Last night in my Methods class, the students made found poetry out of some novels. The results were fantastic!
“‘Yes, yes-‘ he’d said, nodding, ‘a schedule. That’s what I’ve found, too. Sometimes I simply stare at a blank sheet of paper, but I still sit here and stare at it for the whole period I’ve set aside for work. Does alcohol help?'”
– Kurt Vonnegut
I’ve been reading a lot about people who are none too pleased with the algorithms used to create Facebook’s “Year in Review” App.
When I first saw these popping up on other people’s Facebook pages, I thought I couldn’t wait until it showed up on mine. I love these little things, because I love my life and the people in it. I thought I would see pictures of my lovely daughter’s smiling face, my husband and I at Disney World, family celebrations and quiet nights with friends.
I got something very different. The first picture I saw was innocuous- a seven year-old picture of my husband and I at our wedding, sharing the first bite of cake. My mouth is in an open, mischievous smile as I fork some into his mouth, tilted upward. One of my favorite pictures. How could I not click on it to see what my year had for me?
The next picture was very different. The caption read “Finally home. Now the hard work begins.” There I am next to my husband on our bench, my hair wet from the shower I just had, the first one I had had in weeks. My smile is forced and lopsided, my eyes blank. Facebook, in all its infinite wisdom, decided that what I needed to remember most about my year was what I had tried the hardest to forget; that I was hospitalized, that I almost died, that my husband and parents had to take care of me like I was a child, that they had to plan for a future without me.
The other pictures were the same. Me in a hospital gown, my head covered with gauze and wires. Recovering at my house, were I had to be under constant surveillance. Pictures surrounded by colorful balloons and stick figures celebrating my horrible year.
The standard text for these posts is “it’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” I immediately changed “great” to “terrible.” But then I felt a strange obligation to temper that, to not make others realize how sad the whole thing had made me. So I added “j/k, only half of it was terrible.”
And that’s mostly the truth.
This past year, I had a live-changing experience that forced me to rethink everything I had planned. I had to question if I was even ready or willing to complete my doctoral journey. This introspection led me to a renewed passion for my studies, and more importantly, a complete change of focus for my dissertation. The study I have decided to do will force me to be self-critical and introspective, as an autoethnography should be. I must admit I am a little afraid of doing an autoethnography as my dissertation, but my committee and my cohort have been very supportive of my decision.
In addition to scholarly changes, I also found myself ousted from my old high school due to unit cuts and accepting a new position at Dunedin High School in Dunedin, FL. I must say that I came into this situation with a positive attitude and it has paid off. So far, the change has been extremely healthy for me and has revived my joy for teaching.
If anyone you know is a teacher, I am sure you’ve seen Randy Turner’s blog post “A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher” pop up somewhere in your social media. I must have seen it at least fifteen times – and each time I saw it I grew a little angrier.
It’s no secret that a young teacher is likely to leave the profession within five years, tired, overworked, underpaid, and thoroughly disenchanted with the education system. Still, we should not be discouraging young teachers from education – we should be actively recruiting them. The only way to change the system is from inside the system. How can a teacher implement change if they are not in the classroom, working with students, other teachers, administrators, and parents? And if not the young teachers, then who? Many educators are too tired to fight, nearing retirement, simply passing the time unnoticed.
Young, innovative educators who are new to the classroom quickly learn methods of reacting to the oppressive system of scripted curriculum, standardized tests, and micro-managed teaching. Some become subversive teachers – playing the game but shifting to fit what they know to be good instruction, making the system work for them. Believe it or not, Common Core can and should be used as a tool by these teachers. These standards state explicitly that they do not dictate how a teacher teaches. These standards also claim to teach critical thinking to students, a trait that we can all hopefully agree with. Moreover, the writers of the Common Core stress that the standards are the manual – not the prepackaged curriculum that claims to be Common Core.
Others become rabble-rousers. These teachers serve as the (often loud) mouth for the subversive teacher who often prefers to fly under the radar. Both of these teachers help change education through incremental change. The fact that change is so slow to occur should not be a deterrent – big change moves at a snail’s pace.
What we need is to not only encourage these teachers to enter the profession, but to provide them with the support they need to make change in the classroom. Veteran teachers, especially those of us lucky enough to have obtained tenure before it became a bad word, need to be willing to resist the policies that we know are not in the best interests of our students. We need to lead by example.
By discouraging young people to choose a different career path, we are dooming the dream of a free public education. And what would be the result? If there are jobs and no one to fill them, think of the kinds of teachers we will be passing the torch to – anyone willing to babysit for eight hours a day would earn the once-noble title of “teacher”. These teachers wouldn’t question policy, wouldn’t fight for what’s best. These workers would fulfill the prophecy of ineffectual teachers, standardized testing, and mindless students. They would eagerly gobble up the materials sold by textbook companies as being “Common Core driven” when in actuality, they are far more restrictive.
We need teachers who believe in education, who want to be teachers because it is their passion, their joy. No one goes into this profession for the money – our salaries are often a sad reminder that we are not valued as professionals. Our value must come from ourselves, from each other, from our students. The work we do is rewarding which is why many of us persevere and continue to fight.
I will clarify one thing – I do not encourage all young people to become teachers. If you are looking for an easy job, don’t become a teacher. If you are looking for a job to be a stepping stone, to be a good line on your resume, don’t become a teacher. If you want to “find yourself” for a few years, don’t become a teacher. But if you believe in public education, if you believe that there is still something worth fighting for, join us. We are waiting to fight with you.
Summer semester is well underway, and I am feeling great about my courses. They are both challenging in different ways, and I feel intellectually stimulated, which is always the goal!
My work as a teacher will be done for the year in two weeks, and all in all the year has been pretty good. I really struggled with my tenth graders, and there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. However, these reflections make me look forward to next year and what I can do differently as an educator.
As I get closer to the end of my doctoral journey, I wonder if I’m ready to step away from the classroom. I’m sure I’ll miss the students and real contact with the classroom- but I also feel very strongly about educating new teachers and encouraging teachers to truly be the best they can be, even if the odds seem to be against them.
This is one of my favorite books about education. Delpit really dives into the cultural aspects of language and the importance of student language. This book is a great start for any teacher interested in social justice in the English classroom.
Monday evening marked my last class of the semester. This semester was both incredibly challenging for me and extremely rewarding. This was the first semester I was a full-time student, in addition to being a full-time teacher and a full-time (though it feels part-time) mom to a beautiful 16-month old girl. I felt like most of my life was spent reading, making to-do lists, driving (in rush hour traffic over the Howard Frankland!) or cramming some writing into what ever little free time I had. The important part though, is that I learned so much.
First, I learned exactly what I want to study. I discovered that my passion had a name and had a theory, and I devoured everything I could about it. I began to learn how to mold all of my coursework to fit my design, and it was incredibly rewarding. Everything I read and studied this semester will lead me to my dissertation, and that is a good feeling.
I also learned to be confident in my abilities and to rely on my peers for guidance. I had a proposal accepted at a national conference, and I also became immersed in a research lab with a group of fellow students. I gained valuable hands-on experience in qualitative research and began to feel like a real doc student.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I can handle it – the whole thing. Mom, student, teacher, wife, daughter – it is manageable. Of course, I have the most amazing partner who is able to support me and everything I do. It was hard, but I was able to do it and reap some serious rewards from it. I now know that I have the ability to finish this program and carve a name for myself in academia.