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).