Thursday, January 18, 2007

So, what color IS my parachute?

I feel like I'm at a crossroads careerwise. When I am teaching my chemistry classes I have times when I feel like I could do this forever. I want to be the best possible teacher I can be, learn all I can about the subject since I feel so rusty and inadequate. Do tons of cool things with them and get them to understand at least a few things. And then, there are the other classes...

I have this absolutely "challenging" class. It's about 20 kids from New Orleans, maybe three of whom are girls. A whole class of boys is always a challenge for me. Early last week they were yelling at each other and calling each other names. I told them to be quiet and quit shouting and yelling and watch their mouths. I hate when I have to scream over them. I am not about to let them make me ruin my voice. I finally just lost it and said, "If you use the word n***** or f*** again, you are out of this classroom." They listened in stunned silence and then erupted. (The poor teacher next door.)

I got lots of responses that I expected, although there were a few who got what I was saying. They said that I couldn't say the N-word even once, even to tell them exactly which word I found offensive. And it was because of my skin color. I asked if they would treat me the same if I was a large black man. One kid's response was "I treat everyone badly." Well, that sounds like a whole 'nother problem to me. I also mentioned a certain teacher who fit that description and one kid's response was, "He's a f*****." Oh lord, these kids are a mess. When they left the class that day all they could talk about was how I swore in class. I didn't feel badly about it and would have said so had I been hauled in front of the administration.

I thought about it a lot that day and the next I was supposed to have a training so I was away from them. They stole about half the batteries out of my calculators and defaced two of them. Not as a group, I suppose, but it still pissed me off. I kept those damn calculators out all last semester and not one of them disappeared. Not one battery was pilfered. NOT ONE.

The next day we were all in class together I tried to play a game with them but they wouldn't even pay attention long enough to get started. They kept shouting and yelling at each other. One kid kept getting up and walking around the room. Of course, they were calling each other delightful names. I just ended up pulling my stool into the center of the room and said let's talk. I was feeling like the counselor from Freaks and Geeks. Let's rap.

I was expecting them to laugh me out of the classroom, but they actually listened to me. And talked to me rather than only at each other or even just into the air at no one in particular, although there was a certain amount of that. We talked about racism and hate and prejudice. We talked about whether or not it was racist to call someone a redneck. We talked about affirmative action and whether it was fair or unfair. And whether getting into a college by being a "legacy" was fair. And if you were offerered an opportunity that might have put you ahead of someone else for whatever reason should you take it. I tried not to preach too much or force my own opinion on them.

I think I did a pretty good job of actually facilitating a discussion with them and with each other. Towards the end of class, one kid said that if people expect them to be thugs and losers and stupid that perhaps they should prove those people wrong. Even if they didn't convince those people, they would reap the benefits of a better life for themselves. One of the kids was like, it took him how long to figure that out. When they left that day, things felt a little different. I am not stupid enough to think that they're going to be an easy class or suddently calm the hell down. I do know that a few more of them think that I'm on their side, even if I'm going to make them work their butts off. And I don't expect the ninth graders to suddently become mature. Not that it won't make me insane when they don't. Danielle witnessed a breakdown of that the other day. I need a cry room for at least one kid. Heck, putting him out on the porch and shutting the door on him would kill him. Or at the very least it would keep me from killing him.

Anyway, back to my original topic. Other teachers make me insane. Don't get me wrong, there are lots who are fabulous. Even ones who rub me the wrong way personally, but are good teachers and/or really care about the kids. But then there are the ones who are completely burned out. They hate the kids, they hate the other teachers and think the administration is staffed by Satan's minions. I am in constant fear of becoming them. It's a large part of why I'm doing the National Board Certification. I mean, it's not like I'm going to move to another state since I married O'l Man. It's a great perspective and the general IQ there seems to be much higher than many of the teachers I often come into contact with. As I end a sentence with a preposition and follow it with a sentence fragment. I'm talking about science teachers who don't know what a control is. People who can't write an even mildly coherent email.

So, if I got too annoyed with everything. If my school doesn't make AYP once again because of something like attendance on test days. (Did I mention that the day of the English TAKS test is Mardi Gras and lots of our NO kids are planning to not be at school?) If the consultants and officials and everyone come into my classroom and hand me work to do that day regardless of my curriculum or whether it works or if I've already done it before and I throw a fit and walk out...

Okay, I'm not stupid enough to do that. It's one of the good things about being a contract worker. They can't fire you. Well, they can but it's nearly impossible. To quote someone at Don't Care High where we worked our first year, you won't get fired for anything other than the Big Three: Money, Sex, & Illegal Substances. And as far as I can tell, it's pretty much accurate. Even when they "reconstitute" a school and ask half the staff not to come back, those people have already signed a contract for the next year and are guaranteed a job somewhere in the district or are put into the sub pool with their normal salary.

So, anyway, what if I chose to pack it in? It's about time. Isn't it between 3-5 years that many teachers quit to go be investment bankers or bus drivers or whatever? It's not the pay although I would love to be paid more. And it is nice to know that I'll always have a job. No matter what, as long as you have a pulse and semi-valid certificate, a science teacher will always have a job. But what about going back to writing? Or working "in industry"? Unfortuantely there, I think I would have to go back to school and start at the bottom and would I hate that as well?

And idiots are everywhere. I was reading a novel and it was talking about office politics and I turned to Ryan and said, "remember when I worked in that office where I got snitched on for wearing open-toed shoes?" And I didn't work on the floor of an oil rig where I should have been wearing steel-toed boots. Just the pettiness of bored people stuck in dead-end jobs. I love The Office (both US & UK) largely because I remember those days. At least now I don't have as many people literally in my face. Or reaching across me to grab things off my desk.

Right now I am largely dissatisfied with life and probably would hate whatever I was doing. At least with teaching you're not an automaton working for The Man.

I should not be allowed to think about such things in the middle of winter. I will say in a very small voice that although I have much to learn, some days, at least with my chem classes, I am a good, nay an effective teacher. So why would I pack all that in because of all the other BS? Who's to say I couldn't become a better test prep teacher? And I suspect that once I finally go to the training and start the curriculum, I will be a kick-ass reading teacher. Another thing I'm passionate about will help all around.

So, I should shut up and go to bed. Ryan and I are back to work tomorrow. I stayed home today to take care of him and he started to feel a little better although he didn't move much off the couch. I think he's going to work just because his cabin fever is so acute. At any rate, it's a good sign.


Anonymous said...

Kate, Reading about your little "rap" session reminding me about what you have to offer YOUR kids: hope as well as science. I'm so proud of you for not letting anything get in the way of what is really important = these kids' lives. Love, Mama

zydeco fish said...

Wow. That sounds tough. I thouht about being a teacher for a few months years ago. I am not sure I would be any good at it. It sounds lke you are.

Tiger said...

Great release of verbage and emotion!

I am glad you don't want to be one of those 'burned out' teachers. Just tell you hubby or someone close to you to tell you when you come home 5 days a week hating your job. Then it is time for a change. But make the change within education! Pick a new grade level, or new school or new socio-economic group of kids to work with.

The NO kid thing is something none of us signed up for - it is very difficult to know if we should feel sorry for them for being so ignorant or hate them for not trying to improve themelves. They say teaching is a craft, so that makes us like artist, and all the good artist go through a suffering phase, right?

Oh, don't forget our Holiday schedule - we still get Spring Break - that's why I teach!

I'm just happy I think I got 90% of my sTtdents to understand that ICE doesn't cool down the COKE, the COKE warms up the ICE!