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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?

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Why “Talent” Doesn’t Equal “Ticket”

“Do” is the operative word.

When I started teaching, I had one of my 10th graders drop out of school within the first 2 weeks. His classmates told me that he had planned to drop out anyway. The day he left, he happened to leave halfway through my class because that was when his ride showed up. I’ll never forget the glory of ‘freedom’ in his eyes as he walked backward out of the door. He waved to the class with an expression that said, “Look at me! I’m onto bigger and better things!”

Right.

If he had any kind of talent for anything, except interrupting my class, I never got to see it. I hope he had some talent. But I fear that kid simply became a statistic that day. The thing is, talent isn’t always the ticket to success.

One of the comments that Kristen Lamb, author of Rise of the Machines-Human Authors in a Digital World, frequently makes on her blog is when she started writing, she “mistakenly believed that making As in English naturally qualified [her] to be a best-selling author.” I learned my lesson earlier than that.

I’ve always been a ‘book girl.’ I already knew how to read before I was in preschool, and created my own stories in the first grade. When I got to high school, my freshman English teacher was worthless. The saddest part about that was she taught the honors classes. You could write a paper for her, give it a good opening and closing, but fill the middle with gibberish and still get an A. Seriously. Someone did that. As a result, I became a lazy English student that year.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. My sophomore English teacher was very militant. At first I wasn’t worried because English was my talent. It was my ticket to an easy A. I wasn’t supposed to work so hard at it. Ha. It took me earning a D to finally get my butt in gear.

Even if something comes naturally doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. I very much hope my drop out student managed to get his butt in gear. But I fear that too many young people see the flawless performances of singers like Kelly Clarkson or actors like Will Smith and think that they don’t have to work at what they do. Even superstar talent needs to put in a lot of effort. An NFL quarterback doesn’t just play one game a week and spend the rest of his time on the couch. If that’s all it took, anyone with talent to throw a football would play.

I’m still working on honing my skills as an author. Just because I have a published book doesn’t mean I’m above reading a craft book (or two, or three, or more) to get better. I’m working hard to make The Stone of Kings better than Harp Lessons. I’ll continue working to make my next book better than The Stone of Kings. If I don’t grow, I won’t succeed.

How do you work your talent? Are you growing? Did you start failing at one point and realize that you had to put in more effort?

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