Once during a beach vacation with family, my sisters were discussing which of the two of them was the bigger control freak. I asked where I ranked in that particular poll and the youngest turned to me and said, "You're not controlling. You just complain too much." Ah...the truth bomb...It burns! IT BURNS!
Remind me to cry later.
I complain about work. So what? I don't think I'm alone in this because I've heard many other people do the same...ad nauseam. Some of them (insert sharp intake of breath here) are fellow educators. Check out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Disenchantment with the teaching profession? It's a real thing, people! Sure, I love the 100 Days of Gratitude (AKA#life gives me orgasms) that you see everywhere and I have friends currently participating in that little exercise. Good for them. Could I find 100 things in a row to be thankful for? Of course. I have a great life. However, there's a thin line between simple, earnest gratitude and waxing so aggressively rhapsodic about how great you've got it that you trigger the urge to vomit in those around you. And besides--I think more people identify with someone who is moderately "complain-y" than they do with someone who is irritatingly chipper...like the cartoon Cinderella where all those little animals are helping her get dressed for the ball. Bitter sarcasm? She's my lady.
Today I posted that creating the syllabi for my upcoming classes made me want to sob. Was I really crying? No. Was I being hyperbolic? Yes. Were the feelings expressed based in reality? What do you think? Connect the dots for a second: 1) Theoretically, I still have two weeks left of my summer vacation. 2) Writing syllabi is not something one usually does when attempting to wring the last drops of relaxation from free time, and 3) As hard as I try to pretend otherwise, two allotted work days in my classroom will not be enough time to prepare for the first day of school. It never is. And so, if I want to be ready, I'm going to have to slice off a few vacation days to do so. And yet...there were some commenters who suggested that--perhaps--I should not be teaching at all
since it makes me so..unhappy and....bitter. Color me surprised that some adults in the free world can't see past my crusty exterior to recognize the truth about our broken education system. Find me someone who-- against their professional judgement--is willing to sign documents which promote children who failed everything all year long to the next grade level...and to do so with a joyful and unquestioning heart.
I took down that same post because Facebook was not the forum for what I wanted to say next, mainly that I do not remain in this profession for the insurance money. Truthfully, the coverage costs are rising faster than the tiny pay raise we get every five years. (3%? Seriously? I could find that much change in the dryer every time one of my sons does laundry here.) I don't do it for the summer vacation either, though God/Allah/Yaweh/Spaghetti Monster knows we all need it when June rolls around.
I teach because I idolized those who taught me. I still do. I teach because I like kids and I enjoy handing a professed non-reader a book that blows his/her mind. I teach because I wanted to impart that same "AHA!" moment that gave my doubtful adolescent heart a little confidence and hope. On the occasion that I actually get to teach while employing my own creative instincts, the entire enterprise totally rocks. But Common Core is a one-size-fits-all bundle of dreck. Parents in my district are allowed to enroll their C student in high school honors classes and then spend the year badgering me for extra credit and after school tutoring. And it sucks big car batteries that the curriculum I teach as well as the rules that determine how I do it are not created by teachers, but by politicians who have Yoko'd the system almost beyond repair. I did not sign up to be verbally pilloried for the decisions others make on my behalf. Students with not enough sleep and with no home support for academics or behavior are expected to be Mensa-ready by the end of the year and the fault for their failure is--if rumors are to be believed--mine alone.
Despite the sarcasm and the frequent and completely exaggerated references to self-medication with wine or prescription cough syrup, I am a damned good teacher. This year I had parents lined up on the last day to thank me and I had kids hugging my neck and asking to take selfies with me. My numbers are rock solid. I was blessed with some amazing students and I asked (and was allowed) to move up with them to high school this year, but the energy it takes to chip past the obsidian veneer of pedagogical Schadenfreude is soul killing at best and it guarantees to make a cynic of even the most idealistic person.
In the HBO series "The Newsroom", Jeff Daniels' character lands in hot water by listing the reasons why America is no longer the greatest nation on earth, even though he allows that it could be again. I feel the same way about teaching. America's educational system is no longer the greatest on earth...but it could be. And it's for that spark of hope against the darkness of accumulated political ignorance and nonsense that I'm still here. Until that spark turns into a steady flame, I'm going be blowing on it with everything I have.