The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date.".... ....Ann Richards.

Commentary of the Day - March 13, 2007: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light.  Guest Commentary by Jane Goodwin.

I love my community college with a passion I didn't know I was still capable of after enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous public school dealings for so long.

For 26 years, I taught middle school, and I loved it.  At least, I thought I was loving it, but retrospectively, I realize something that I did not know while I was still there.

I was only used to the rest of it.

I had succumbed to a mind-trap, and I had become accustomed to a bureaucratic nightmare of paperwork and broken promises and assurances that in the future things would be better.  It was like a dysfunctional romance.  Day after day, year after year, it was the same old thing.

“I'll change, you'll see.  I promise."

And of course, like the lover who has no intention of changing but who needs you to stay with him and enable him, it never changed, except for the worse.  Why, then, do we stay, other than our love for the children?

We believe him. . . .  I mean, we believe the system because we know that the potential for change is really there, if only he, I mean, it, would take advantage of it.

After so long in a school system, the teachers evolve a mindset that is almost enslavement.  We endure schedules and treatment that no other professional would dream of enduring.  We allow ourselves to be used and misused and overworked.  What other professionals have a clientele that expects to be supported, fed, dressed, taught, enabled, and catered to in every possible way, without showing the least bit of gratitude?

Year after year in a public school makes a teacher numb to any other possibility that might be out there for him or her.  Every year it gets worse, even while we are hoping that "Next year it will be better."

But it never is.

Next year, the classrooms are more overcrowded, there are less books, more dysfunctional families, more duties, more responsibilities, more problems, more "incidents," and there is less and less support.  There is no discipline.  There is no toilet paper.  The janitor doesn't do "vomit."  The guidance counselor doesn’t do "sex".  The teachers' union allows a principal to over-schedule a teacher in spite of  "guaranteed" prep time daily.  Walking down the hall to fetch another class is break-time.  Driving from building to building, is lunch.  A few letters of the alphabet in that student’s file legally prohibit us from any kind of disciplinary measures that might help to curb his insatiable appetite for harming others.  Just keep moving his desk, and tell the parents of the little girl who sits next to him that she probably got those bruises on the playground.  (His rights are more important than hers.)

Every year it's worse.  And a teacher doesn't really know how bad it is, until that teacher walks out and tries something new.

I walked out.

And now, I teach every day in a building full of hardworking students and smiling administrators and friendly janitors who TREAT US AS EQUALS, and the building resounds with humor and happiness and dedication.

Ironically, many of my students now were my students years ago in the public school.  Many of them are just now getting their lives under control.  The reasons they dropped out are, of course, many and diverse, but the common theme seems to be that the public schools had nothing for these students.

"I think if a teacher had ever asked me, I might have known the answer.  But nobody ever asked me."

"I wasn’t a jock or a prep or a cheerleader or a "hoody goth", and invisible kids like me might as well not have even been there."

"I could do math and write up reports in the shop, but I couldn't do it in a classroom, and then they closed up the shop for more classroom time.  It was like the school didn’t care about kids like me."

"I got tired of getting beat up every day by a gigantic ''tard' who was never punished, and taking the blame for 'teasing him' when all I ever did was to walk past and try not to bother him."

I have a lot of students now who washed out in public school.  A few of them are washing out here, too, but most of them are experiencing  a success they never dreamed possible.

What is the difference between the two institutions?  I think it is. . . respect.

The administration here gives respect to the instructors, and that respect is passed along by the instructors to the students.

There is ALWAYS toilet paper!!!!!  The halls and classrooms are clean and well-maintained.  Everyone behaves properly.  Any person who does not is not allowed to come back.

The sad thing is, I did not know how bad it was until I left the public schools.  Sure, the days seemed awfully long, and sometimes the despair and frustration were so thick one could cut it with a knife, but it was my obsession to be a positive force in this not-very-positive place.  I came to school at 7:00 AM; I got home around 6:00 PM.  I was determined to make a difference, a positive difference.

But, there was no appreciation. T here was only the expectation that if I could do that, I should be doing even more.  But if one did anything more, it must be for some sinister purpose.

I couldn't keep on.

But now?  I feel positive every day.  All I have to do is walk into this building and I am instantly wide-awake and happy.

I still work the long hours.  But I am appreciated, and treated like the professional I'd forgotten I was, all those years.

As for that "positive difference," I can see it. I can hear it.

The really ironic thing is that in spite of all the negative things about the public schools, I still believe that this nation's schools are the hope of our future.  There is such potential in every classroom, such stories to be told, such wondrous talent and creativity and sensitivity and music concealed behind the t-shirts and the grubby jeans and exposed underwear and defiant raising of the eyebrows and the punky hair and the chips-on-the-shoulders and the trendy slang and the stubborn glares. . . . there is poetry behind the obscenities, and magnificent scientific discoveries behind the unwillingness to conform.

It's too bad teachers are no longer allowed to cultivate it.

Most important things are discovered OUTSIDE of the box, not inside.  Talent, creativity, curiosity, kindness, empathy?  Sorry, not on the test.

Why can't we be allowed to step back and bask in the glow of unbridled enthusiasm, and throw ourselves into helping students learn and discover and grow, academically and physically and mentally and socially and culturally and scientifically. . . . .

What happened to us as a people, as a culture, as a nation, that our idea of  'education' has sunk to the level of equating success with a number on a piece of paper?

I miss what my former job might have been, in a perfect world.

2007 Jane Goodwin.
Jane Goodwin taught middle school in Indiana for 26 years.  She now teaches writing courses at a community college.

The IP comments:  Jane's experiences in the public school system certainly are not unique.  The IP has heard similar laments from many current and former K-12 teachers.  Things probably are better at her community college.  However, even at the college level, respect for the faculty is not universal.  Here in the California State University system we have suffer under the administration of a Chancellor who has little or no respect for faculty members.  His only concern seems to be how much money he can skim from the university system budget to lard the pockets of his current and departing cronies in the administrata.

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