I have been pondering this post for quite some time, and have debated whether or not I should move forward with it. However, in these past weeks several events have happened and I decided it was time. Most of these events weren’t even things that happened to me personally, but to friends and family in the field of education, and I just couldn’t sit back and keep my mouth shut! Remember when I said my mouth gets me in trouble on occasion, well here goes! When I think about what it means for me to teach, I have so many different thoughts. I began this journey over twenty years ago never realizing that I would still be here after all these years.
You see, I got a teaching degree because I was afraid of not having a job. Don’t get me wrong, I had a mother and grandmother who were teachers, as well as other family members, and I adored kids. It’s not like it wasn’t a good fit, it just wasn’t what I had envisioned. I began babysitting when I was ten. Yes it’s hard to believe, but back then I babysat for my younger sisters and cousins that young! Being from such a huge family there was always a little one to help care for, so that’s what I did.
I was a nanny all through college as well and teaching definitely came naturally. But there I was, majoring in voice performance, dreaming of singing on Broadway with a fiance that was about to continue with his doctorate, and I panicked. How would we live? How would we pay the bills while he was in school? So I made an executive decision to get my degree in music education instead of performance. I was certainly happy with my decision. I would still get to sing and perform, but now I would teach others to do the same. I went through my program with ease and finally it was done. I was a music teacher. I started my first job and I was on my way. I was directing shows too, and it was such a fabulous time.
Teaching twenty plus years ago was very different from teaching now. Even though I was different from a classroom teacher, I was involved in all aspects of my school. I had a really great relationship with all of my students and colleagues and added a different perspective when the students had struggles or issues. I had the support of the parents when disciplinary action was required, and I was called in a lot to give input on IEP’s and collaborative meetings as well. It was a pleasure to be helpful and give the kids a much-needed person in their corner. On occasion I had some challenges because when you’re a “special” subject teacher not all parents value what you do, but teaching is a labor of love so you can’t let it get to you. I felt like I had landed where I was supposed to be. My job was pretty awesome and I was happy.
Fast forward…teaching has changed so much. Whether you’re a special area teacher or a classroom teacher, teaching now is really tricky. Teachers no longer have the freedom to be creative in the way that we should. We have to teach what politicians dictate, even though they’ve never spent five minutes in a classroom, and administrators, on many occasions, no longer stand up to parents because they find it easier to appease them than to fight them. I have colleagues that are master music specialists teaching PE, which by the way is an insult not only to them, but to my friends who are amazing PE teachers!! I have friends who are masters at their grade level getting moved into new buildings and told to change to new grade levels that they have never taught. I would love for someone to explain to me how that makes sense??!! There is a shift and it’s driving amazingly qualified and gifted teachers away from the classroom.
In the past I have had my share of bad administrators, and currently I feel lucky to be in a school with great colleagues and a wonderful principal. However, even in my awesome school where most of the time I’m dancing and singing up a storm with my kiddos, a secondary shift has occurred, particularly in the behavior of some of my students. Our students have been taught that they are the most important person in their families. It is no longer their parents as the head of the family, it is them! They have been taught that no matter what they do, they will be defended against the adult in charge. I see parents berating teachers on social media, defending their children to the world, and this is utterly shocking to me!
Teachers used to be respected, but nowadays, all a student has to do is whine to mommy and we are completely negated. Instead of the parent’s support, we find ourselves explaining our position as to why “little Mary” received a behavior warning for talking back or lost points because she didn’t have her name on her paper, again! I see this occurring with students as young as first grade. I am seeing children flat out refuse to follow directions from any adult. I have never had a larger population stare at me when a direction is given as if to say, “no way lady, I’m not going to do what you say!” This is not a unique position, I see it happening with all of my friends and family members who teach as well. In my building I have to say this is the minority, but it is still happening and it is beginning to creep up.
I think one of the major causes in this shift is the fact that everyone believes that they are an expert. If you get online and read an article, then clearly you know how to teach. I mean, I read WEB MD, so clearly I’m a doctor, right?! Sound crazy? Yes, it does to me as well. I am not a teacher because I am a parent, I am a teacher because I went to school and studied for many years, I took the appropriate classes, I learned what it means to teach and how to teach, I student taught with amazing teachers, I finished my degree, I took required state exams for my certification, and then, as with any job, each year I learn and grow, and get better! Being a teacher is a professional job, like any other job. It is one that requires a very specific set of mastered skills, skills you do not acquire simply because you are a parent. I find that my frustration currently, is that it appears that many parents no longer teach their children the value of their teachers, or that their teacher is an expert in their field. If you have someone whispering in your ear that they know more than the teacher, well then that’s a battle educators can’t possibly win. Does this mean that there aren’t bad teachers or administrators? Of course not. As with any profession, you have a handful of those who shouldn’t be there. But this is the case in every profession. There are bad doctors, lawyers, home builders, and the list goes on. In all of my years teaching in several different schools I can assure you that bad teachers are a GREAT minority in comparison to those that are amazing!
So why am I writing this? I’m writing this because it is the first time in my life that I have wanted to quit and I am NOT a quitter. It’s the first time that my daily work, is feeling like a struggle. It’s the first time that the awesome, hilarious, fabulous things that my students do on a daily basis is being overshadowed by the constant need to discipline instead of teach. It’s the first time in my career that I’m having to talk myself into going to work. It’s the first time that the lack of respect for the teaching profession has really gotten to me. Is this just a phase or a bad patch, maybe, but I am tired, really tired. I’m tired of explaining myself, but more importantly tired of my classroom teacher colleagues and friends having to do just about everything under the sun except teach and instead, spend countless hours in defense of themselves.
So in the end I guess I am venting and trying to remind parents and politicians that the reason that we teach is because we LOVE your children. We want them to become amazing contributors to their world. We want them to be kind, caring, and productive members of society. It certainly isn’t about the money! Please remember that teaching is a job, a tough job, a skilled job! And yes, we get some time off in the summer, but I challenge anyone to come in and see if you don’t need a break after that many months of being “on.” It’s a job that requires constant planning, nights, weekends, and believe it or not, a whole lot of time on that summer break! I want there to be a shift back to twenty years ago, when teachers were respected for the professionals that they are. Without teachers, you cannot have the next generation of professionals in any field.
I recently finished my Spring musical with some very special senior class members. There were several moments that I got teary-eyed and truly sad that I was having to say goodbye to these particular kids. Those four years went fast. I am so proud of everything that they have achieved! That’s what it means to be a teacher to me, a job I never knew that I wanted, but a job that has given me countless happy and proud moments. It’s a job that has also caused me to be so grateful for the lives that I’ve touched, and the kids that have left an incredible mark on my heart. Teaching for me has been a gift, and although I am having some struggles I believe that I was lead there. My students of all ages bring light, laughter, and lessons to my life each day and have made a way bigger impact on me, than I have on them.
So remember to be kind, remember to be grateful for those that care for your most precious gift when you are not there, and most of all think, really think, before you speak, especially about that person standing in front of a classroom each day dreaming of all of the things that your children can become. Peace…
And that’s my dish!