The First Day of School!

I woke up in the dark as I always do during the school year.  I lit some candles, did my morning workout and was pumped and ready to go to school.  As I drove, I passed through a couple of different school districts and saw kids anxiously awaiting their school buses to arrive at their driveway.  I thought, “Hmm…did I really just pass 3 school districts to get to the one I actually teach at?  Who thought that was a good idea when we bought the new house?”…I also wondered what was going through the kids’ heads at the moment.  I remembered the feeling of leaving the house in the morning for the start of a new school year.  You had to have the perfect outfit ready to wear after practically not sleeping at all because you had to keep checking the alarm to make sure it was working.  Your father would hand you your lunch money or bagged lunch at the door and watch until you made it down the street to the bus stop. (You knew he was watching because you kept checking back to make sure he was!  It felt somehow comforting to know that if a crazy neighborhood dog came out of nowhere to jump on you and steal parts of your outfit, your dad would at the very least run into the house for a pan of boiling water or soup to throw on it.)  I wondered if these kids had some of these same experiences.  I was pretty sure that theirs were a little different from mine but I was confident that they were still full of wonder about what the day might bring.

When I arrived at school, the energy in the building was very good.  I said hello to a boy who was standing alone in the stairwell as I walked in.  I thought he should know there was a friendly face around on his first day in a new building.  I asked him his name and told him I was always in the front room if he needed anything. He may have thought, “Who’s that crazy, smiling lady?  Remind me to stay out of this stairwell from now on.”  BUT- I don’t think he did.  I think that he felt comforted to know that people are cool around here.  The kids started coming into my room two at a time to say hello and ask about my summer.  I LOVE these kids.  They were so excited to see me and couldn’t wait to tell me what had been going on in their lives.

As my classes started, the beginning of the year script was quickly set into motion.  There were all sorts of rules that the kids needed to be aware of this year.  We had sat through a VERY long meeting yesterday about all of the new regulations.  I wasn’t sure I knew exactly what they were due to the fact that I found my mind wandering more than once. (Note: Five hours in a room listening to someone talk is not the most productive use of my time.  I do much better if someone just gives me an outline of what needs to be done so I can move on and start applying it.  Over-talking it makes me worry that I might stand up and start yelling random, babbling utterances to just break up the time.)  I was however, able to make it sound to the kids as though I knew what was going on so that was all I could ask.  I explained the cell phone rule:  You can’t use your cell phones in class.  BUT I added my own twist on it.  I pointed to the table by my desk and said, “I bought 20 cell phone chargers.  When you come in, please put your phone on one of them and then go to your seats.”  Now… I’m sure that “rule people” would say that my method is stretching the meaning of “no cell phones in class” a bit and that I should just take the phones!  I just feel like my teaching time is worth more without the fight and negative element of taking something away from a student.  Chargers it was!  The kids were VERY happy about this idea and ran to quickly put their phones up by my desk.  HA!

All in all, the day was great.  My kids sat and smiled and seemed to be ready for a great year.  One boy came up to me after one of my larger classes and said “you’re a cool teacher.”  I smiled and said “Oh! Thank you!  But ‘uncool’ is the new ‘cool’!  Have a happy day!”

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Teacher’s Job description

Some will say that bureaucracy has always been a problem in education but I had never experienced it first hand for the most part.  Yeah…of course I had run into administrators who had never taught a day in their life but wanted a career in education that paid them more than the measly salary offered to a teacher…BUT I had also run into some amazing administrators who cared about the kids and understood what teachers go through from the perspective of an educator first.  Those people were a teacher’s best ally.  They took care of the discipline and made sure the school would run properly in order to facilitate the teacher’s job- to TEACH!…RIGHT!…The teacher’s job is “to teach.” Unfortunately, this seems to be no longer the case.  Over time, teaching has also become a performing career.  Teachers need to stand up in front of the kids and jump and sing and clap and motivate, motivate, motivate!  Okay…that I can handle!  (That’s where my previous career in singing and acting really came in handy!)…THEN…little by little, more and more entered the job description:

  • Educate the students who won’t come to school.
  • Parent the students who don’t have parents at home making them come to school.
  • Teach the students who are in the room but if the kids who haven’t come to school in weeks show up, “please” make sure to devote your class time to them instead!  Make sure you get those students all of the information they missed so they can pass the class.
  • Don’t fail students.  If you do, you will be called in to justify your actions.  Perhaps you didn’t do enough to make sure they would pass? 
    • Did you try spending your lunch running down the street after them with a quiz they missed?   
    • How about dropping the 5 lowest test grades that they may have missed? 
    • Did you call home to talk to the parent or guardian who says “I don’t know what to do with him” or “I can’t get him to go to school”?
    • Don’t punish the students or hold them accountable for any work because if they are in danger of dropping out of school, this will turn them off to coming to school.
    • If a student doesn’t like the assignment you give, give him/her an alternate assessment that he/she does like.
    • Be told on a daily basis by the district that you are “lucky to have a job” and that they are just doing you a favor to keep you.
    • Be told by the public that they “pay your salary and you have no right to say that my child can’t light the bathroom on fire!  What did you do to make my child want to light it on fire?”
    • Be beaten up by the state and threatened year after year that your pay will be directly linked to how high your student’s grades are….oh yeah…BUT you also need to give each child an opportunity to take the highest level of math or science even if their previous performance demonstrated large math or science deficiencies.
    • Be told by nasty, unknowledgeable people who have never taught, that you get paid too much and shouldn’t have any health insurance because if you were in “the private sector, you would have to pay $10,000 a year for the plan you have.”  Of course the 6 years of college required to become a teacher isn’t easily paid off with the $54k per year.  Perhaps if you worked in the private sector with your education level, the $85k per year you should earn might give you a fighting chance at being able to pay for that health insurance for yourself.  

Oh well…Is it really true then that a teaching job is no longer a job where you can feel fulfilled and happy every day?  Sadly, it’s very hard to just come to work and do your best at giving children the education they deserve (and one day might look back at and be glad to have had!)  Too much is involved that puts a negative spin on education.  I love my kids!  Every single day one of them does something that makes me want to smile or look back on at the end of the day and feel great about being a part of.  Unfortunately, with all of the other obligations attached to education now, teachers have their hands tied when it comes to doing what they do best: TEACHING!  We work to better ourselves by constantly updating our education and/or methods- new technology, new innovative lesson plans, interdisciplinary units that are tailored to different student learning styles and individual strengths…AND yet we still feel beaten up and underappreciated for our efforts on a daily basis.  The fact is that once the amazing feeling I get when I feel like I’m making a difference in childrens’ lives has been removed from the job description and I no longer feel effective as an educator, there is really no reason to get up every morning and do it. I could go get a much higher paying job with my education and skills that could suck the life out of me just the same. 

So what am I going to do now?  Well?…I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel yet.  I’m still searching for that magic that was in my classroom for the first 12 years of my career.  I have decided that in order to have a great year teaching, I need to find a way to not allow all of the extra negative experiences that have been pushed down by politics, rules, regulations, NYS, etc. ,to overshadow the great ones.  Don’t get me wrong, this could get a little bit rocky!  I have no doubt that I will spew off some negative garbage from time to time!  I apologize in advance for this.  I do promise however, that I will try to put a positive spin on the stories in order to find a peaceful resolution within myself and for my readers…hopefully before I end the entry…or at the very least , soon after.  Please join me on my journey as I try to educate our children by giving them experiences that will shape them into young adults!  Who knows? Maybe even one or more of them will one day have enough vision to be able to make real changes in education that will put the emphasis back on the student and stop simply moving kids from one “list” to another and blaming everyone along the way.  My new method may not fall under the new mandated “data driven instruction”, BUT I’m going to stick to loving each and every one of my children and making my classroom the most positive experience in their day!…As for the data that will tally my personal classroom performance?…Here is the rubric* I have devised for a daily assessment:

My Classroom Rubric 2012-2013:

  • 0 points – All students stormed out of my room crying.
  • 1 point – Only a few students stormed out of my room crying.
  • 2 points – Students stayed in the room but acted annoyed and texted all period.
  • 3 points– Students smiled but clearly weren’t listening.
  • 4 points– Students were happy and listening but I need to restructure how I taught the lesson because I’m not sure that anyone really understood a word I was saying.
  • 5 points– Students smiled, closely listened, grasped the material, laughed when appropriate, and loved coming here today! (I LOVE my life!)

*Rubric:  a tool used to assess assignments by giving a point value to a set of criteria.