Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with Cupcake

Cupcake over at A Truth Universally Acknowledged answered my interview ( I had never been introduced to her blog before, but I was intrigued by the name being a big Jane Austin fan. It looks like an interesting read.

My background information is that I am in my fourth year of teaching high school English to (this year) sophomores, with some experience with juniors, and am in my third year of teaching the damn yearbook class in the South, which may or may not rise again, depending on to whom you speak.


How was actually teaching different from what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I did not come to teaching until I was past 40, so by that point, my expectations had taken on a rather jaded perspective. What I dreamt of was a room where freshly scrubbed faces would stare at me with adoring anticipation of all the brilliant things I have to say, and we would discuss literature and writing and analyze everything to within an inch of its life. What I got were four classes of Geniuses, and the time I spent teaching, compared to the time I spent on classroom management, was negligible. Those poor kids. I don't think they learned a thing. As far as the actual act of teaching, what shocks me most is how surly, disrespectful and entitled the kids today appear to be. They have no accountability, either at school or at home. The schools just want to pass them and graduate them, because to not do so means we leave a kid behind, and that costs us money. So the game is pass 'em and get 'em out. Consequently, the craftier kids know that they can do virtually nothing and we'll still let them graduate. Their parents refuse to believe that their little angels are anything but little angels. Case in point. One Genius from my first year works at a local market. I popped in before Christmas to do some shopping and ran into him, which immediately killed my Christmas spirit. He announced that he's at the local community college, getting As and Bs, and then said, "So somebody didn't do her job at Ye Olde High School because you gave me Ds." It took all - and I mean ALL - of my strength of will not to leap over the cheese counter and drag that little shit through the slicer. Instead, I said, "If that's how you wish to interpret it, knock yourself out." The fact that he did NOTHING in my class except sleep or tell us how well endowed he was meant I did not do my job.

Now, this year is different for me, because I have mostly Honors kids. We really talk about what we're reading, and we analyze it. They are fascinated by symbolism and allusions. They want to understand why authors wrote their works, and they are not satisfied with cursory answers. They dig into the material. Are some of them held blameless by their parents? Yes. But are they fun to teach? Yes.

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy Geniuses. Those kids have personalities that defy description, and they are the ones who keep coming back to say hi. I guess that's one thing I didn't anticipate - that kids who registered little or no acknowledgement of my existence would pop in my room the following year to ask how I'm doing or tell me a little story about themselves. That's a bonus to the job.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
They don't know that it is HARD WORK. They don't know that we don't just teach; in many cases, we also parent those kids. We help them get clothing and we help get them fed. We give them hygiene products and advice about boyfriends and girlfriends. We tell them what it's like to pledge a sorority and to graduate from college. We also are aware of when they disappear - when their little lights start to dim, due to personal stresses. People also don't understand that teachers want every kid to do well. We really do. Even the ones we don't like. But there is only so much we can do. We are haunted by Big State Testing, federal mandates, paperwork, ever changing district priorities (project-based learning today, inquiry-based tomorrow, collaborative - the list goes on and on) and parents (yes, them again) who expect us to bend to the abilities of their children rather than demand their children stretch to our expectations. And the three months off for summer? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I counted. Last summer I had a grand total of 23 days in which I did no teaching-related work, including weekends. We work our asses off.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
Misplaced priorities, for a start. Right now, it's all about passing tests, as opposed to showing growth. There are some kids who just will never pass those Big State Tests, but from the moment they step in my room until the moment they are tested, they learn something. They have academic growth. But it doesn't matter, because the only thing that is emphasized is how they do on those tests.

Another problem is that we seem to spend money on a lot of crap as opposed to actual materials that help us design those engaging lesson plans or projects or whatever. All of the useless committees and meetings with the Consultant Du Jour cost money. How about instead of revamping mission statements or making us spend two hours watching clips from School of Rock and analyzing learning styles (I kid you not), you buy books for my classroom, paper, markers, Dry-Erase markers? There is all of this fantastic hue and cry for education, but in the end, it seems people want whatever is easiest or whatever looks the most impressive.

What is the best thing about teaching?
Oh, my gosh. There are so many things. Despite all of the pissy negativity found above, I love this job. LOVE IT. I love when a kid starts the semester by telling me how much she hates English, hates reading, hates writing, but at the end says, "I think I want to be an English teacher." Or voluntarily checks out books from the class library because she "has to read something." Or asks for advice about a story she's decided to write. I love the moments when it clicks for kids who just did not get it; that look of accomplishment on their faces is like a deposit in my spiritual ATM. I love the ego rush that comes with a student who says, "You made a difference." Or when they cheered for me after I earned my Master's degree. I love that a kid with whom I thought I made no connection came to me this semester, asking if he could be my TA because he missed being in my class. Most of all, I love watching my "I hate reading" kids learn to love a book. That is the nectar of the gods.

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Well, in ten years, I suspect I will be teaching high school kids, because I can't imagine any other job that I'd like - and I've had other jobs. I also think I'll be teaching some online classes, and I plan to have earned National Board certification. I've threatened to still be teaching even when I'm using a walker, my teeth won't stay in, and my wig is on crooked. It really is the best job in the world.

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