Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Saturday, February 8, 2014

It's All About Love

This time of year our school is awash in student teachers.  I love seeing those bright, eager faces.  They're so excited about the adventure they're on and so blessedly devoid of cynicism.  Lately, there has been a lot of buzz discouraging new teachers from entering the profession.  I won't lie - teaching is definitely a different, more difficult and more stressful career than it was ten years ago.  Before you read any further, if you haven't read Randy Turner's excellent piece about the current political attack on teachers go read it -  I'll wait.

I agree almost 100% with his statements - except, maybe it's just the starry eyed optimist in me - but I would still tell young people to teach.

It's all about LOVE

When I first graduated from college I worked in outdoor camping ministry (as a program and environmental education director).  My boss at the time was fond of reminding us that for some kids we may be the only Jesus they see.  Now when I say Jesus - feel free to substitute your ultimate model of what it means to love (Budda, Ghandi, MLK, your Aunt Joyce, what have you).  When I interviewed for my current job, at some point the question was posed about test scores.  I responded that yes, of course I want my students to learn to read better, and yes of course I want them to improve their performance on the tests they need to graduate.  But mostly, I went into teaching so that I could love kids.

Some of my students come from wonderful homes with loving supportive parents who make sure that they have plenty to eat, have reasonable bed times and who make sure that they get lots of rich experiences to broaden their lives.  Those kids need me just like they need extended family members.  They need school as a place to feel additional love and support - an affirmation and extension of the loving world they already know.

But, unfortunately, I also have kids who have had (or are having) a very difficult time growing up.  In my fifteen years in the classroom I've had kids who have suffered from abuse and neglect, whose parents were drug dealers, gang members and drunks, who were teetering on the brink of being drug addicts or alcoholics themselves.  I've taught kids who didn't have enough to eat, who lived in their cars, or slept on a different person's floor every night.  I've taught kids who went home to an empty house because both parents had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and I've taught kids who were the primary care taker of their younger siblings.  I've taught kids whose parents have abandoned them, who were the pawn in the middle of a messy divorce, and who were grieving through the violent loss of a loved one.  These kids need loving teachers in their life so they can survive.  For some of these kids, school is the one place where they know they'll be loved, where they know they'll be warm, where they know they'll be fed, where they know someone cares enough to push them to do their best.  Even if my school became an onerous place to work - I don't think I could leave the kids.  The stakes are much higher than their test scores - the real risk is that they won't know that they're precious, and that their lives have potential.  Without school, and the teachers and administrators that populate the building, they might never know that they're loved.

Sometimes you'll hear veteran teachers joking that the three best reasons to teach are June, July and August.  Yes, summer is a hallowed time - a time to reconnect with my family and recharge for another year. But the benefits of a family friendly career go beyond summer. 

Teaching allows me to ensure that my own children have plenty of my time and attention.  I'm much more involved in my kid's lives because I teach.  I know what they're doing in school because I'm friends with their teachers.  Their school is directly across the road from mine.  Truth be told, I never really got over going back from maternity leave.  Sometimes, when they walk to their school while I head to mine I still get a deep stab of grief similar to the feelings I had when I left them the first day when they were infants (Sandy Hook also adds fear to the mix).  But, there is great comfort in knowing that they are physically close, and that their teachers are busy loving them just the way I'm busy loving my own students. 

My days are very busy - with very few (if any) breaks, so before I know it my blond haired beauties are showing up at my classroom door.  I get to hear news about their day while it's still fresh in their minds.  My kids are able to stay in my classroom when I have after school meetings or other responsibilities.  I don't have to worry about child care, or try to tackle homework when we get home.  As an added bonus, most days, if there are no meetings or practices, we're home by 4:30.  Getting a healthy meal on the table, and maintaining the house is usually a pretty simple task because I have plenty of time.  I can't imagine a career that is more compatible with raising your own family.  Sure, I sometimes have grading and paperwork to do in the evening, but I can generally manage to do that after the kids are in bed.  I've never had to miss a game or a performance because I had a meeting, or had to be out of town.  I get to be there for it all.

There are always trends in education - I'm an optimist, but I think - I hope - I see the pendulum swinging back to a time of more creative teaching, and less stress on testing.  I hope I'm right.  My dad was a teacher and a principal.  When I was interviewing for my first teaching job I was trying to decide between two schools - one that I thought I would like, but that was closer to home and in the same county where my husband taught; and one that was much further away in a different county, but with an administrator I loved.  When I talked to Dad and asked his advice he reminded me that administrators, school boards, policies and educational trends had a way of coming and going.  His advice - if I wasn't happy with something in education I should wait... it would change. So, I took the job closer to home, and he was right.  Some years have been harder than others - but ultimately, everything shifts and changes.  Teaching is a bit like an investment portfolio... I have to look at it in the long range.

I'm glad those bright, young, enthusiastic teachers are still writing their starry eyed plans.  I hope they come, and I hope they stay.  We need them, and the kids need their love.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Your students (and kids) are so lucky to have you:-).