Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Getting down to the nitty gritty.

I read this blog post this morning about teacher burn out and how to be a teacher for more than five years, written by someone who put in an extra four and walked away after nine. The post is spot on and mostly about managing your time and expectations.

I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about why I love being a teacher and why I love the field of education. Prepare your face for shock and astonishment and possibly some judgmental disdain.

It's not because of the kids.

I should say it's not just because of the kids. 

Let me tell you what I've found. The people who truly are in education just for the good of kids (while a noble aspiration it may be) are the ones that fall the fastest and the hardest out of the profession. Here's why. Our public educational system is broken. Utterly, irretrievably broken. And teachers can't fix it. Try as we might, no matter how hard we kick and scream and shriek at the top of our lungs, "But we're failing our children!!" We cannot fix it. As long a lawmakers are regulating public education and as long as a constant flow of money is infiltrating our political system, teachers cannot fix public education. Period. So many teachers come into the profession with lofty ideals and visions of brilliant students and free thinking classrooms floating in their heads. Then it doesn't happen that way. And when it doesn't happen the way they envisioned it, they get mad at the things standing in their way- that Assistant Principal that is ridiculously hard to work with. That curriculum that is so boring and poorly written that it makes them want to poke their eyeballs out. Those constant assessments that eat up so much instructional time in the classroom. And they rage against the roadblocks and they scream, "This isn't fair to the kids!!!" And then nothing changes. And after about four or five years of fighting the broken system, worn out from all the kicking and screaming, disillusionment sets in and they quit, because they've bloodied themselves trying to fix a system that is unfixable. And they feel like they've failed their students because of it.

I'm on year seven and I've seen it happen more times than I can count. So I've been asking myself over the past few days, why do I enjoy being a teacher so much? Why do I want to stay in the field of education even though I know the system is terrible and there isn't much hope of change on the horizon? After all, all of my adult working years have been spent in either non-profit work focusing on under-served women and children or in education. I have been a non-profit program director and education director. I have been a CPS caseworker for foster children. I have spent most of my teaching career teaching children from some of the poorest communities in the state of Texas. It's not like I don't have lofty ideals about the importance of community and helping people. I've committed my life to it. So why have I stuck it out this far when so many people haven't?

Because my number one focus isn't the ideal of helping the kids which requires changing the system. My number one focus is facing and conquering the challenge that is public education. And the challenge is figuring out how to effectively educate children inside a broken system. See what I did there? When your focus shifts from the kids to the challenge of becoming successful with what you've got, if you're a competitive person, you retain some of your staying power. I've been in enough classrooms, districts, and schools to know this: You don't like your principal(s)? Tough, they're not going anywhere... this year. You don't like your curriculum? Guess what, that's probably not going to change either. You think common core is total BS? Well, it's the law in most states now. Get used to it. Kids are coming into your classroom several grade levels behind? They're coming to your class tomorrow regardless.

I'm really interested in what you're going to do to be effective in your classroom in spite of all of this. This is the challenge we face as public educators in every district in every state across this nation. All our gripes are the same. What will distinguish us is how we will take on the challenge. Will we be content just to scream as loud as we can how unfair the system is to our children? Or will we get down to the nitty gritty, face reality, and decide how we can still be effective in our instruction in our classrooms, even with the deck massively stacked against us and against our students?

This is what we call grit. It's such a buzzword right now. Everyone tells us we should be developing it in our students. But do we have it ourselves?

Our football team is in the playoffs this year. Friday night we will play the powerhouse reigning state champs in only the second round of playoffs. Our marquee outside the school this week, even though meant for our boys, echoes my sentiments in my classroom, "Any team, any time, any place." I'm thriving on the challenge. Bring it!