Sunday, September 15, 2013

A bunch of random thoughts about education

There are a few things I've been meaning to post here, but then life gets in the way and a week has past and I haven't posted, and now I have something else that I want to post about in addition to the first thing.  *sigh*

I am in a perpetual group text with two of my best friends (and two fellow teachers).  Lesley and I taught at SHS my first year teaching and were instantly inseparable.  We had (mostly) weekly movie nights for the next 5 years.  Then, two years ago, enter Jen.  She was hired at SHS and Lesley was assigned as her mentor teacher.  Jen came to one movie night and, to use a cliché simile, she fit in like a missing puzzle piece.  Then, in June, the saddest thing in the world happened.  Jen moved back to her home state of Minnesota, and Lesley and her family moved to Huntington Beach where her husband had gotten a job with OC Fire.

Almost immediately after Lesley's move to HB, she got a job with Girls Inc. which is a great organization.  We have it here in our area and they work with the 8th grade girls at my school.  She worked a regular 9-5, 5 days a week.  She spent her summer taking middle school girls on field trips to aquariums and Knott's Berry Farm.  She attended fancy luncheons where she convinced rich ladies to donate money to the organization.  There was no more grading papers, no more staying after school for hours to help students who were struggling, no more attending funerals for family members of students who were killed in gang activity, no more teenage pregnancy, crying for the kids who were homeless at 17 because their dads kicked them out to make room for their new girlfriends, no more trying to control classes of 40+ students whose reading levels ranged from 4th grade to college level.  The area where we live(d) is a very interesting one.  Within a 20 mile radius, you have millionaires, migrant farm workers, gang members, and everyone in between. We teach (taught) in the less affluent area, but still even there, you have kids who live in huge houses and kids who live 3 families to a two bedroom apartment. Lesley's new job was a cake walk by comparison.

And she was unhappy.  "I need pain-in-the-ass kids who drive me crazy." She said in our group text.  "Teaching is 100 times harder than this job, but it is where I belong.  I'm a teacher."

Most people would think she was crazy, but I get it.  Jen gets it.  Plenty of my other teacher-friends get it.  We are teachers.  The same way we are alive.  Teaching isn't a job, and it's certainly not a back-up plan (I'm looking at you: people who have ever said, "well if that doesn't work out, I can always teach" as if it's that easy).

Which is why I get so angry when non-teachers talk shit about public education and how there aren't enough high-quality teachers.  I teach in a very low-paying district.  I am there early.  I stay late.  There is nothing I wouldn't do for my students.  I spend hundreds of my own dollars every year on my classroom.  I feed them.  I counsel them.  I nurture them.  I protect them to fullest extend of my ability as long as their bodies are on our campus.

But I also get it.  Because I've had colleagues I've despised because they had no business teaching.  However, those people are few and far between.  You want high-quality teachers? Give schools more money.  Give them the resources they need. When it comes to the education of our children, why should any expense be spared? Why should I have to spend $400 on a class set of The Hunger Games so my kids can read a book they are interested in? I shouldn't.  But I did.  Because it means that much to me.  Is it my fault that my school district can't afford to provide the resources I need to teach? No.  But it's not the kids' fault either.

You want high-quality teachers? Pay them wages they can live on. I am always, always broke by the end of the month and I have two roommates.  There is no way I could afford to live on my own.  It really is no surprise that there is such high turnover in education.  Perhaps if teachers were paid a lot more (the way they are in many other countries), education would be a more competitive field, and teachers wouldn't leave the field so quickly.  Show teachers that their work is valued.

You want high-quality teachers?  Make things equitable from school-to-school.  Another middle school in my district just 10 miles down the road has smart boards, ipads, and apple tv.  Some of our teachers are still using overhead projectors.  Not LCD projectors.  Overhead projectors.  These things:
Some of our classrooms still have chalkboards.  Chalkboards.  There is a classroom on my campus where the floor tiles are coming up so badly that students (and teacher) routinely trip over them. But 10 miles away, they're having a ball with their smart boards and their apple tv's.

Why don't I go get a job there?  Why don't I go get a job in a better paying district? The kids.  I love our kids.  I love the diversity.  I, like Lesley, love the pain-in-the-ass at-risk kids who drive us crazy, but steal our hearts.  Would our job be easier in a more affluent school where all kids are performing at grade level and behavior problems are few? Yeah, probably.  But working with our demographic is so much more rewarding.

You see, it's not about the money, and it is totally about the money.  I don't teach for the money (obviously.  And I know you've heard that before). But could money make me a better teacher?  I lie awake at night sometimes and dream of the things I could do in my classroom if I had the resources I want/need/deserve to do my job well.  I know I'm the best teacher I can be right now.  Would that be magnified if I had better resources? I get excited just thinking about it.  Maybe one day.  But for now, I'll continue to do what I can with what I have.

Because the problem with education isn't the teachers.  It's the conditions under which they are expected to teach and students are expected to learn.

No comments: