BulgingButtons

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What Does it Mean to Be a Teacher?

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I’m a teacher. I know what that means. I know what’s required of me as a teacher, and I know how to achieve those demands. I know my responsibilities to my students, their families, my colleagues, and my supervisors. I know how to help kids understand complex ideas. I know how to challenge them to approach problems from multiple perspectives. I know how to encourage them to do their best and strive to do better.

I also know how to develop curriculum, design lessons, assess achievement, improve accountability, and instill excitement. I know how to calm fears, increase independence, and promote collaboration. I’m not bragging, most of my colleagues know these things too. It might be news to you that we do all of these things and more.

While visiting with a friend today, I learned that many people don’t realize teachers usually create our own curriculum and assessments. She sheepishly admitted that she thought teachers were simply handed a curriculum and materials at the beginning of the year and their job was to just follow along. She went on to tell me that volunteering in her son’s classroom opened her eyes to the reality of modern teaching. She now spreads the word to others when she comes across those misconceptions.

To clarify, yes, there are teacher’s manuals for many subject areas, but I don’t know any teachers who rely solely on those to teach their students. They simply don’t meet our students’ needs or properly align with our grade level standards. Some of them assume that we have far more time to teach particular concepts than we do. Others only skim the surface of topics, leaving students without the deep understanding necessary for further learning. At times, the text book publishers assume our students have more previous knowledge than they do, and other times they skip important concepts completely. And let’s face it, text books are often boring. Today’s students require more novelty and active engagement. The teacher’s guides don’t provide that, the teachers do.

Of course that’s not all it means to be a teacher. It also means you laugh with your students, you receive countless crayon pictures, and you know when a kid REALLY needs to go to the bathroom. It means you grade papers, complete report cards, identify and secure services for students with learning disabilities, conduct parent-teacher conferences, attend staff meetings, make copies, organize and chaperone field trips, participate in professional development, read professional journals, pin countless teaching ideas on Pinterest, scan hundreds of files on Teachers Pay Teachers, put up bulletin boards, pass out thousands of papers, and share tales with friends and families until they dread spending time with us.

Unfortunately there are some aspects to teaching that are far less pleasant. We have to cope with student misbehavior, we have to endure countless interruptions to instruction, we have to report suspected abuse or neglect, and we have to mediate conflicts between our students. We have to assist students coping with stressful situations, and we sometimes become targets. There are those who, in their attempts to advocate for their children, either intentionally or unintentionally undermine our efforts to educate those children. Adults who excuse bad behavior, don’t require effort, or bad-mouth teachers end up doing students a disservice. It is difficult for students to develop a sense of responsibility and respect when it isn’t required of them or modeled for them at home.

Recently I read an article about the suicide of an ivy league college student. On the outside it appeared that everything was going fine for her, but she was struggling. The article went on to state that suicide rates among college students are on the rise, and it speculated that one of the main causes was the lack of problem solving skills that many young people have as a result of parents micro-managing their lives. All too often parents are quick to fire off an irate e-mail if a child loses recess as a result of wasting time in class, or they demand make-up work for assignments that a child has chosen not to complete. They rush to school with forgotten lunches and library books and instruments rather than allowing their children to experience the natural consequences of those common oversights.

I submit that not allowing kids to fail once in a while is a huge mistake. We grow by learning from our mistakes, not by having others bail us out when we make them. It’s our duty to raise responsible, independent kids who are hard-working problem solvers, not dependent kids with a sense of entitlement. Those kids may be smart and funny and wonderful, but sadly they don’t tend to be very resilient, a quality that success in life demands. Let them have small failures in elementary school, when it doesn’t “count” so much, rather than allowing them to rely on adults to get them out of situations as they get older. Kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable have a difficult time learning accountability, and that makes them poor candidates for employment, not to mention people with whom you might not want to enter into a long-term relationship.

The good news is that those situations are the exception rather than the rule, but they happen often enough that teachers often feel as if they’re walking on eggshells. Rather than taking the time to find out what really happened, many parents simply take their child’s word as gospel when they have some complaint about school, and go on a tirade directed toward the teacher. Rarely are school situations as dire as parents make them out to be, and usually a calm conversation can clarify a situation and provide a satisfactory result. Jumping to conclusions and becoming hostile is simply not the way to go.

Parents, please remember, we have the same goal. We became teachers because we want to help students learn. We want to instill a sense of wonder at the world, as well as develop the skills necessary to make sense of it. Don’t forget, it is in the teacher’s best interest that your child is successful in our classroom. We want your child to be happy, engaged, and learning. We don’t want your child to feel stressed out, unsuccessful, or unappreciated. We want each student to feel safe, valued, and smart. Teachers aren’t out to “get” kids, they’re out to educate and empower them.

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Daily Passion Prompt 21: I’m Only the Teacher, You’re the Parent

Day #21
What pisses you off more than anything else?

574453_10151185830054188_542509535_nI am a teacher. I teach. I plan, organize, assess, evaluate, modify, reevaluate, reassess, research, deliver, monitor, manage, entertain, and enlighten. I also pass out band-aids, tease out smiles, determine whether restroom requests truly are “urgent,” manage materials, distribute papers, correct assignments, enter grades, create report cards, make phone calls home, arrange and conduct parent-teacher conferences, motivate reluctant learners, create bulletin boards, manage schedules, run an after school club, supervise the playground, gather lunch money, arrange book orders, update a classroom website, mediate disputes, supervise clean up, monitor supply levels, analyze data, create multimedia presentations, gather appropriate online resources, evaluate potential special needs, adapt curriculum, differentiate instruction, and about a thousand other things. I care about my students and I care about my school community. I am fully involved in the goings on of my students. But here’s the thing: there are 31 of them, and one of me.

Now on to the part that irritates me, and trust me, it’s not the kids. What pisses me off more than anything is people who have a strong sense of entitlement. There, I said it. That, in general, is enough to get my goat, but when it applies to the school setting, it makes me crazy. Parents, please be aware that I am just as fond of little Eustace as I am of any other child I have taught in my career. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely true, but odds are he’s not my least favorite student of all time, and really, it doesn’t matter anyway, because in my classroom he’s going to get a fair shake no matter what.

Please don’t ask me to make him extra homework packets because you threw his out. Please don’t ask me to tutor him after school because you’re too busy to sit with him and help him learn his math facts. Please don’t tell me about how you’re going to make sure he does his homework, then the following day make excuses for him. He needs you a lot more than he needs me. Parents, please, I am doing the best I can.  A five minute phone call isn’t a big deal, but several of them each day becomes extremely time consuming.

I’m not unwilling to work with you. I WANT to work with you. But please, be willing to do your part too. Get little Eustace to school on time each day, check over his work each evening, and look through his backpack. Talk to him about school, and life, and be there for him. He needs you. He really really does.


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Daily Passion Prompt 16: Giving It Away for Free

TODAY’S QUESTION

If you had to choose one thing that you’d do for free for the rest of your life, what would it be?

64chev51201-5I don’t quite “get” it. What one thing would I do for free for the rest of my life? I realize where this prompt is trying to lead me. I’m supposed to say something along these lines, “Well, I love cars and have always tinkered with them, so I would work on cars for free for the rest of my life.” Where I get fuzzy is the whole question of whether I would be doing this thing, whatever it is, for myself or for others. For example, would I be restoring a ’64 Corvette for myself, or giving all of my friends and neighbors free oils changes?

Now don’t get all indignant on me. “It shouldn’t matter,” I hear you say. But really, it does. When we’re talking about the things we would do for free, I think we need to make this distinction. We do things for ourselves for free all the time. I enjoy quilting. I don’t get paid to make quilts for myself, whether to give them as gifts or contribute them to charity, or even keep them to snuggle with on the couch. I have made quilts for clients, though, and for those I was compensated. Do I feel badly about that? No, I do not. There is a great deal of time, effort, and expense that goes into making a quilt. I enjoy it and am glad to do it, but I would not make quilts for others for free for the rest of my life, at least not unless it was on my terms.

As I said earlier, I make charity quilts. I do them at my pace, with nobody telling me how to do it. I don’t have an inspection at the end and I don’t have to make sure that I keep a customer satisfied. Do I plan on continuing this activity? Certainly, as long as I continue to gain satisfaction from the process. If that changes, I will give myself permission to stop doing it.

Sometimes giving of ourselves too freely devalues what we have to offer. There are many things I do for free that I will continue to do for free, but I feel like the spirit of the question has more to do with what I would do for free for the benefit of others. This distinction doesn’t come from a place of greed. It’s an important distinction, because the car enthusiast, while they love working on cars, has the right to be compensated for their time, experience, and craftsmanship.

Child__s_Landscape_by_MelodyLove66That being said, I believe I will always teach for free in some capacity. Yes, I’m a professional teacher. I do get compensated for teaching (as I should, and no, I’m not overcompensated, just in case you were wondering). Natural Born Teachers (NBT’s, read more about them here) start teaching early in life, and really don’t ever stop teaching, even after retirement. In fact just yesterday, one of my retired colleagues, an NBT, came to school to work with kids, for free, on an art lesson. She came, she taught, she left. No lesson plans to turn in, no meetings, no irate parents, no observations or evaluations, no assessments, no discipline challenges, no report card grades, no sweat. To any full time teacher, that arrangement sounds like heaven. We teach because we love teaching, but it’s a hard job.

My colleague is still teaching. She comes to school on her terms, teaches what she loves, and then calls it a day. She is looking forward to hopefully becoming a grandmother, someday in the not too distant future. She will be that grandmother who reads endless stories with her grandchildren. She will lead them on nature walks and they will examine ant trails. She will sit them at the kitchen table and mix paints with them. She will bake cookies with them and talk about how the various measurements relate to one another. I will do all those things too, someday. Once a teacher, always a teacher.