I know our politicians and media want to tell you that our teachers and schools are failing our kids. It is every where that us greedy money grubby mediocre teachers and the buildings we are housed in are failing America’s youth. They are trying to convince you that we need more charters and vouchers and business in education. These people (basically an unknown entity with a very predictable agenda) need to convince us via fear that the system is broke. That our educational system is broke and it is the educators who seek tenure, more pay and enjoy summers off that are to blame.
Can I tell you where the real problem lies? It is the narrative. Quit listening to the stories of politicians who think just because they have been a student in a seat that they know what is best for our children. Remember that it was their idea to test our youth to death. They are creating the narrative. But I have a story I want to tell. If you are looking for one where I complain about just how much testing encroaches on my classroom or how mad the politicians make me. Look somewhere else. That same old tired played out story won’t be happening here. Education already has enough negativity in it without me adding my two cents.
I would like to tell you my story if you will listen. It is the one of a starry eyed teacher with a hope, bravery and hard fought for naïveté. I have taught for 7 years. I have had roughly 800 students in front of me at this point. I taught 2 years at a public university. I have taught the next five years at a public school. I am a public educator. From the beginning, I have always looked at my job and treated it as a public servant. I work for the public. I take that honor seriously and yes it is an honor. I am grateful for every single person who made the decision that put themselves or their children in front of me. I am venturing to guess that any student who has been in front of me can vouch for that.
I love what I do and in my classroom it shows. That isn’t some full of myself bravado. There are stories upon stories of my love for my kids and yes they are my kids. But one story in particular is hitting my heart hard tonight of a student who would have walked into most classrooms and fallen behind or into the cracks as they say. The world. The people in the students life. They gave up. They decided the student’s story was already written. The world does that to our youth you know? Dangerous assumptions and false narratives. The world gives up on them and they sometimes give up on themselves. I try and never read those narratives and stories.
It is a hard and fast rule I have. You walk into my room…clean slate. Write your new story. Use your voice. I want to hear you. Rarely do I hear your class is so hard. But I know we do hard work. They are pushed and pulled because for years they are told what to think. Do what I say. They come in my room and suddenly I say, “What do you think? It doesn’t matter what I think.” I don’t need to have kids fail to know I am doing something right. The way I know I succeed is the days, weeks, and years removed and they tell me the impact my classroom had on them. Maybe it was a lesson. Maybe it was something I said and did.
But back to my narrative I have worked in the real world. In fact, I did so for many years and never did I work the overtime like I do now. Never will there ever be a day I lock the door to my classroom and just walk away. Some teachers can do that. Not me. I stay after school. I wait for parent rides with them. I go in early and let them get to a computer. I probably check my email too many times at night. And yes I do shut down. In fact, I would say as the years pass I get better and better at it. I have to for my family. I have to for me.
But back to that one student from before. They had a chance to rewrite their story and they did. I had no idea the impact at the time, but the longer I teach the more I learn of that impact. My impact isn’t a narrative that is easy to write, but it is one that is felt and seen. You can’t capture it in numbers or evaluations. It doesn’t show itself in a paper or portfolio. I feel it. My family feels it. My school feels it. My classroom feels it and my students feel it.
That is the narrative I want to tell because my narrative isn’t any different than any of my colleagues. We all have those stories of that one student that eventually turns into a handful, a dozen and a 100 students. Yea I am sure somewhere along the line there was/is a teacher that got into it because the pay was so lucrative, the respect was so high, and they loved the summers off. But I have not met them yet. I am a toddling toddler in teaching age, but not so young to think these people don’t exist. If they do though I imagine they are long gone and I can tell you now that I haven’t taught with them. Our narratives need told. We are not the problem. Public schools are not the problem. The narrative is the problem.