This essay is in defense of the men and women who decided to protect all of our futures teaching the future. No one is perfect but every teacher I’ve ever known knows the importance of all of their students. They rarely defend themselves because, after all, they are only teachers.
I had a great day…..
….. yesterday. But, even the greatest of days doesn’t make it any easier to get up at 5:00 in the morning. If only I could get to bed before 11:00 PM on school nights. That would make my life so much easier. With mountains of correcting being precipitated every day that possibility is basically impossible. So here I am, shocking myself awake with a cold shower so I can stay alert for the approaching new day.
My wife gets up every morning with me and takes the opportunity to share some conversation over a cup of coffee. We both cherish this time together because other than our morning conversations we spend too little time together. After a few minutes I say my good-byes
I’m off to work before 6:30 AM because it is critical to arrive at school at least 45 minutes early to complete any final preparations for my classes and to see if there are any further reports due from either the administration or the many guidance and special education departments. Some mornings I have students waiting for me with questions concerning the work that is due or was done the day before. I’ve been told the many reports and questionnaires are a necessary tool. But, they take up too much of my time. They seem so redundant and most of the time they probably either get filed or thrown away.
I run down to the teacher’s room to make some copies of problem sheets to be worked on by some of my classes. The copy machine usually doesn’t work and there is never enough paper to complete the task. I once complained to the main office and was told I use too much paper. I should try to conserve on supplies because the town’s people are threatening to lower next year’s supply budget, again. I try to explain I use a lot of copying material because I don’t have enough text or lab books in some of my classes. By this time the office decides to ignore me for, after all, I am only a teacher.
The busses arrive. In come the numerous students ranging from age 12 to 21. Their entrance is noisier than a Fenway Park crowd. They are young and youth by definition is synonymous with energy and vitality. The school day begins with attendance and the Pledge of Allegiance being recited. Most students do not attempt to stop their conversations until half way through the pledge. They just don’t see why they should be bothered. I explain the pledge is recited to honor the many men and women of our nation’s past and present who lost their lives defending our freedoms. They look at me but don’t hear me for after all, I am only a teacher.
My classes begin with a review of what we had covered the previous day. Most of my students now begin to pay attention but I always see through their eyes they would rather be somewhere else. They don’t understand why they are being forced to learn something they think they will never use and probably soon forget.
Looking around my room I see many of my student’s eyes begin to half close. I used to think my teaching style put many of them to sleep. After many meetings with guidance and special education departments, I discovered most of these students have full-time jobs after school. Some students openly rebel by refusing to waste their time studying something they feel is useless. I try to explain that in their futures they will appreciate understanding various ideas and concepts so they can successfully make correct decisions in their lives. Most of the time I get comments about how an education is not worth anything except maybe for the fact they can make more money if they graduate. They sometimes even bring up articles describing how the schools are bankrupting the towns and why a cut back in funding is necessary. They ask me why they should believe education is important when their own parents believe education is not worth their tax dollars.
I continue to explain money is not an end to life but a means. Understanding is more important than how much they can make because, in reality, money is an empty goal. I tell them an intellectual life creates a happier life-style because it fulfills why we are here. By now most of my students sneer at this explanation because they see what happened to me by choosing an intellectual life. I became only a teacher.
Every year I have more and more students sincerely believe they will not have the future their parents had because if the terrorists don’t kill them, the growing public debt will eliminate any chance they had to attain a good life. These are the students who argue if one doesn’t take the opportunity to live for today, they will never experience life. They have a difficult time delineating between their present and their future.
A few days ago I met an extremely angry student. His language was foul and his actions were aggressive. He wasn’t one of my students but I was asked by a new teacher to help her with this particular class. His language horrified me and when I told him it was extremely inappropriate he became violent. He finally left the room but before he did he looked back at me in disgust. What right did I have to delineate between what was appropriate and what was not. For after all, I am only a teacher.
Lunch is rarely experienced. I only have a few minutes left of the thirty-minute block I am allotted because it is necessary for me to set up my afternoon classes. Instead of eating I go to my mailbox to find numerous questionnaires concerning special needs students. These are the students I feel the most compassion for. They are never allowed to be free of the label they came into school with. I once asked one of the special needs teachers if any of their students evolved into becoming fully mainstreamed. I never received an answer. My frustration erupts when I am able to finally challenge these young men and women only to be told that I am not following their IEP’s (individual education plan) and I am not going along with the program as instructed. I sincerely believe that these students yearn to be challenged like their peers and would love to have their title of “special” put into their past.
Some days I get letters from parents of “overachieving” students asking why their child is not doing well in my class. Why I am not able to earn the money paid to me by correctly teaching their child. I try to explain students in many of my classes are being challenged and the constant perfect grades enjoyed by their children in earlier grades are not attainable in the higher grades. I also explain to many a parent their children can’t be perfect in everything they do. I once told a parent that pure perfection is synonymous with nothing. Some are better in English than math and vice versa. These parents never leave convinced of my arguments. One of my favorite paraphrases is that “high potential is the heaviest baggage a young person can carry.”
A day never passes when I don’t see one or more of my students with their eyes dilated because of some drug or alcohol abuse. I desperately try to reach these children in hopes I can convince them to leave their bodies alone and give their minds a chance. They rarely answer me and only turn away for, after all, I am only a teacher. Many of my older colleagues state our profession has become less teaching and more social work. If this is what it has to be, so be it. For we are the only people left that can help these children. After we are gone, society’s enforcement systems take over.
If I ever turn to the administration for help with these students, this only succeeds in having them suspended or expelled from school. This separates them from any possible help. But, on the other hand, I can’t blame the administration for trying to protect the whole from the few. They are being perpetually frustrated in this cause because the state demands we educate all of the youths in the community even if this means putting other children at risk.
The day ends like it began with my students displaying the same amounts of energy they showed when they arrived. I look around my room and see various pieces of crushed paper on the floor and in the desks. I know I can’t dally because I usually have a faculty meeting or a department meeting that, as of late, discusses the deep cuts in our budgets. School boards across the state and the country exclaim their towns can no longer budget any more money into education. There are more important things that the towns must budget for. There just isn’t any more money.
As I finish cleaning my room and the last of my students leave from extra help, one of my students enters and explains what I taught her about biological relationships between young men and women made a decision she had to make easier. As she was leaving my room she turned and thanked me for being a teacher; her teacher.
I had a great day …..