Friday, June 14, 2013

The fat lady has sung

August 25, 2012

June 13th, 2013

*note a completely empty mailbox.  A first for the year!

As of around 2:30 yesterday 523 Seniors had graduated, postcards had been mailed wishing students a good summer and appreciation for working with me this year, a classroom packed up and cleaned out, mounds of paperwork refiled after being neglected for a semester. I moved in a second cabinet and desk for moved for whoever is sharing the room with me this fall.  The proverbial yogurt that I always have in the fridge on the last day tossed. I locked the door, turned in my keys, said my good byes and drove away (in a car with broken air conditioning!)  

It has been a good year, a long year, a rewarding year, a draining year. I worked harder to create materials for a new course and pulled many long hours. The payoff was I will be teaching the same course this fall. One in which I watched in horror the events that happened at Sandy Hook not only as a parent but also as a teacher.  I starting crying not once but twice when students asked me about the tragedy.  Note I cannot remember a time I ever cried in class about anything, even when I was at my wits end.  This story still hits me like a ton of bricks and the day it doesn't, I question do I need to be in this job.

Do I need to be in this job?  I asked myself that more times than in any other year I can remember.  Much has changed since I was starting out in 2000.  Curriculum is different, kids are different, parents and supports are different, high stakes testing now accounts for a percentage of my base pay.  I feel like I have a lot on the line to make it worth spending 10 months of the year in a freeze pattern of exhaustion for 8 weeks of vacation.    

I am reminded by students at the end of the term that thanked me and showed appreciation that even on the hardest of days, I can't imagine doing anything else with my adult life.  One of my students gave me the biggest monster hug and simply said, "you did more to help me when I needed help and it had nothing to do with anything you taught me." That was one of the best compliments I've ever received.

I truly believe that building relationships is more important than teaching content.  Anyone can teach checks and balances, or the Krebs cycle, or how to factor an equation.  I am convinced that those teachers that make the most impact with the short amount of time, are those that attempt to make the relationship the most important goal and let learning the subject take a backseat.

Back in February, This American Life did a two part series on an inner city Chicago High school.  I loved this piece for many, many reasons.  I loved it so much I wrote a letter to the show and thanked them for bringing this story to a national audience. These two episodes are why TAL is so, so good and worthy of your time to tune in weekly. I remember clearly that I literally stopped whatever I was doing, sat down, and just listened to the show. I couldn't focus on anything else but the stories being told.  By the end I was emotionally invested and yes, even shed a few tears for students and teachers I will never know.

If you haven't listened, check out two amazing and inspiring stories. Be prepared to have to stop what you are doing and just listen.

Harper High School- Episode 1
Harper High School- Episode 2

What I can tell you without more elaboration is investment in relationships matter. Taking the time to make a genuine effort to see the positive in every student, not just the easy and polite ones, matters.   Good teachers and good school leadership, matter. Show me a school with high staff turnover, and I will tell you this is not a place to send your kids.    

This job has an enormous learning curve.  Many of the moments of this year that stand out I dealt with because I have maturity and experience on my side. I did things, planned things, made decisions because I know in the long term that building students up for success is and should always be the end goal.

Adequate funding and being able to make a living wage matters.  Our state government is dismantling public education in a highly political and visible way.  If you are local, you should be following the direction our elected leaders want to take regardless if you have school aged children. I continue to teach in part because we have a 2nd income. Good teachers that I know and loved are not returning in the fall because after 5+ years of a salary freeze they simply can't sustain a livable lifestyle on the salary they make.  I am most likely renewing my National Boards over the next two years, giving this job another decade to reap the bump in pay and then getting out.  At that point I will have 25 years and a decent retirement.  For the first time ever I feel like I need a long term exit strategy.

Today is the only day of the entire summer that both boys will be in full time care.  Today is about a mountain of house and yard tasks to be completed. Starting Monday someone is somewhere each day, but only for a half day.  I have once again worked my summer child care budget like a boss.  While I am (thankfully) not teaching online, I am working on AP Government for the over ninety students enrolled for the next year. Ninety students, the most I've ever had to teach something worth going to work to do.

I'm also writing test items for the state test on a paid contract.  I thought long and hard about the time it will take, but the benefits of extra money plus the opportunities afforded through networking makes this a good use of time.

Tomorrow I've driving the boys over to Charlotte to meet up with my high school girlfriends and their kids at my friend's home on Lake Norman.  This will be the 3rd summer we have met for a mini reunion and a great way to kick off the next 8 weeks off from work.

Happiest of weekends and end of the school year.


Beth said...

Congrats on making it another year. Your post has me in tears, for many reasons. Thinking about Sandy Hook, of course, but also, thinking of the all-consuming work that you and all the teachers I know do, and the lack of support and appreciation and PAY that you receive, it seriously makes my heart hurt. The INJUSTICE is mind-numbing. I am proud to live in a community that is willing to pay $1.30/$100 in property taxes so that we can support our tiny school system with our incredible teachers and administrators. Although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a wee bit disappointed that my boys won't get to take government or U.S. History from Ms. Vinson. :-) Can't wait to see you soon!

claudia said...

Congratulations on summer vacation! Thank you for your beautiful and insightful blog post. You really understand teaching. It is about relationships and my god there is a learning curve. It should be a job with a five-year apprenticeship. There is a complete lack of respect for education and teachers in this country. A middle-class lifestyle is not possible on a single teacher's salary in most states in the United States.That is particularly true in the South and in the West. It is a little better in the northeast but even at that it is difficult. My son teaches in the South Bronx and makes what sounds like a living wage in most places but he live in NYC. Even in the outer boroughs housing is really expensive. Fortunately for him his wife makes a very good salary as an engineer or he would have had to give up teaching, which he loves, long ago.