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October 2022 – Cracked Ice and Chrome

A ticking time bomb

Silly me. I thought that the longer I was in education, the easier things would be. This is year 23 for me and I have never felt so slammed by expectations and pressure to make sure that everyone passes – no matter what.

I won’t get into the specifics of it all, as you never know when your own writing will land you in hot water, and although I am frustrated by this field right now, I don’t want to leave it just yet. However, there’s a nagging little voice in the back of my head that has been growing louder day by day with a catchy little chant: What else can I do? How can I do what I love to do without this immense pressure to be a grading machine, a super motivator, a surrogate parent, and a relationship builder — all while trying to run my own life?

The buzz word in education these days is self-care. My district focused on that last year. We actually had some good PD from it when we had Zoom meetings with a wonderful presenter based in Colorado. But the question remains – if this profession is so heavy and stressful and chaotic that we need to teach teachers how to take care of themselves outside of the work day, what exactly is wrong with this picture?

The irony remains that the pressures increase and the self-care talk is now replaced with the new buzzword: relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble maintaining relationships with the handful of long-time friends that I have, much less 170 teenagers, some of whom have absolutely no interest in building a relationship with me. We are regaled with sob stories about students who give all the credit for their success to the teachers who went the extra mile. And that’s great, really. I know I credit my own high school teachers for instilling a love of education in me, and that is why I ended up in education.

But now the mantra is that if we are not going the extra mile for every single one of our students, we are not doing our job right.

There’s a napkin dispenser in our break room that has this saying: “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Whatever it takes? Every day? For every student? All 170 of them?

That’s more than pressure; that’s downright impossible.

I belong to a few teachers groups on the book of faces. It’s a blessing and a curse; I get some great ideas, but it is painful how vicious teachers are to one another. Once in a while, a teacher will post anonymously about his/her frustrations about the job, and within minutes, the holier-than-thou types start lashing out. Inevitably, someone starts preaching relationships. Surely that kid would not be misbehaving if you tried to build relationships. Surely you are lacking in some way. Surely it’s YOU.

It’s amazing and incredibly sad to watch the thread play out in a very predictable way. Rather than supporting one another and acknowledging that we work in a field that is not only difficult but even more so since the pandemic (for various reasons). Rather than admitting that student behavior is not just off the charts at our own schools, it is happening all over the country, we tear apart the teacher who admits that she’s at her breaking point. It reminds me of the teacher cliché of talking to another teacher about a student’s behavior in your class – then having to listen to the other teacher say that the same kid is an angel in their class and they are so surprised that the student acts out in yours. You walk away from that conversation feeling like a failure.

In my 23 years of teaching, I’ve been flipped off (with both fingers – an added treat), told to f*ck off (numerous times), told “tough sh*t” when I pointed out that I expected respect from a student, had my tires punctured with construction screws several times in one school year (no accident, I can assure you; that was an expensive school year!) and been accused of treating students unfairly in various ways. And that’s just the stuff I can think of right now. This year, I have more students than I have ever had in my entire career and now grading has gotten to the point that if a student fails, WE have to prove what we did to try to mitigate that.

Grades are due tonight. I suppose I had better get my defense ready.

I’m tired, y’all. And it’s not just me. It’s teachers everywhere who are dealing with students who have seldom been told “no’; who have zero parental support because there ARE no parents; who come to school hungry, unwashed, unloved, and angry at the world; whose only ambition is to work at the local factory so f*ck you and your English bullsh*t; ones who have been up all night playing video games and therefore can’t stay awake in class; students who get called out by mom and dad every time the kid says “We’re not doing anything today,” (which is almost always untrue); students who are really and truly addicted to their cell phones and cannot even have their phone off their body for an extended amount of time — no joke!; students who are carrying around a lifetime worth of trauma that even the best-trained teacher would have difficulty assisting with . . . the list goes on and on and on.

And now we are taking kids who are barely functioning well enough to exist day to day and asking their teachers to not only hold them to high standards but ensure that they don’t fail any of their classes.

After all, if they fail, it surely has to be our fault because teachers didn’t try hard enough. YOU didn’t contact home enough. YOU didn’t form relationships. YOU didn’t give enough grace. YOU didn’t enact good self-care and thus were not in your best form for work. YOU didn’t differentiate your lessons enough to meet all levels of learning. YOU. It’s gotta be YOU.

Add to all of this that there are students in education programs who are choosing other fields because they hear about the nightmares they will be facing once they get their own classrooms, and this country has a problem that will soon rear its ugly head.

I apologize for making this post about me and not something more fun like antiques or tablecloths or Elvis or literally anything else. This is what was on my mind on this Sunday, and I hope my next post is lighter in subject and way more fun.

Enjoy your weekend!