduced lunch rates. We are considered a high poverty, at-risk district. We have low parent involvement, high numbers of language learners and first-generation English-speakers. We have issues getting mileages passed for better facilities. We went from being a district with four high schools (two regular, one alternative, and one alternative charter), 2 middle schools, and a ten elementary buildings, to four elementary schools, an intermediate (5-6) building, a junior high (7-9) and a high school (10-12).

I teach in Michigan, the state that has poisoned water in Flint and crumbling, mold-invested schools in Detroit. Our governor is trying to run us like a business and he is quickly failing all of our most needy citizens: the poor and the youth. Teachers are undervalued and under-supported by our government as well evident in the newest version of a very subjective teacher evaluation standard.  We are also a Right to Work state now which means the Michigan Education Association–our largest teacher union–has lost much of its leverage to help us negotiate fair contracts.

We are told we have to take students from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of home lives and all sorts of degrees of learning abilities and get them to all fit in one box, and if we don’t we will be labeled ineffective. We will be considered failures at our job.

It is frustrating. Teachers are in despair. They don’t love their jobs anymore. Many are getting out. And I get why. I do.

But not me.

I consider myself a “lifer” in the field of education because I love my job. Even with all of the crap and frustration and bullshit that is thrown at me from every direction, when I close my classroom door (ok, usually I teach with it open, but you get the idea), Room 103 is mine. We do great things in here.

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To me, it doesn’t matter what the standards are or what the state test de jure is. It doesn’t matter how I will be evaluated or whether my objectives need to be posted. That is all peripheral to the real business of teaching kids. My current official title is 8th Grade English Teacher, however, I see myself as a guide of sorts. A guide that leads my students to more and better thinking. English class expands vocabulary and helps kids know where commas go, yes, but it also teaches them to use their imagination, to think critically, to analyze their own thinking.

Today, for instance, my 8th graders were in a hot discussion about the topic of Sameness in The Giver by Lois Lowry. Many were lamenting that it would “suck” to live in a world like the Community in the novel, however, one boy–usually quiet–said, “but you wouldn’t know any different. I mean, if you suddenly went blind, you would be sad because you would never see colors again. But if you were born blind, you wouldn’t know what color even was, so why be sad? I mean think about it, how do you describe ‘red’ to someone who has never ever seen it?” It was silent for a few beats and another student chimed in to talk about the sunburn Jonas experienced in an earlier chapter, and how he thought he understood pain from that one sunburn. We talked of mental pain and the difference between “anguish” and “ouch”.

The bell interrupted our discussion as I called out, “TO BE CONTINUED….!” as they walked out still chatting about the book.

That is why I will keep doing this job. That is why I stay.

Yes, I believe it’s important to know what is going on politically and to stay active and informed of best practice strategies. I believe in speaking out when something is wrong and teachers (and by association, students) are being mistreated and unsupported. I get down about the problems my students and their families have and how helpless I feel trying to make a discussion of theme seem important when those students are hurting.

I get frustrated. I get depressed. I feel like giving up sometimes. But I won’t.

I didn’t get into teaching to change the world, but it’s why I stay.

 

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