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!

With Advice, Sometimes, Comes Laughter

I am honest with my children, and I have found that it has, to some degree, backfired on me.  My children, the darlings who I carried for nine months and nurtured into little compassionate girls, find some of my honesty to be odd and funny.  I find that they often laugh at me when I am trying my hardest to be poignant and supportive.

It doesn’t bother me. I like that they laugh at my idiosyncracies and realize that their mother is a bit eccentric.  They are very aware that they are genetically attached to me and that, like it or not, they, too, will develop some abnormal beliefs and behaviors.

Recently, the girls and I were having a very candid conversation about the start of school and the changes they would be facing.  All three of my children showed concern for the sheer size of their schools.  Respectively, Carson’s entire seventh grade class was 22, Maggie’s fourth grade class was 25, and Lizzie’s second grade class was eighteen students.  No one changed classes.  No one had the opportunity to meet new people.  It was a pint-sized version of the schools they would soon be attending.

My biggest fears for them included the following: with whom would they eat lunch; the embarrassment of walking into the wrong classroom; and lastly, having to go to the bathroom at school.

The first two topics were easy.  I told all of them to find someone they liked earlier in the day, and see if they were in the lunchroom.  I said it was not uncommon to walk up to an acquaintance and say, “Hey can I eat with you?”  I told them that their friendly smiles and warm personalities were inviting.  I knew they would be welcomed.

Second, I told them how I have walked into the wrong classroom as a teacher!  Just last year, I got my day messed up, and I walked into a classroom and set myself up to teach my class.   However, I was a period early!  Instead of going to my hall duty, I was trying to teach a class!

The last topic was a bit more sensitive.  Everyone, at some point in time, has to use the restroom in public.  Bodily functions should not be embarrassing because sometimes, it just cannot be avoided.

“I know sometimes using the bathroom at school is difficult.   It took me over five years to be able to use the restroom at school.”

The girls gasped.  “You didn’t go for five years?!” Carson asked, incredulous.

Realizing that they thought I meant both urination and defecation, I corrected myself.   “No.  I could pee, but I couldn’t poop.”  I paused to think how to phrase my words in a nurturing way.   “You might find that you feel like I did.  Sometimes, being in a foreign place makes it hard to poop.”

I must have been staring off because when I refocused on the girls, they squealed with laughter.  For almost three minutes, they could not speak they were laughing so hard.

“Okay, Mom,” Carson finally uttered.  “You deserve some kind of reward for your accomplishment.”

“Five years…” Lizzie muttered, but she snorted before she could finish.

“Yeah.  You deserve a porcelain throne!” Maggie said barely audible.

I sighed and left the room.  Evidently, they do not share my discomfort for public restrooms.  They must take after their father.

 

 

Momma Could Not Sleep but the Children Could.

Monday night, I could not sleep.  I lay in bed tossing and turning.  I turned my pillow numerous times trying to find the cool spot that would lull my thoughts and quicken my dreams.  I covered my feet and then I uncovered them.  I moved a pillow between me knees and switched my head to the base board, hoping that the change in air flow and position would bring on REM.  To no avail.

I was nervous.  Anxious.  Afraid.

You see, Tuesday morning was the start of school– not for me but for my three children.  My three children would awake Tuesday morning (and I checked on them at 2AM, they were all sleeping!), and  they would, for the first time in their lives, go to public schools.

Public schools do not frighten me.  I am a high school public school teacher and I know what public schools have to offer.  I know that in any public school, no matter what district, some students are academic and others are not; some students are social and others are not; some students make poor choices and are in trouble often, and others do not.  I have raised responsible and smart girls; they are strong-willed and confident.  My anxiety did not lie in the fear that any of my girls would get in with “the wrong crowd.”  (Catholic and Private schools have their fair share of wrong crowds– if they are ever going to make this life-choice, I don’t think location is relevant.)

My fear stemmed from other pressing factors:

  • They have always gone to school together in the same building.  This year, they will be in three separate buildings.
  • They have always had each other to rely on for help.  This year, they were on their own, having to trouble shoot a situation without sisterly advice.
  • They have been in the same small school with the same classes for their entire educational careers.  This year, they will not be sheltered by the unpretentious environment of Catholic school.

My worst fear for them was the fear of the unknown, the moment when they each would walk into their respective buildings and realize that they did not know anyone, that they had no safety net, that they had no one to share a comforting smile.  Personally, I have experience with this apprehension.   I chose a high school that no one in my eighth grade class attended.  I remember walking into the building the very first day and walking into a hall with a swarm of girls talking and laughing.  My stomach dropped through my large intestine and lodged into the small one.  I felt like a spectator looking in on a secret society that I did not belong.  I felt totally alone.  I traversed up the steps to my homeroom worried that I had missed something.   How did everyone know each other?  Why had I made this choice?

But something happened.  I walked into homeroom and found my seat, and I turned to the girl next to me and she smiled.  “Hi,” she said, “I’m Meredith.  Who are you?”  Miraculously, my stomach dislodged from my intestines and I felt like I could breathe.  I introduced myself, and then another girl joined in on the conversation, and then another and another.  Within ten minutes, I had met at least ten people, and I knew in my heart of hearts I would figure out how to maneuver my way through high school.

However, my girls were not entering high school.  They were entering schools that had established classes and established social groups.  My girls were going to need to be more outgoing and less afraid, and I worried that they would spend their days alone, missing their little Catholic school.

I spent my work day feeling nauseated.  I stared at the clock waiting for the minutes to pass into hours, waiting for the day to end.

As soon as I was allowed, I ran out of the building and jumped in my car.  I drove faster than the speed limit the whole way home, thinking that surely if a police officer pulled me over, he would commiserate with the anxiety of a caring mother!  I pulled in my driveway twenty minutes later, and I ran into the house.

“Girls!” I yelled.  Maggie and Carson entered the kitchen, bright eyes illuminating over warm smiles.  ” How was it?” I asked, although their countenances said it all.

“Awesome,” they said, and then they spent the better part of an hour telling me every detail of their days.  Lizzie got home last, and although she was tired, she had the same reaction: she was happy with her new school and the adventures that lie ahead.

So I tossed and I turned for nothing.   As much as it may have been wasted worriment, I can breathe easy and rest peacefully knowing that the girls are open to this new chapter of their lives.