Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This Makes Me So Happy

I asked a parent of a teenager I work with to be a reference and he forwarded me the email he wrote.  Here it is with only my name taken out.  I'm going to keep it forever for when I don't feel like I'm making a difference.

Let me share a few thoughts. B- has been my savior the last year. At one point we had tutors in my house 6 nights a week. We’re down to just B- these days as she is so incredible. She doesn’t do the work for my son but challenges him to find the answers himself. A couple of weeks ago he cranked out a 5 paragraph essay from scratch in one hour. And it was wonderful. You could read all about her on Yelp if I ever got around to writing something. She is kind, bright, cheery, and my son and I both adore her. He respects her and works with her so much better than he does with me. She monitors his work, his notebooks, keeps him on track and makes my life enjoyable. I really can’t say enough good things. She works with my son primarily in English but always is ready to pitch in for World History and Media.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Go Appreciate a Teacher!

My Facebook friend Brook, who said I could quote her, recently had this up as her status:

Just a quick bit of perspective. So, parents, do you really understand the amount of blood, sweat, and tears goes into being a teacher? Remember the last family vacation you planned, the frustration of trying to lock your family schedule down, the disappointment when plans fell through, the stress of trying to secure an alternate? Well, teachers deal with that EVERY day, only instead of doing it for a family of 4, they have to contend with the wants, needs, and sense of entitlement for families of 20+ from all walks of life, beliefs, and ideals. While you work your 8 hours and get paid for it, your child's teacher is working 10+ and there's NO overtime. Those field trips, parties, and events all take time to plan. The lessons and projects that keep you children engaged; when do you think all that work happens? During school hours? Don't kid yourself. Teachers do it on their time, for your children, because they knew, long before you give birth, that those people are our future. They are educators, parents, social workers, and therapists all wrapped into one and in addition to the task of mentoring your kids, they have to handle the needy personalities of the parents. The wants of an overprotective mother, or the denial that your kid really is the asshole everyone says they are, not the sweet angel victim of every social situation. They have to attempt to do damage control from addicted parents and try to prove there's another way of life to these kids. Most people take for granted what teachers do for their children and that's a travesty. As parents most of us would lose our shit if we had to put up with what teachers do everyday. Just acknowledging it.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I'll tell you, some of us live for that week.  Most of the time, we get blame (from parents, administrators, government, and society as a whole), pity (from people who make three times as much as us with the same amount of education or who don't have to scrub marker and snot off their clothes every day), scorn (especially true for teachers who aren't parents, often from family/acquaintances/parents of students who pull out the highly insulting "well, if you had kids, you'd understand x, y, or z.").  

We go into the professional knowing all this and we all have reasons that it's worth it.  Those reasons all have names, such as Stephanie, the incredible student I had in third grade who is seeing her dream of going to Howard University manifest itself after years of hard work.  She not only makes me proud to be a teacher - I would pay her whole tuition if I was able to because she'll be such an incredible investment.  We don't go into this profession to be appreciated, but we also are often not prepared for the amount of blame, ridicule, etc. that we have to deal with.

Brook, it's parents like you that help us keep going.  I'm no longer in the classroom but still teaching.  Whether or not I ever do go back to the classroom, I will never forget the feeling of going into the last stretch of the school year, with the kids acting crazy, the classrooms overheating because they act like greenhouses, trying to give standardized tests when you want to actually TEACH the kids what they still need to learn because so much of your time has been wasted testing, madly planning field trips and end of the year activities, and dealing with parents who think you should be spending all your energy on their one child.  It makes a huge difference to just have this acknowledged, so thank you to everyone who's appreciating their child's teacher.  Please know that the teacher loves your child and would do anything for them, even when they're destroying the classroom.  

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Lessons on Equality

I take my Little Sister to a lot of kid-friendly events and she knows a good amount of my friends and family now.  When a friend was moving to another state and a party was thrown that included children, I brought her to that too.  On the way there, I realized that I hadn't told her something about this friend and wasn't sure how she'd react.

As a teacher, you learn to navigate the tricky waters of students' families' views, prejudices, and beliefs.  If you tell a child that what their mother or grandmother believes is wrong or prejudicial, you're probably fighting a losing battle, as this is what they've grown up with and most likely internalized.  I've found it better to get them thinking for themselves, and have managed to fight some fairly entrenched prejudices, mostly racial, by doing this.

I thought about this as I prepared to have this conversation with my Little Sister about this friend.  I thought I was going to have to talk about whether or not you agreed with someone's "lifestyle" (kind of a terrible word but commonly used), it's still important to treat them with respect.  I thought I was going to have to explain why I actually had friends who were gay, as I was pretty sure my Little Sister had not had much interaction with people who were gay.  I thought I might have to explain how homophobia is similar to racial prejudice, and how it was important to treat everyone equally.

I was underestimating her.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: I forgot to tell you that this friend we're saying good-bye to is gay.  You might hear someone talk about how he's going to live with his boyfriend and I wasn't sure if you knew any men who had boyfriends or women who had girlfriends.

Her: I saw two men kissing once.  I didn't like it.  [long pause]  I don't like seeing anyone kiss, even if it's a man and a woman.

Me: That makes sense.  I think that's a normal feeling.  You don't have to watch anyone kiss.

Her: Is he nice?

Me: Who?

Her: Your friend who's moving.  Is he nice?

Me: Yes, he's very nice.

Her: OK. Then I'll like him.

That was the end of the conversation.

After the party, as we were driving home, I asked her if she had had fun.

"Your friend helped me with my Jeopardy game," she said.  "He was very nice.  He was the first gay person I've ever met."  Then she went to sleep.

I didn't need any of my explanations.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Power of Community

Today I get to write about something encouraging.

A few months ago, one of my former students' families had a house fire.  Everyone in their family got out OK, but they lost everything.  EVERYTHING.

His fourth grade teacher who is still at the same school (I had him in third grade) found out and told me and our best volunteer ever about it.  Between the three of us and our friends, we managed to get the word out and get donations of furniture, clothing, gift cards, and money, people to move stuff (including two professional movers), and basically enough furnishings to fill up a 4 or 5 bedroom house.

When we were moving stuff in and since, the student's mom has expressed gratitude to me and the other teacher.  What I told her is what I'd like to share here: it wasn't me.  I can't speak for how the other two people got their donations but I just asked my friends.  My friends (and acquaintances, and in some case, friends of friends) just gave.  They gave furniture and clothing and money and time and gift cards to a family they had never met only because I said they needed help.

It still, even after seeing it happen before, astounds me that people would give (especially money) to people they didn't know, just because I said they were people I cared about.  It amazes me that people are willing to write checks to me, trusting that I'll use it for what the people I said I would and not for myself (don't worry, I did).

It's easy in teaching where I taught to get discouraged and assume that no one cares.  And I've seen plenty of examples where people actually don't care or think black/Latino/poor children or anyone who lives in a particular area are so different from the rest of us that it's easier to kind of dehumanize people sometimes than to do something to change inequality.

However, in this instance, I was encouraged, and reminded that I know some pretty awesome people.