Teaching is not what it used to be...

So, it is Sunday afternoon and I'm a not-so-well-earned break from writing my appellate brief.  To my credit, I have been working for about 90 minutes without distraction.  For me, that's amazing - many days I cannot get through 9 minutes without distraction.

But, I am distracted - back to what I really wanted to talk about.

I have found in the past year that teaching is no longer what it once was.  At least not for me.  We see funny cartoons, like this one:  (http://kbarnstable.wordpress.com/thoughts-on-teaching/)

 And this one:

Both of these cartoons make you giggle... you think "ha!  Teaching is tough, but it's not impossible.  I'm sure teachers enjoy what they do."

And you know what, you're right.  Most teachers love teaching.  There are some that don't.  Some teach because they can't think of something else that they would like to do more, or because they cannot secure a job in the field they want.  But, that said, most teachers love teaching.

But here's the problem.  Teachers don't teach.  At least they don't do much of it.  I can hear it now.  Lot of people (all 15 that read my blog) saying:  "Oh my god!  I knew it!  Teachers don't teach!  That's why our students are failing.  That's why we are falling behind!"  (Actually, not a lot of people that read my blog are thinking that, about half of them are teachers and know where I'm going with this.)

What teachers do is administrate and manage.  We spend at least 1/2 of our time on any given day dealing with the minutia of educational bureaucracy and the management of students that have not yet figured out how to behave in public.  I teach high school.  That second part shouldn't really be an issue.  But, it is.  If I ever had a class like this, I'd have a heart attack and die:

 What I actually have, is a classroom that looks more like this:

Despite this, and despite the fact that most of my students read at least 2 years below grade level, have little to know family support and spend more time in and out of juvenile hall and the detention center than 90% of people in America, I'm supposed to teach them Hamlet.  Not just teach them Hamlet, but make them appreciate Hamlet a la Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, Blackboard Jungle and Remember the Titans (granted, Denzel is a coach).  But, people do not seem to understand that these are the EXCEPTIONS.  How many teachers have been able to pull of these miraculous transformations with just the power of their minds and their inspirational souls?  Like eight.  That's why they get movies.

Most do not understand that our lives are the first act of these movies - maybe pieces of the second acts in which a few students turn it around and have a light bulb come on.  More often than is reported, it's the devastating part of the second act in which one of our students is killed or arrested because of something senseless.  Where boys spend all of their time making sure everyone "knows" how tough they are, even if that means shooting someone to prove it.  Girls have no idea what they are doing or how to get there, so end up depressed, promiscuous, suicidal.

No teaching course in America prepares a teacher for the devastation of a dead student.  Not the just the horrible tragedy of a car accident or disease, but the senseless, world-altering jolt that comes from a student being gunned down in his living room while playing Grand Theft Auto on his XBox.  Nothing prepares you for the realization that your student is not just absent from your class, but in prison for the next decade for shooting someone during a fight.

The truth is, most university teachers have not taught in those classrooms, at least not long term.  In five years, my numbers are still pretty small - 1 murder, 1 "other" death, and 5-7 serving long-term prison sentences (that began while a student) for class A/B felonies.  Less than 10 kids doesn't sound too bad, but when you put into perspective that most teachers may go through their entire careers without a single one... and I have averaged two per year.

A lot of people ask me why I still teach.  And a lot of days I really have to think about it.  But then other days, someone does me the favor of reminding me.  Earlier this week, out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from a former student (I won't use the name, but the student is welcome to claim her note).  In part, it read:

I was just looking through my friends list and decided to drop you a line. (:  I always had such a great time in your class. You are my favorite teacher of all time. I wish college professors were more like you!  I'm thankful to have had you as a teacher. (:

These things mean the world to me - and for that matter, to any teacher.  I'm not sure how long they keep us afloat in the storm that we are fighting, but they are a life raft, without doubt.  


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