This article is Ancient (archive 2011)

A New Last Hope

We lost a battle in Wisconsin. We came, we made our stand, and we lost. Hopefully, I can take solace next election season as Wisconsin and others under threat of draconian “budget cuts” vote their displeasure. For now I’m done being negative, voicing a narrative of rage, righteous or not, at the injustices launched toward teachers. If I embody rage, I’ll vent it, and there’s one place I cannot vent that anger: at students.

Learning: Chicago Public School Observations

Getting a teaching certification in Illinois requires 100 hours of observation. This experience provides the real education for the certification program. Watching one teacher, who’d been working for 20 years, did more to shape my teaching philosophy than any theory of educational psych.

Everyday, this teacher faced a class of students who regularly greeted her with profanity (“big fat bitch” was a favorite I noticed during my brief observation). Words were not the only thing they hurled; she told me that she’d ducked water bottles and other sundries during her time teaching. She hated CPS. She hated her school, and she hated her students. She blamed her recent cancer on her job.

Before we pass judgment on her students, we should note that she respected them less than your boss respects you. She constantly told the students how terrible they were, despite using hundreds of her own dollars to pay for books and other classroom supplies that the school wouldn’t cover, and bitterly blamed the students for not working hard enough to warrant her investment.

Hope has Two Faces

Hope drives young, idealistic teachers to believe in their choice of profession despite constant warnings that they will become the teacher from the story above. When they lose that hope, they become her, taking out their rage at underachieving students. She became an incarnation of bitterness, and stands out as my strongest warning against teaching.

But why did she keep going to work when things got so bad? I stopped wondering after the next defining moment in my observation. A 17-year-old girl in a journalism class stopped to ask why three strangers were watching her class. We chatted with her, and soon she was showing us the picture of her 18-month-old son while telling us how she wanted to be a pediatrician. It broke my heart to know that the odds were stacked against her, and the bitter teachers gave her no help. She deserved a teacher who would give her the best shot at attaining her goals.

Our Responsibility: Remain Hopeful

Students are already being punished by inadequate funding. They suffer from large class sizes, outdated textbooks, inadequate resources just as we do, and they bear no responsibility for our rage. They have nowhere to turn but the delusional, idealistic, hopeful teachers marching out to the frontlines to help them. The defeat for teachers’ bargaining rights in Wisconsin belongs to a battery of political problems that will hurt students and teachers, but I refuse to become the woman I watched teaching her 10th grade class. Students need good teachers, and, before recalls, before elections, protests, and endless lobbying, our next battle will be to quell our indignation and not let good teaching  become the next casualty in the war on public education. The students deserve better than my bitterness.

Donny got a BA in English, which he thought meant badass, but then he got to the real world. Now he realizes it means bitter academic. Donny did a stint in grad school with a focus on education, which made him angry enough to start writing columns. While education is still his main focus, Donny now wants to apply his academic rigor to other mundane activities.