Sometime I miss my moments in the classroom with all of my heart, and I get angry at those who forced me to leave. It was never the students...they were the reason that I stayed until stress tore the foundation out from under me. It was never the parents who were rough only because they didn't know how to advocate for the most important people in their lives. It wasn't even the administration, who for the most part were caught between their desire to support their teachers and their desire to keep their jobs.
No, my stress, most Teachers' stress, comes from the politicians and business people who are so sure that they have the right answers that they forget to ask the right questions. It has been this way for as long as I can remember. For an example, when I went to school the progression of math was clear. Algebra I was taken in ninth grade, followed by geometry, algebra II and finally trigonometry. That was the path to college, until I entered my senior year and was told that "new math" was vital for graduation. No one could explain exactly what it was, but everyone explained that those of us that never had it in ninth grade (when it wasn't offered) had to drop trig and take "new math." That is how it came to be that thousands of kids around the country never went beyond algebra II in high school, and wasted time in a course that ceased to have meaning several years later. I remember the math teachers begging the "powers that be" to ignore the directive from those without a fundamental knowledge of what a student really needs, but they were told to stop arguing and behave like the good soldiers they were expected to be.
Through my years of teaching we had years where we were forbidden to give homework and years when it was mandatory to give homework daily. There were times that we were told to become more vigorous in our grading, and then there were times when we were forbidden to mark a failing grade in our grade books. If a student did not hand in an assignment or didn't answer a single test question, we were told to give him/her 50% credit. Imagine how the students who worked for their 65 or 70% grades felt, when they realized the first 50% was a freebie grade.
The straw that broke my stressed back was the necessity to teach "to the test." In my opinion, the "test" was insignificant in building the knowledge base that my students needed, yet I was being forced to eliminate major works of literature to make time to reiterate "fact or opinion" questions, or "what would be a good name for this article."
Aghhhhh. Teachers spend their days trying to make a difference in the lives of some children who have no one else to advocate for them. We make progress, little by little, and watch our students climb out of their educational slump and suddenly see the light. When politicians force us to extinguish that light by sending directives about things that they have no real background in, our own light is extinguished as well.
Lloyd Lofthouse spent thirty years in a classroom, teaching high school English and journalism. He kept a journal during one of his years in Nogales High School, and shared that journal with us in his book, Crazy is Normal: a classroom exposé. I felt his pain and lived his joys through this well written book, and I hope it gives the reader an idea of what a classroom is really like. To everyone who reads this book, remember that there is a teacher out there who could really use your support in making a difference in the lives of your children/ grandchildren.
Another interesting non-fiction book that I read/reviewed this week is Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream by Karen Stabiner. If you love good food and great restaurants and wonder how it all comes together, read Stabiner's account of the beginning years of the restaurant "Huertas" and Jonah Miller, the creative young chef behind it.
As always, full reviews of both books will follow this blog.