Saturday, October 11, 2008

Answer some more

Green Tractor asks:


or some variations of that.

But I'll answer first, "I've wondered why you didn't get a teaching credential after college. Teaching is certainly a rewarding (and valuable to the community) career. Teachers are usually in demand so a job is available in most places. Pay is OK."

He has a little inside scoop, since he knows that I was an early childhood education major at Boston College, with a double major in human development. With a hint of Spanish in there - there was a minor -- I tried to be an overachiever and triple major, but decided to get out in 3-1/2 years instead. Latin American Studies or some such. It wasn't a realy Spanish minor, but it involved something like that, I can't actually remember. Sad.

But the short version to the question of why I didn't go on to have a teaching career is this. All the teaching that I did in college took the hope and optimism that I had and crushed it. Squished it. Gone.

Here's the long version. I was one of the shining stars in my graduating class. I did very well, I served the school in a dozen other ways and knew lots and lots of people. Therefore, they gave me the best and most experienced teachers to do all of my teaching coursework. I taught for three semesters, once a week, then in my last semester, I spent every day in a classroom. I spent a lot of time listening. Even when they weren't directly trying to teach me something.

There were two that stand out in my memory as being life changing. The first was in the poorest section of Boston - I was in a Kindergarten classroom. The children were charming and adorable and I loved them dearly. The teachers went on strike. They wanted better benefits - I have no problem with that. But I asked what happened on the days that the teachers refused to work. My teacher responded that many children were sent to school anyway - and waited on the school grounds, unsupervised until they were picked up after school hours. The children were five, and this was not long after my teacher had pointed out the man across the street was one of her former students and now supplied drugs to much of the community, doing the bulk of his work within sight of the front door of the school. Oh, but the children who didn't get left on the school grounds while no one was there were left at home. While Mom was at work.

The teacher I was with had been around a long time. She had accepted this as something that she could only do so much to change. I was still young and optimistic and had hope that I could change things as a teacher. But I saw these teachers as having given up, and not doing what was in the best interest of the children. I didn't want to teach with these women, even though that was a setting that I felt called to.

The second time was the full practicum teaching experience. It was with a woman who had been teacher of the year for the state of Massachusetts, who had been teaching more than 25 years. It was in a wealthy suburb of Boston. She was exhausted to start the school year, having had to change classrooms and was dealing with a Lupus flare-up. About a week into the school year, she told me that this was the most challenging class she'd ever had, save one class when she was a new teacher. But the challenges? Weren't the students. Most of them were from the families, from the damaged goods that we were given each day when the day started.

She managed to get one family in therapy, which did amazing things for all of them. One boy had such terrible anger issues and frustration - he reminds me now of what my oldest could be if we didn't work so darn hard every day. But his family wouldn't do anything to help. I think in the semester I was there, I saw his mom one time and never his father. There was another family, who were the nicest people you'd ever met, but their son was so far behind - he was in third grade and couldn't read - but not for reasons you'd think. You see, they were Jehovah's Witnesses, and therefore didn't celebrate holidays, which meant that for each and every holiday or party in the classroom, he'd stay home. He wouldn't do spelling words or homework that celebrated the holiday or went against their religion. Mine was the first teacher, who at the beginning of the year said, "I'll modify curriculum for him. We'll make this work. Please, just send him to school. Work with me, I'll work within the parameters you set." I left halfway through the year, my term was up, I think when we were at the lowest point with that class. I didn't get a real practice teaching experience, because we were so hard a work dealing with the problems that I became her assistant, mostly because she needed someone so badly, there were so many learning differences in the classroom. It was at the height of mainstreaming ALL children.

So when I left, I left without much hope. Because when you are 20 and you want to be a teacher, it's because you intend to teach the world to read, you intend to change lives, and because you know that you can overcome just about anything. And suddenly, I knew that I couldn't. And instead of doing my best, I chose to get out.

I wouldn't join a union. I saw what it did in Roxbury, I heard stories of teachers sneaking into classrooms during a work-to-rule strike. But when I taught preschool at a private school, I hated it so much.

So I left, and I moved on to other things. Would I go back to teaching? Maybe, but it would be for completely different reasons than my 20 year old self. But I think that between my husband's job and teaching, that I would pull all of my hair out knowing what people actually do to children behind closed doors. And in the suburb that we live in, some of it's the awful stuff that you think of when you think of child abuse, and some of it is the living vicariously through the children, and some of it is giving children so much that you are creating disabled adults. I'm not sure that I can see all of that as a teacher, hear all of the things that my husband sees and deals with and still be a reasonable parent at the end of the day. Because currently? My most important job is creating adults. Three of them.

I warned you it wasn't a short answer - and it's all connected to the other questions you have, Green Tractor. But I have a cramp in my typing fingers.


ca sister said...

Your other four berries are so lucky to have you!

That is one of the saddest stories I've heard all week, and I've heard some REALLY sad ones recently. Not only did the public schools fail the youngest students, they failed you as a student and the world lost you as a teacher. sniffle.

Well, it would be sadder, except that you've been given the gift of being able to brilliantly raise your little berries. Thanks, Sarge for making that possible!

It's funny, the things we don't know about our own family. I was so busy being newly married, in grad school and then with a new, challenging job that all of this went right by me. I wish I had known your 20 year old self better. I love the XX year old self that you are now! 25, right?!?

Recent events have helped me realize that there is NO SOMEDAY, only today. Never wait until tomorrow to love your family.

Love to you, all five berries, and to the Green Tractor and Green Barn, and to the AZ sister, who I know is lurking and gestating!

ca sister said...

And when I send love to AZ sister, I include dearest AZ B-I-L and little SC!

Green Tractor said...

Thank you for writing about your experiences. I knew some of what you shared, but not the depth of the family situations that drive the complexity of public school education.

We've all lived rather sheltered lives and we didn't prepare you for the world as it is today. I'm still not prepared for the world as it is today and I think I don't every want to have to accept it.