In Defense of Teachers

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not everybody knows I am a former teacher. I loved the students, the people I worked with, the relationships that last far beyond the classroom. But, I am thankful every day I am not teaching this year.

I opened Twitter this morning to check and see if an app I linked was functioning properly and was caught by a teacher tweet in my feed.

“I need to write this down so I don’t forget: if we are still in this mess at the beginning of the next school year…I’m taking a leave of absence and working at…Trader Joe’s or Target or wherever. I love teaching AND I love my mental health more.”

@scmaestra

It makes me sad and angry at the same time that so many of my friends, colleagues are leaving a profession they are passionate about because they feel devalued, attacked, in danger of infection, and generally bone-tired. I remember those feelings and that was before a pandemic. I have tried for years to figure out what it is about teaching that draws disrespect from the public that depends on educators to raise and enlighten the next generation. Many times teachers are treated like servants- pay is low, expectations are high, burnout is certain.

This photo was taken one of my first years teaching in Virginia. It is important to me. It stays on display in my office/library to remind me of the good things about teaching. So, I looked at it this morning and remembered all those students whose college essays I read and collaborated on, whose games, plays, and debates I attended to support them, whose worlds I had the privilege of being a part of, whose friendships I still have today. Teachers are people too, with dreams, responsibilities, families, student loans, car payments, child care issues, depression, loneliness, and stress just like the rest of us trying to navigate this upside down world we find ourselves in. I hoped back in March when everybody was praising teacher courage and resilience it would bring change in how we treat and value teachers. I hoped we would start recognizing the great burden society puts on them. Unfortunately, here we are.

I understand when friends reach out to let me know they are leaving the classroom. They have children to worry about, elderly parents to worry about, their own health to worry about. Just.Like.Us. We need teachers who are passionate about their mission, who do it because they love it, who know their responsibility to the next generation. But, I am scared many of those teachers will be leaving the profession, if they have not already.

To those sticking it out, adapting and finding ways to connect with their young charges, I see you. To those who elect to leave because the burden is too great, I see you as well. I know you are all the quiet heroes of many kids’ lives as you stock a fridge with snacks and food for those who have nothing to eat at home, or have a few dollars in your wallet to slip to the kid who can’t afford a ticket to the school play, or buy extra school supplies for those who can’t afford them, but don’t want the stigma of going to the school supply closet for the needy, or buying a couple extra copies of books so the kid who is scared at home has something to keep him company, or letting the boy in the back lay his head down for a few minutes because he works nights to help support his family. You are the caretakers and I see you.

Maybe one day the rest of the country will see you as well.

It all started with a post-it note….

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The fat flakes of snow are falling outside my classroom window and many students stayed home today. It feels like a good time to reflect on what happened in the classroom this week. It seems cliche but when the holidays come around I feel a need to get my students in touch with what we should appreciate but maybe don’t always take the time to. I did this personally with my daughter this week. I slipped a note in her lunchbox letting her know how beautiful I think she is and how lucky I am to have her as a daughter. She one-upped me by leaving the above note in my lunchbox. As I read it my heart warmed and I realized we don’t do this kind of thing enough- appreciating each other. Not just myself, but everybody. It made me think about how I could take this idea to my students. I started researching on the TED site and came across a talk that drew me in.   Candy Chang’s TED talk about discourse in public spaces caught my eye and then held my captivation. I knew after watching it I wanted my students to be inspired by it as well. Chang focuses her art on public spaces that have been neglected or abandoned. She invites the communities surrounding those structures to come together and share their thoughts and feelings in a public way.  Below is a picture from her website “Before I Die” depicting one of her public art spaces in New Orleans.

https://i2.wp.com/candychang.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Before-I-Die-NOLA-Candy-Chang-responses.jpg

We watched Chang’s TED talk in class and then created or own public art piece to hang in the classroom for all my students to see. I was impressed by how much time each student took to decide what they wanted to write. I shared my sentiment on the board as well- to visit the 10 most unique bookstores in the world.

IMG_1164When we finished the students lamented how much they wished we could do this like the original and create a chalkboard space for the whole school to add to. I told them I would talk to administration and see what they say about creating a public art space for aspirations and dreams. So often we keep much of our internal thoughts and dreams to ourselves. I think projects like this can be unifiers. I saw that with my students as they read eachother’s private hopes. It brought us closer as a classroom community and sparked some great discussion about gap years and what we really want out of life.

Chang’s TED talk was a great segway into the other activity I wanted to introduce to my classes- Operation Beautiful. Our nation has experienced deep tragedy at schools across the nation over the last few years and much of it is attributable to bullying. Our school has experienced some of this tragedy first hand and we seem to always be asking the question “What can we do to help our students?” As I was planning this week’s activities, I came across the below news story about a girl from Calgary, Canada who was bullied and found a different answer for her bullies:

I love the message of this video and subsequent campaign and I wanted my students to think about how they treat each other and those people they encounter outside of my classroom. Sunday I went to my local Staples and bought all of the motivational post-its they had. The motivational post-it line has a quote on each note that imparts some sort of thoughtful message. After we watched the video and explored the Operation Beautiful website, I brought out the post-its and explained the task I charged my students with. Their assignment is to find some way to perform an act of decency for another human being between now and December 15th. I offered them the option of the post-its, suggested venues and talked about the different types of activities they could initiate to fulfill their task. Some planned to hand out inspirational messages outside of our local Rescue Mission, others have plans to go to the public library and leave notes in books and others went immediately out to start their acts. It was inspirational to see the conversations about the great things they could accomplish between now and December. Part of their assignment is to document their random acts of kindness in some way. On December 15th we will have a Humanity Showcase. I will make some goodies and the students will share all the beautiful things they have done over the month. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. So often as teachers we get caught up in the curriculum and the skills that we forget we are teaching humans. It is not part of the standards, but the greatest thing we can impart to our students is how to be humane.