The Bell Tolls For Whom?

Allow me to preface this with the information that we had a meeting with my boys’ preschool teacher. She loves her job. I can tell. She restores a lot of my faith.

I’m a teacher. I know there is such a thing as a bad answer.

School is starting up. It’s been 4 years since I left my position as a middle school teacher. I am still in virtual contact with some staff members there.  For a week I’ve been reading about how much they dread going back, counting down their remaining days of freedom. I get that. I did the same thing, as the first week was nothing but meetings and more meetings and some meetings to schedule other meetings. But yesterday was the first day with the kids…and the tone of their commentary changed very little.

Here we go.

Oh boy.

Is it too early to start drinking?

Never mind the questionable judgement involved in posting things like that on Facebook, but maybe it’s time to loosen your golden handcuffs and remember that it may be your tenth or twentieth or thirtieth beginning of 6th grade, but it’s your students’ first time. Their (hopefully) only time.

I remember the frozen smiles and overly enthusiastic “HELLO”s that came from some of my fellow teachers that first week. They broke quickly. They got weary. They got annoyed by the same nonsense every year. Too many meetings. Too many non-academic responsibilities and activities while test score pressures mounted.

I hated the bullshit. I hated the meetings, the annual new-and-improved-way-to-reach-kids that never worked. I hated the faculty room. I hated the way some teachers talked to everyone like they were students. I hated the increase in feel-good assemblies. I hated the lowering of time-on-task. I hated the increase in testing. I hated that I had to stop teaching some writing in order to teach “how to write an awesome essay in 45 minutes so that property taxes stay high.”

But damn it, I loved teaching. I just got to do very little of it by the end of my career. I was assigned two reading classes with a “script” The first half of the year I followed the script and the kids doodled a lot in their workbooks. The second half of the year I taught the class off-script…and they learned reading strategies.  I had advisory where the kids were forced to do silly bonding games that made them roll their eyes. It was the classic set of bullshit touchy-feely questions with pat answers. “If a new kid was sitting alone in the lunchroom, what would you do?” To a student it was, “Invite him to sit with me! Yay!” Those sessions rarely translated to a lessening of teenage behaviors.

This feel-good stuff replaced the old “study skills” class (one I designed the curriculum for) where students were taught how to take notes, study methods, ways to cope with workload. And in the discussions about school, kids bonded for real.

But what did I know?

I didn’t love all my students, for sure, but I cared for and about all of them. They liked my humor and my classes’ pacing. They liked that we worked hard and “played” hard (I had a lot of grammar games.)  They wrote. A lot. They learned. They read. I held a lot of discussions about what they were reading. They learned it was ok to stop reading a book that didn’t interest them…and I showed them how to find books that did.

But I had too many meetings and too many committees worried about Missions Statements that no one read. There were too many stupid announcements at the beginning of the day. There were too many interruptions during the day calling kids down to the office. There were too many sports events that the entire school body was expected to watch during class time. There were too many assemblies about how kids should not do drugs and how they should make good choices.  There were too many pre-tests that were used for placement (not their intended purpose) and that were used to design curriculum and make parents nuts.

There were too many pushes for the staff to claim it was “family” to the detriment of everyone’s actual family.

I didn’t get to teach.

It was a painful decision to leave. I had good results. Kids learned…no matter whether measured by tests or grades or satisfaction or future performance. I stopped enjoying it. The first day of my last year I actually thought, “Oh boy. Here they come.” and there was no joy. I knew if I didn’t try to find a way to change the system (or at least the part in which I worked) I should leave. I lost my enthusiasm. The teaching load started coming after meeting responsibilities and “problem solving” team building.

I approached peers for ideas. I approached my boss for ideas. They told me that I’d been teaching long enough that I should be able to cut corners.

I resigned.

I’m a teacher. I know there is such a thing as a bad answer.

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