Shame on Me for Interrupting Their Conversations

Gif attributed to Obsidian Soul via Wikimedia Commons

I want to teach. But I simply do not have the emotional stamina. I can think of several careers where it’s common to find yourself crying in your car, but teaching shouldn’t have to be one of them.

I don’t like to cry in my car, but at least I’m not the only one who does it.

President Obama recently spoke against the extra tests we give our students. But I believe that this is only part of the problem with public education – especially here in Florida where the need for remedial college classes has risen for high school graduates who’ve “earned” As and Bs.

The first time I taught, nine years ago, my colleagues kept warning me, “Stop grading everything. You’ll burn out.”

Stop grading?

How are they going to know if they got the answer right or wrong if I don’t tell them? Isn’t that what education should be – learning how to get the right answer? How will they know if it’s right or not if I don’t tell them? I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature so that I could teach – not babysit.

After four months of grading approximately 140 students for accuracy, guess what happened? Yep. I burned out.

I was heartbroken. I love to be in the classroom. Around the time I resigned, my 11th graders had just finished reading The Crucible and watching The Village. I assigned them to write a compare/contrast essay which I never got to read.

Cue a good cry in the car.

At the time, I didn’t know that I should not have been eating gluten, but I knew something was wrong with my body, so my official reason on the resignation was “medical issues.”

Once I identified gluten as the culprit for my bad health, I thought that I’d like to give teaching another try. So I did.

Last month, I accepted a long-term substitute position for an 11th grade English teacher who was on a military assignment. I was excited. The textbook was better, I had a projector which plugged in to my computer, and this time, 3 of the 5 classes would be full of honors students. A breeze, right?

I feel like I spent last month herding cats.

Even the honors students are so spoiled from “completion grading,” half of them didn’t bother to try. They realized I graded for accuracy, but didn’t seem to care. Sure, I had several star students (whom I very much appreciated), but these were HONORS classes. They were ALL supposed to be stars.

Do you know what happens when students don’t care if they have the right answer? They socialize during the lesson. At first, I thought, “Eh, they’re keeping it low. The ones who want to take notes can hear me. They have 4 days to complete the handout – they’ll figure it out.”

Apparently, I’d stumbled into some unicorn dust. It must have given me a false sense of reality. At least it was gluten-free.

Case in point, here is an example of how the students needed to fix an unclear pronoun reference:

“The wind grew stronger and the rain began. This made the campers look for shelter.”

The word “this” does not have a clear antecedent, so the sentence needs to be changed. An example of how to fix it would be, “When the wind grew stronger and the rain began, the campers looked for shelter.”

Instead, I got answers like this:

“The wind and rain make camper look for schedule.”

Seriously. Can you believe that answer came from two honors students? Why should they bother even to copy a correct answer when most teachers don’t have time to read it anyway?

And to be honest, I literally gave up my life for the month to grade for accuracy. I didn’t have time to wash dishes, make meals, or help my own kids with their homework. I barely had time to keep up with laundry.

So yes, again I found myself crying in my car.

But it wasn’t just the piles of half-hearted answers I graded, my burned out feeling came from the attitude. With the two standard English classes, if I asked them to stop the chatter because I was teaching a lesson, I usually got a sheepish smile and a “Sorry, Miss” in response. In the three honors classes, I received all the snark of an 80’s Valley Girl.

Where are the parents?

How dare I ask them to stop socializing so they can learn to analyze an educated argument? And yet, when I asked them if they planned to attend college? Most raised their hands. I doubt any college professor (or workplace boss for that matter) would accept “schedule” for “shelter” as good enough.

I don’t blame teachers who don’t grade for accuracy. It’s an impossible task to grade over 100 papers several times a week on top of all the other teacher duties. Toss in the interruption of standardized tests and retakes, and you’d cry in your car too. If I’d had an 80 student limit, I’d have been stressed, but not crying in my car. I wouldn’t have had to become passive-aggressive about constantly talking over conversations. I wouldn’t have to spend half my teaching time on classroom management.

But there aren’t enough teachers for an 80 student limit because it doesn’t pay enough for most people to justify crying in the car.

Hillsborough County once had a 1 cent sales tax to pay for a new football stadium. But I suppose education isn’t as important as football. You get what you pay for. I refuse to be miserable for so little pay.

It isn’t fair to my family.

I’d Love to Hear from You!

Are you a burned out teacher? How would you fix the system? Do you have a job where you are regularly compelled to cry in your car?


I Also Have a Dream

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This Wednesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the delivery of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” I’d like to think that if I were alive at the time and had the means, I would have been in Washington when he first said those words. I cannot think of a more influential speech delivered in that century.

However, a recent speech has struck me.

In President Obama’s speech after the George Zimmerman verdict, he talked about how it’s not uncommon for a black man to be followed in a department store, or for him to hear the click of car door locks while walking down the street, or see a woman clutch her purse nervously when entering an elevator. I respect and understand the point the president made with those statements. But the whole while I’m thinking:

Why does this have to be about race?

I honestly wouldn’t think twice about my purse if I were in an elevator with a black man, unless the waistline of his pants hung down past his butt. A white man dressed the same way would make me just as nervous. I’m not saying that all men should dress in a coat and tie, but to at least wear their clothes the way in which they were designed and not in a way that emulates criminals in prison.

What makes me the most sad is that there is still this racial stigma 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington. President Obama’s words stung me. It really hurts that a black man would think he makes me nervous just because my skin happens to be white. I do my best to try to get to know someone before I pass any kind of judgment on them.

No one can choose the color of their skin. So why would a black man who chooses to wear his clothes properly make me nervous?

I don’t know what happened between between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that day. Maybe no one will truly ever “know.” It is not my place to judge. All I can do is to pray for all involved. But what I do know is that they both had/have the same color blood as the rest of us. And I believe that they both have the same Divine Judge as the rest of us. Shouldn’t that be enough to make us all equals?

I’m not a great speaker as Dr. King was. I’m not a great writer either. But I have a dream that one day I can be influential. I have a dream that I can help people remember that no matter our race, our destinies are tied up and our freedoms are inextricably bound. I have a dream that I can, by example, illustrate how no one should be judged by the color of their skin, be it white or black, but by the content of their character.

How has Dr. King’s speech inspired you?