Sunday, October 6, 2013

I am a Teacher.

Public education, students of public schools, and public school teachers are all under attack.  Yet, when any educator dares to respond to these attacks, the anonymous cowards who frequent internet news sites flood the comment sections with tired lines such as, “Teachers are lazy!  Teachers are over-paid! Teachers are babysitters!  Teachers are off all summer! Why don’t police officers, nurses, truck drivers, janitors, and lawyers complain all the time like teachers?  They have harder jobs than teachers.  Teachers are whiners!”  These types of comments, perpetuated by the media, backed by corporate funding and agendas, are the exact reasons why we teacher are “always complaining.”  We are not appreciated, we are under attack, and we have the right to defend ourselves.  I am cringing at the second-person style I employed here, but this just spilled from my heart, to my brain, and to the keyboard, so I am leaving it as a direct address to anyone who enjoys criticizing teachers.

I am not going to go into how little I am paid, or how many hours I work.  You won’t believe me anyway.  My husband knows, I know, my students know.  My husband knows that I work more “overtime” than he does, while he gets paid for this, and I do not.  My students know how hard I work grading hundreds of essays each week and running the school newspaper.  You do not know any of this.  All you know is that you were in school once; therefore, you know everything about me, my job, and my life.   As you know everything about my life, I am sure you will not mind that I am about to make assumptions about you and your life.

In first grade, you arrived at school at 8:30 AM and left at 3:00.  You assume your teachers kept those same hours.  Why would you think otherwise?  What you don’t see doesn’t exist.  You were dumfounded when you saw your teacher at the grocery store.  You believed that your teacher did not exist outside of school.  You still cling to this childhood myth that the teacher only exists from bell to bell.

The meanest woman you ever encountered was your third-grade math teacher.  She made you pay attention to everything she said, she made you do homework, she made you learn.  You did not know that she spent an hour before school each day making copies of the homework assignments you dreaded.  You did not care that the ten minutes of homework she tortured you with meant that she would be tortured with hours of grading that same homework assignment for all of her students.  You did not realize that all of that homework taught you the skills you would need to one day balance your checkbook and calculate your mortgage payments.

In the sixth grade, it never occurred to you that the lessons your favorite  history teacher taught you were not just pulled from some sort of magical teaching manual.  You didn’t know that he spent three weeks over the summer at a history workshop (unpaid) in another town which he traveled to at his own expense.  You didn’t know that he purchased all of the maps lining the walls of the classroom with his own money.   You didn’t know that when you failed the test about the civil war, he spent the next weekend rewriting lessons and designing activities that would make sure you learned the material.

When your ninth-grade English teacher handed you back an essay covered in red ink, you were angry.  When she made you correct your work, you were angry.  You suffered through rewriting the essay--cursing her the entire time.   When you finally produced an A+ essay, you congratulated yourself.  You never once thought about the fact that you were one of 150 students.  Your teacher spent all day on Sunday grading 150 essays, marking errors and writing suggestions.  You never once thought about the fact that your teacher’s red marks are what helped you to learn.  Today, when you write your angry comments online about how awful teachers are, it never occurs to you that you could not read articles and comment on them were it not for your teacher and her blood-red pen.

You curse teachers because you know, at least subconsciously, that you owe them.  You owe them more than you can ever give.  You are ashamed that you can never pay them back for what they have given you.  You know that they taught you everything you needed to live, whether you appreciate that fact or not.  Without them, you would be unable to read, unable to understand your finances, and unable to understand history.  Without them, you would neither know the beauty of art, nor the beauty of science.  Without them, you would be a cog in the machine, an unthinking, undreaming worker bee.

You know that you could never do what they do.  You would never get paid sixty-percent of your current salary to teach children.  You would never work unpaid overtime.  You would never buy books and supplies for other people’s children out of your own pocket.  You would never provide bandages, lotion, snacks, tissues, and clothes for children who were not your own.  You would never subject yourself to your job ratings being published in the newspaper.  You would never be able to handle constant public ridicule.  You would never want to take blame for all of the problems faced by children.  You wouldn’t work a job for eight hours a day without even the chance to use the restroom.

Because you would not do any of these things, you are ashamed.  You lash out at us to hide your own guilt.  You could never do what we do, yet you know it needs to be done.  You will never appreciate us, because then you would have to acknowledge that you are not, and never will be, one of us.  You are not a teacher.

I am.

If you found yourself getting angry reading this essay, if you thought to yourself, “How dare she?  I work 80 hours a week and I get little pay!  She doesn’t know anything about me or how hard I work.”  You now do actually know a tiny bit of what it feels like to be a teacher.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Explaining Oklahoma

            I am sure that anyone who lives in Oklahoma cannot possibly read the comments on any online news story about the tornadoes without experiencing a reaction ranging from an eye-roll to the need to punch someone in the face.  The ignorance about my home state is astounding.  Here are some common misconceptions about my state related to tornadoes.

  1. People in Oklahoma are so stupid!  They don’t have basements!

Before you assume that the reason most of us do not have basements is that we are just “dumb Okies,” do some research.  Until recent advances in building materials, homes actually COULD NOT be built with basements.  The water in the soil would make homes with basements unstable; therefore, homes were built on solid foundations without basements.  Now there are ways to waterproof basements, but the majority of homes are older and you cannot just add on a basement. (for more information click here)

  1. School is out for snow days; why wasn’t it out for a tornado day?

Well, if we let out school every time a tornado was possible, kids would be out of school from March through June.  What people do not seem to understand is that a storm can turn into a tornado quickly and without much warning.  It is not like a hurricane that you see coming on a radar for days.  By the time you know a tornado is coming, it is too late to send kids home.  They are safer staying at school then traveling in a car, bus, or walking home.  Furthermore, kids are often safer at school than at home.  A young child home alone (as he or she would most likely be) might not know what to do.  While it is a tragedy beyond belief that 9 children died in the Moore tornado, many survived because their heroic teachers covered them with their own bodies.

  1. The schools should do more to protect children from tornadoes.

When you take a direct hit from an F5 tornado, there really isn’t much you can do.  And, while I am in no way making light of the tragedy that occurred, it rarely happens.  Your child is more likely to die in accident than a tornado.  There are many other safety factors schools should be working on.  Really, what more did you want the teachers to do?  They took the kids to the safest possible place and covered them with their own bodies.  The teachers could not stop that tornado from hitting the school.  I am sorry to tell you, but you just can’t prevent every possible tragic occurrence.

  1. Why do these people live in tornado alley?

This is best answered with questions.  Why do you live in California where there are earthquakes?  Why do you live in the north where there are blizzards?  Why do you live on the coast where there are hurricanes?  This is probably the dumbest question that comes up whenever a tornado makes national news.

  1. If students could pray in school, this never would have happened.

I am tired of hearing that students can’t pray in school.  They most certainly can.  In fact, Oklahoma has a STATE MANDATED moment of silence in every school every day to give kids time to pray.  Yes.  They have forced time to pray in school every day.  I am not even going to comment on the other absurdity present in this assumption—that somehow praying averts all disasters.

There are many more misconceptions I could list, but I think these are the most common ones floating around recently.  Please feel free to share this whenever you see this type of ignorance.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Culture of Victim-Blaming and Finders, Keepers

The Steubenville rape case has been bothering me since I first saw one of the horrendous videos that involved a witness laughing about the victim’s ordeal.  I couldn’t even watch the entire video.  I have followed the case and cringed at the continuous humiliation of the victim by everyone from the national news media to random, anonymous, cowardly commentators on online news stories.

We hear comments like these with every publicized rape case:  What was she doing there?  She shouldn’t have been drinking.  Why was she walking alone at night?  Why was she dressed like that?  Why was she at that party?  Why was she in a man’s hotel room?  I heard she was a slut.  She led him on.  Why didn’t she fight back more?

This goes beyond rape cases.  I hear victim-blaming all the time from my high school students.  For example, a student stole a cell phone and sold it to another student.  When I discussed the crime with this young man, he still believed he did not actually steal the phone.  He found the phone in a classroom.  It had fallen out of the pocket of another student.  He felt like taking the phone and selling it was perfectly fine because the student who lost the phone should have been more careful.  This is one example of many.  My students, and it seems most people in general, truly believe in the childish idea of “finders, keepers” --an idea that manifested itself in a much more horrifying manner in the Steubenville case.

The boys “found” a passed-out girl and invoked their “right” to “keep” her to do with her as they wished.  Instead of talking about why these boys felt they were entitled to brutalize and humiliate this girl, we talk about why this girl deserved to be raped.  We talk about how the boys’ lives are now ruined.  They simply took what was theirs, just like a wallet left behind in a cab, or a phone fallen out of a pocket.  The girl should have been more careful. 

The only way to change this culture of victim-blaming is by teaching our children that they are not entitled to everything they want.  If you find something that doesn’t belong to you, return it to the owner or an authority figure.  Do this in front of your child.  If you see someone in trouble, help her.  Teach your children to do the same.  If your child doesn’t do his homework, consider taking away his video game privileges instead of yelling at the teacher for assigning too much work.  If your daughter wants to be on the soccer team, tell her to practice.  Don’t call the coach and threaten her if she doesn’t let your little girl on the team.  Teach your children how to save money for a new toy they want to buy.  These things will help to teach our children that they are not entitled to do whatever they want or take whatever they want. 

Instead of teaching your daughter to dress like a nun and not go out at night, teach your son to be the man who gives a drunk girl a ride home, instead of the boy who takes pictures of her.  Teach him to be the man who tells his so-called friends to leave her alone, not the boy who laughs while they hurt her.  Teach him to be the man that understands that “finders, keepers” is no moral code. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Dog Who Rescued Me--Part One

This is my sweet Betty Lou.  As she snores in my lap right now, I will begin telling our story.

I did not want a dog.  I had grown up with pugs.  I loved dogs.  But, I didn't want the responsibility of having one of my own.  I also feared loving a dog and losing it.  Dogs' lives are so painfully short.

However, Betty Lou forced her way into my life.  I attended a pug rescue fundraiser at a local bar with my mom and sister-in-law.  They both had pugs already, but my sister was interesting in adopting another one for her boys.  I went over to one of the pens that held several dogs.  I just wanted to say hello to a scrawny little fawn pug that looked so pathetic and sweet.  However, this pushy black pug shoved her out of the way and forced me to pet her.  I thought she was super cute, and so soft and shiny.  Later, my sister-in-law picked up the pushy black dog to see if she might want her, but she nearly jumped out of her arms to get to me!

My sister ended up adopting a puppy that day.  She didn't get the pushy dog because that dog needed a quiet home to recover from heartworm treatment, not a home with two little boys, another dog, and a cat.  However, I could not stop thinking about the pushy dog who needed a quiet home.  I was single.  You can't get much quieter than that!

A few weeks later, I drove to another town to pick up my Betty Lou.  I was nervous.  Would she like me?  Would I know how to take care of her?  Will she be happy with me?  I brought her home and she immediately owned the place...(to be continued in a later post).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What’s in a Name? A Newlywed’s Thoughts on Keeping Her Name

I foolishly believed that keeping my maiden name would not be a controversy in America in 2012.  I cannot believe how wrong I was!  I keep being questioned, and even berated, for daring to keep my own name.  While all other traditions of marriage have been easily discarded, this one seems to be here to stay.

I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone why I want to keep my own name.  However, I feel the need to explain my reasons in order to enlighten people who do not seem to understand.

First of all, my last name is, quite frankly, awesome.  My mother and sister-in-law were happy to take the name of my father and brother because they loved the idea of having the last name “Diamond.”  My mother’s maiden name is a lovely Italian name, but she was happy to be rid of it because she was tired of her name being mispronounced and misspelled.  Diamond is a beautiful last name that everyone can spell and properly pronounce.

A more important reason, however, is my career.  I am 35 years old.  Had I gotten married at 20, I probably would have changed my name.  Now, however, I have had this name for three and a half decades.  I have built a career with this name.  I have many honors and awards in this name.  When I apply for other jobs, or even just network, my name is very useful.   My students call me Ms. Diamond, and I can’t imagine answering to something else.   I have a house, passport, college degree, and teaching certificate in my name.  All of these accomplishments were made with my maiden name before I even met my husband, and I do not want to lose them by changing my name.

My family and culture are very important to me.  My husband has a great last name, but it reflects his heritage, not mine.  His English ancestors came to America in the 1600s.  My ancestors immigrated around World War I from Romania and Italy.  I am proud of my heritage and want to continue to honor it with my family name.  I cannot imagine no longer having a Jewish last name. 

I have been told that regardless of my reasons, changing my name is “tradition” and “honors my husband.”  The tradition argument is a ridiculous one.  Not one person has criticized us for living together before we were married, which is also a “tradition.”  I have also not been criticized for continuing to work, for owning the house which we both live in, for not throwing my bouquet and garter at the wedding, etc.  Therefore, I cannot believe anyone would have the audacity to use “tradition” as a justification for wanting me to give up my identity.

As for honoring my husband, he didn’t have to change his name to honor me did he?  Does that mean he does not honor me?  No.  We love and honor each other every day, regardless of what our names are.  I honor my husband by my love and faithfulness.  I do not have to prove my love to my husband by changing my name.

However, I may end up having to change my name or at least hyphenate it, simply for convenience.  I realize that although I do not wish to do this, keeping my name may make hassles in my life because other people and institutions do not honor my decision.   My husband and I have been married for only 4 days and we have already encountered issues.  Wedding checks were written to us as Mr. and Mrs. (my husband’s last name).  His bank would not let them deposit them without me present, and I had to endorse them with my first name and his last name because that is what the checks said.  I worry we will run into similar issues in the future.  Of course, no one asked me if I was keeping my name or not when writing said checks, it was just assumed.  I am not upset about this at all, and grateful for the gifts.  I understand that right now people still just assume that the bride will give up her name.  My hope for the future is that someday this tradition will go the way of other outdated traditions, and women will truly have a choice to change or not to change their identities.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why I am a difficult Employee

Or…you can’t take the East Tulsa out of the girl

I realize I am a difficult employee and coworker.  I am highly passionate about my work and my students.  It is my mission to provide my students with the highest-quality education and the best opportunities.  If someone or something stands in the way of this, I can get angry and a little bit scary.

I care about my students, and while I do care about the adults at my school, sometimes I just do not care about their feelings.  It is not that I am cold-hearted or mean, it is just that I do not have time to sugar-coat what needs to be said or done.

My passion stems from my upbringing.  I was raised on 28th Street in East Tulsa, which may as well have been Sesame Street.  As a child, I was not aware that my neighborhood was unique.  I had friends of many races, nationalities, and religions.  I spent time in homes where English was not spoken.  I knew at a young age that I was not a fan of Indian food, but that some Vietnamese dishes were excellent.  I never thought seeing a man wearing a turban was odd, because my neighbor, and father of my friend, wore one every day. 

I attended ***** Elementary School, ***** Middle School, and ****** High School.  I received a quality education.  I still remember what I learned from my elementary school science teacher, Mrs. Harris.  My high school teachers mentored me when I became a teacher myself.  I would not have changed anything about my education courtesy of ***** Public Schools and the East Tulsa community.

As I became an adult, I realized that my experiences were, in fact, unique.  I would tell people that I graduated from ****** and immediately the negative comments began, ranging from “I thought that was a black school” to “did you have to wear a bullet-proof vest?”  As a teacher at *****, the same thing happens when I mention where I work.  “How can you teach those kids?”

My response is, “I am one of those kids.”  While I did have some advantages that many of my current students and former classmates did not, the fact remains that I owe a lot to my *****Public Schools teachers.  I had two loving parents who worked three jobs combined, so we always had food and anything we needed.  However, we were not wealthy.  I was able to go to college because of a full academic scholarship.  My brother went to college on academic and athletic scholarships.  So, yes, those kids can and do go to college, regardless of their economic circumstances.

Therefore, when anyone implies that my students are not capable of going to college, or learning, or behaving, or pretty much doing anything other than ending up in prison, I get angry.  I get angry when those in charge think we should focus our students on careers that do not require a degree because they believe they are incapable of attending college.  I get angry when our students are denied technology because they believe the students will steal or destroy it.  I get angry when we are told to teach our students differently than students at other schools because our kids are somehow damaged and cannot learn the same.  I get angry when someone who knows nothing about the students or the community makes assumptions about our students based on their race or socioeconomic status.  I get angry when our students are seen as so worthless that the only way to get someone to teach them is by bribing recent college graduates with student loan payoffs.  I get angry when our students are talked about as test scores instead of human beings.  I get angry when the egos and feelings of adults are more important than the lives of our students.

I get angry because anything that is said about my students is actually being said about me.  I take it personally, which is breaking one of my own personal philosophies.  However, my identity as a graduate of ***** is something I cannot and would not ever change.  Therefore, when I see my students being mistreated, ignored, and belittled, yes, I will get angry, and I will not apologize.
****Edited to remove school names, due to the new social media policy of my employer.  Yes, it is ridiculous, but I like my job and don't want to lose it over a blog no one reads :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Reducing my "Stuff" by Half

I am getting married in November.  I have lived alone since I was 19.  I have lived in my current house, which I had built myself, for 10 years.  As I prepare for my future husband to move in, I have had to admit that I am somewhat of a hoarder!  I have lived alone for 16 years, so I was able to pretty much keep anything I wanted, and I am suffering the consequences now!

It has been really hard to get rid of half of my stuff.  Getting rid of old clothes was easy.  I donated them to people who need them more than I do.  However, getting rid of my more sentimental items has been really hard.  I love going through old things, it is like my own personal archeological dig.

The photo is a sample of a few of the fun things I have found while going through my things.  My dog is in the picture because she pretty much photo-bombs every time I get out my camera!

The good thing is that I do not have to get rid of everything.  A lot of things I found I didn't really want to keep.  However, the special things, like family albums and beloved toys, I will pack up and put in storage.  Some things I will just have to make room for and keep them with me forever.  I understand that it is just "stuff," but it is the stuff my memories are made of!