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.