Sunday, August 24, 2008

Returning to Reality

This may not excite you.
This may not surprise you.
This may not even make it all the way to MN Speak.

I am a teacher, an English teacher to be exact, and today is the day I return to work. Today teachers in my district return to their classrooms. The chairs, tables, and desks will need to be put in order, the materials will need to be pulled out of cabinets, and copies will need to be made.

People who haven't seen each other for months will exchange pleasantries. Some will be heartfelt and meaningful. Others will be civil and professional.

Many teachers have spent the last two and a half months (It's not a full three months off that we get, folks) thinking about the next school year. Some have written curriculum. Others have worked on their teaching. I, incidentally, wrote a book on using the online grading system for my district. Probably won't get paid for it either.

So what do we really think about as we return? It depends.
Some teachers are super pumped for the return of the students. The room is polished and everything is ready to go in mid-July.
Other teachers mourn the end. As the room slowly comes together, you can see those teachers staring wistfully out the window as they copy the syllabus.

This, however, will be about me. Many people know what kids go through when they return to school. Every single one of us can remember that horrible feeling of knowing the Summer is over, that we will have to start reading and doing homework again, and that our life will adhere to an odd routine for several weeks. Here's the thing: It's the same way for many of the teachers.

Over the Summer, I had no real schedule or routine. I had work to do, but it was up to me as to when to work on it. My July, for example, featured me organizing the entire reading life of a friend of mine (and he can't do it without me).
As you are reading this, I am probably standing at my chalkboard working out the first week of my lessons.

I won't sleep much for the next few months once this day starts. And while I don't dream very much now, my nights will now be filled with images of work. Nightmares and heavenly scenarios will battle for time in my sleep-filled eyes.

And I will come to grips with the realization that I will not have time for the people in my life for a while. It would be great to have lunch with friends, but that won't happen. When I leave work, I can't stop for a drink with a buddy...I'l have to get home and grade.

Once, not too long ago, a gentleman I sat next to on a plane told me I was a hero.
"Why," I asked.
"Because you do a job that not very many people want to do. It lowers the life expectancy, you get paid nothing, one really likes you very much."
"Um, thanks...I think.
"You're a hero."
So because I step into a room with teenagers, I'm a hero?
I'm not a hero, just as some guy who spends his days doing nothing but writing or editing online sites is no hero, nor is a baseball player a hero.

A hero is a person who endagers his or herself for the betterment of other people.
A cop is a hero.
A firefighter is a hero.
A doctor can be a hero.
I am not a hero. I'm a teacher.

Appreciate a teacher, yes, but do not use the term hero. That is a misnomer.

Now let me make a few things clear:

1. I miss having no schedule. It's a routine now. Up at the same time, get on the highway at the same time, teach at the same time, dinner will be at the same time, and bath (for my son) and bed (for me) will be at the same time. Very little leeway for things to change.

2. There is something quite awful about waking up before the sun rises. Even worse, there will be days when I don't see the sun. Seriously.

3. I love my job. The interaction between students and teachers alone is worth it.

4. You cannot teach. If you're a teacher, yes, you can teach, but to0 many people think they can teach.
Yes, the old saying is, "Those who can, do...those who can't, teach." That's great and all, but untrue. If you're in a cubicle, in a shop, or sitting in your home in your underwear, there is a reason you're there instead of teaching: it's not just standing in front of a room and talking. Too many people think it is.
Just because you can write witty blurbs on your blog or website doesn't mean you can step into my world.
I, for example, cannot walk into WCCO and do Jason DeRusha's job, nor could I design a newspaper like the Star Tribune, and yet so many people like to tell me how easy my job is and how easy it would be to do it. You have to know the material, know how to deliver it, and know what to do when everything fails.

My room will be dusty, so I will clean it. I will need desks, so I will have to bargain with other teachers and the custodial staff to...procure some more. This is what my life as a teacher is like. It's a never-ending battle to help my students to learn something.

The first week is not like riding the rollercoaster. Does the anticipation build? Yes. Do the nightmares start again? Yes, but it's not like getting to the top of the mountain. No the school year is like riding a bull. You will get tossed, you will get pulled. You might crash off the bull or get hurt, but you keep coming back for the a simple reason: Because the feeling a person gets when they have helped turn on the light in someone is intoxicating.
It eats you alive, and you never, ever, want it to go away. You will bleed, sweat, and cry everyday in that hot box you call a classroom just to try and experience that feeling again.

Co-workers may fall around you. Some may wait until Summer hits to walk, others leave early. Yet, in the light of August, those feelings don't really come. Every teacher is a fountain of potential ready to help the kids search for their own meanings to and of life.

As I stand at my blackboard, the thought bursting from my brain in to the air will be simple: we are rested and ready.
Sure, it will get tough. By December, you'll look at your colleagues and see some people twitch at certain buzz words. "Accountability," will make some people moan, but in August, the sun breaks through and everyone stands together in a collective. No backstabbing, no anger, and no lack of professionalism.

So I will be in that classroom. I will be preparing for the open house welcome back later this week, because this is what I do. I teach. Teaching is a job about social and educational practices. This is who we are.

Will there be tough kids? Yes.
Will there be tough parents? Yes.
Will there be tough choices? Yes.
Will there be tough sacrifices? God yes.
Will I inevitably have a moment where I curse NCLB? Most definitely.
And they will all be worth it if I gain even one student like the kids who left me last year. I will miss them, but their ghosts and shadows will clear my room with a sweep at the end of this day.

I am a teacher, and this is how I prepare. I may not be cool, I may not be hip, and I may not be avant-garde (look it up, class is in session), but I do a job that takes dedication, concentration, and alliteration (The English part).

Of course, what do I know? I have a job that many call: a fallback. I could be wrong. Namaste.