Lawmakers, Are You Listening?

I would like to begin by saying I love my job.  I really do.  With that being said, I would not recommend becoming a teacher to anyone.  When I began teaching sixteen years ago, I received accolades.  “You are going into the noblest of professions,” people said to me.   I believed it.  I woke each morning excited for the day, excited for the “ah-ha moment” that was surely to come to some of my students,, excited to be a part of someone’s history.

Today, it’s not that simple.  Politicians who have never stepped foot into a classroom as teachers are making decisions on how I should do my job.   Because they once were students, they have declared themselves experts, judges of what makes a good teacher, and their new laws are a reflection of this extensive knowledge. (Insert eye roll here).

Well, Lawmakers, you can pummel me with paperwork.  You can force me to capitulate to asinine rules and regulations.  You can push schools to adopt “a business model.”  You can call the students clients and you can tell me that the customer is always right.  You can bombard me with an evaluation system that defines me not by what I actually do, but by the scores of my students, and if anyone of these young people is having an off-day and does not show growth, you can threaten to fire me.  Yes, you can try to break me.  You can tell me that teaching should be the gateway to “a real job,” and that no one should teach for more than five years.  You can create a climate so adversarial that 50% of my colleagues will leave the profession within their first five years.

But until you actually fire me, you cannot break me.  Do you want to know why?  Because I know something that you are unwilling to recognize: I do something that you will never be able to do.  I make a difference every day in the lives of students!

I make kids work hard each day to think for themselves.  I push them by constantly asking “Why?  Why?  Why?”  I get kids to make connections between ideas they never knew connected.

I make kids see that being part of a community is important.   I make kids want to extend themselves to better more than just themselves.

I make kids write, and I make them write a lot.  When they are lazy and slovenly, I make them do it again.  I make them realize that I expect something of them, and you know what, they begin to expect it of themselves.

I make kids say “May I” instead of “Can I.”  I make kids learn the difference between anxious and eager.

I make kids read.  Every book is my favorite book while I am teaching it, and I get so excited about it, I pique their interest.  Every year, I have students say, “This is the first time in high school I actually read the books and didn’t just use Sparknotes.”

I make kids dream about what their lives can and will be after their comprehension and writing improves.

I make kids rise to the challenge.  I do not believe that C work deserves an A.  Only A work deserves an A, and if the students want an A, they have to work for it.

I make kids responsible.

I make kids laugh.

I make kids know I care.

I make a difference, and no amount of brow-beating can ever change that!


A Letter to the Leader of North Korea

Dear Mr. Kim Jong-Un,

Oh wait, that’s not right.

Dear Mr. President Jong-Un,

Or is it Prime Minister?  No, no, that’s not right.

Dear General Jong-Un,

Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right either,

Dear Great Leader,

No, I think that was your grandpa.

Okay, this is getting ridiculous!

Dear Kim,

On behalf of my little blog here at Life As I Understand It, I’d like to thank you for reading.  How do I know that you are reading?  Well, I have had multiple hits on recent blog posts from The Republic of North Korea, and considering that no one in your country is allowed to have Internet access, or any access for that matter, to the outside world, I assume that somehow, you are enjoying us Westerners as much as we enjoy us Westerners, and by the grace of God, you found my blog enjoyable, although slightly cheeky, and you have started to follow.  Thank you.

Since I seem to have your attention, I’d like to say a few things on behalf of the United States of America.  Please understand, I know you would be furious if one of your citizens spoke on your country’s behalf, but her in the good ole U.S. of A., we are allowed and welcomed to say what we think; we have freedom, which is actually one of our inalienable rights.  So anyways, I think a bunch of us over here are thinking you are out of your damn mind if you decide to actually attack the United States as you have done so successfully in the propaganda films you are showing your captive citizens.  It would not end well, you know, for you guys. This is not a threat by any means, I am more of a pacifist myself, as are many of the people I know.  To borrow from a 1960s Vietnam-era mantra, “Make love, not war.”  Peaceful, open communication really would be better for all of us, and I hope that you consider opening up some communication with the rest of the world, and check the tough, little-man image at the door.

Secondly, I don’t know if you have figured this out yet, but Dennis Rodman is kind of a freakazoid.  I have seen the pictures of you guys hugging it out, and although not shocked, I am a little bewildered.  Have you Googled him?  He likes to wear women’s clothes and make-up.  He likes to do anything and everything that is considered outlandish.  Do you know he actually married himself?  I don’t know how that is possible, but he did it.  You can’t marry someone of the same-sex in most of America, but apparently it is okay to marry oneself.  Who knew?

I digress.

By my estimations, you are a pretty conservative fella, I don’t know if you want your repetition soiled by hanging around with such a volatile wild-child.  Nonetheless, he does speak very highly of you.  He told Donald Trump on the Celebrity Apprentice finale that he thought you were a “cool guy.”  Wait, you probably knew that.  Don’t even try to pretend you don’t watch Celebrity Apprentice.  If you have the ability to Google this little blog, I know you would watch your “friend” on Apprentice.  Maybe seeing how he looked on the finale opened your eyes a little bit to how peculiar he really is.  I really think you should think twice about being his friend.  I am including a photo for you to maul over.


Lastly, I just want to say most of the world is saddened that the citizens of your country struggle the way they do.  By now you know I am a high school English teacher, and much of the way you run your country is very reminiscent of Brave New World and 1984.  You do know those books are considered dystopian literature, right?  Those worlds are not the ideal; on the contrary, they are fictional models of what not to do.  Maybe you could read some other Western works that our more upbeat and uplifting.  The United State Constitution is a pretty decent work.  Too pushy?   Too, you-should-be-like-us?  I get it.  You don’t want to be us.  Well, what about Walden by Henry David Thoreau?  It is also non-fiction but it has a really good message about living life with purpose.  I really think you would like it, and maybe it would help you see that keeping up with the Joneses is not all that it is cracked up to be, and you and the citizens of North Korea would probably be happier if you came out of your lives of quiet desperation.  After you finish Walden read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  It’s not really a life changer, but it’s one of my favorite books, and I think you might enjoy it.

Okay, well, thanks again for reading.  I hope that you continue to enjoy, and I hope you take to heart what I have said.  I tell my students often, “Make a friend, be a friend.”  I think it’s important to be kind and show love.


Are We Too P.C.?

I am upset with America.  I am upset that being politically correct means that many people have abandoned morality.  A sense of right and wrong is out the window because if you dare have a conviction that clashes with someone else’s conviction, well, dare say, you must be prejudice.  As a teacher, I sometimes have to stop, abandon my lesson, and call it a day.  We have become so P.C. that in a unit about minorities, my students are afraid to voice an opinion.

Yesterday, I started a unit about women.  Before reading A Doll’s House be Henrick Ibsen, we first discuss how women can be viewed as a minority group.   To build interest, I gathered some non-fiction articles about the glass-ceiling, women in the workplace, and women’s treatment around the world.

The first few articles about the glass-ceiling and women in the workplace were accepted the way I thought they would be.  My students were aghast that women make on average $.82 to a dollar that men make.  They were horrified that only 21 women are CEOs of the top five hundred companies in the United States.  When discussing these articles both my male students and my female students thought that if a women worked hard, she deserved equal pay and equal compensation for her efforts.

The focus then shifted to treatment of women around the world.  I had an article that said that in certain countries, like Yemen, women receive less than a year of education.   They thought that women should receive an education, and they thought that global human interest groups should gather and help set up schools.   They read an article about women in Saudi Arabia being arrested for driving.   They thought that the law restricting women from driving was archaic, and they hoped that women would soon receive the right to drive.

We were really getting somewhere.  Next, I had them read two horrifying stories.  We had been discussing injustice, and now, I wanted them to see how oppressive and offensive it can be for women, even in 2013.

The first article was about a young Afghani women, Bibi Aisha, who had her nose cut off for defying her husband.  The other article was about a young woman who, against her Bangladeshi husband’s wishes, enrolled in college.  When he found out, he tied her down and cut off her fingers with a meat cleaver.

As I probed them for a response, I noticed that they were unusually quiet.  The convictions they voiced ten minutes earlier were suddenly gone; their passion had subsided.  Suddenly, we were talking about other nations, and having been taught that one must be accepting of different cultures and tolerant of others’ ways, they did not want to voice opinions.

“Do you think this is okay?” I asked.  Clearly, in a unit on women as a minority group, I did not think it was okay.  I wanted for them to feel anger toward these patriarchal societies and aware of the injustices that exist in other parts of the world.

However, their tone and ideas shocked me.  “Well, maybe that’s okay in that part of the world,” one student said.

“Not everyone is as free as we are in America,” another piped in.

“It’s sad, but their culture is very different from ours.”

I was flabbergasted.  Instead of discussing the discrimination and ethical crimes being committed, they towed the P.C. line.  They did not want anyone to think they were intolerant of other cultures.  They have been so brainwashed by cultural relativity, that they could not see the difference between accepting cultural differences with accepting crimes and atrocities.

I looked at the clock.  The bell was near ringing; I told them we would finish the discussion during the next class, knowing that I would not bring it up again.  I do not know how to deal with ethical and moral apathy brought upon by a society that labels it as tolerance and cultural relativity.  In a world where having a differing opinion will get you labeled a bully, a bigot, or a racist, our children do not know how to stand up for what is truly right.  Someone needs to hold up a moral compass and point it in the right direction once again.