What We Do Is Important

     Let me open with this disclaimer:  I am not happy with what is happening to education, but I still really, really like my job.

We spent the morning with friends whose uber-successful careers have been in the corporate world and guess what?  They feel under-appreciated, disrespected, disheartened, distrusted.

Who ever would have thought that an MST and an MBA would have so much in common?  Angst? Stress? Panic?  Yup. We got that, too.

I always expected–well, more recently fervently hoped–that education was immune to the dirty goings-on we tend to accept in the private sector where success is determined solely by putting up winning numbers at any cost.  It felt safe–sometimes  a bit righteous, too– to believe that teaching would always be centered on  what’s best for kids and on discovery and progress, entities that defy a business model quantification.

Current obsession with scores and metrics as applied to instruction, however, proves that wrong. As our friends in the business world have always known,  numbers talk.  If you have been listening, you can hear the arithmetical conversation.     Teachers’  professional reputations are soon to be numerically calculated and, like the kids we teach, we are about to become known by our composite scores.  Kids aren’t numbers; kids are individuals, each with his or her own unique qualities, each with a promise for tomorrow.  I hope I never become a number to them.

The difference between the boardroom and the classroom?  I honestly  like what I do.  I still believe that what I do each day is important. I still see each child in my classroom as an individual whose potential for success is not computed by his numerical score. I come to work excited about what each day bring.  My friends working on Madison Avenue and Wall Street no longer say this.

It’s true.  I like my job.

It is unpredictable. It is exhausting.  It can be frustrating. I always take work home.  Always.

But I  still like my job.

Hostile political powers continue to disrupt and destabilize the workplace.  By the end of the week, I feel embattled and sometimes under-appreciated. My book bag is crammed with papers to grade and clerical tasks to complete.

But I really like my job.

Sounds like what Dr. Phil might call the classic definition of insanity.

But as an educator, I can still go into my classroom and look forward to the day’s work, what used to be called “teaching.”   I am excited to share a new novel with seventh graders: observing them as we read, hearing them gasp at an unexpected twist, seeing them smile, grimace, pout about the content.  It’s not about standardized tests or unreasonable bureaucratic decrees from Albany.  Though it has become over-accessorized,  at the heart of the day, teaching is what teaching has always been: about sharing a love for learning with kids.

I know that what we do is important. I don’t know how it will look on a spreadsheet or how my numbers will run.  But I know what we do in our classrooms does indeed touch the future.

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Enjoy the Journey

Enjoy the journey.

That was what I promised back in August, while vacationing on the Rhode Island shore.  It seemed so simple, so clear then. Everyone who knows me knows I truly love the work I do; I was determined then not to allow disruptive forces to capsize my professional kayak.  I was resolute: I would protect my passion from pirates, piranhas, and politicians.

Enjoy the journey.

Then it was September. No sooner had the school year begun that stress exerted increasing pressure, rocking my little instructional boat, interfering with what used to be the joy of teaching.  I was paddling faster and harder than ever, but the current just kept pushing me backwards.  This was not the annual back-to-school angst or re-entry.  For the first time  since I was a novice,  I felt unanchored. It was simultaneously  frightening and frustrating. The safety straps of my professional life jacket were giving way under the constant strain, and from early September till now, I have been navigating uncharted waters, fearing that I might be swept away by roiling tides beyond my control, afraid that this was preventing me from doing what was best for kids.  It was all I could do to keep my craft afloat.  I found myself sailing in circles, desperate for nonexistent channel markers to show me the way.

Enjoy the journey.

But I am an optimist, a the-glass-is-half-full kind of girl.  So I continued to take great joy in the moments of smooth sailing on this traumatic voyage. At the heart of each day were the kids, kids who had never read The Pearl or met Ponyboy and the greasers, kids who were rightfully outraged by the hatred and shamed by the inhumanity of the Holocaust, kids who discovered their inner poets and essayists, kids who spun their own narratives and met their future selves.  I used every tool of the trade to keep us all buoyant in an alphabet soup of distractions and disruptions–MAPs, ELAs, APPR, RTTT, AYP. The seventh grade and I took an expedition to the Harlem Renaissance and we documented our visit to Langston Hughes in a DVD.  The adventure was fraught with unexpected obstacles–technology almost sank our raft–but in the end, we made it safely to our next port of call, stronger and smarter for the excursion. With the eighth grade, we traveled to the scariest of all destinations: ourselves, using the experiences of those more accomplished than we were to fuel our mojos. From Colin Powell’s Thirteen Rules, we derived our own guidelines for safe sailing; Sandra Cisneros dared us to do the impossible; Sonya Sotomayor’s abuelita showed us the power of unconditional love.

Enjoy the journey

What truly save me from death by water, though, were the people in my own corridor. I have been continually inspired and humbled by the strength and smarts of my colleagues who have been busy maintaining their own vessels under pressure equal to or greater than the waves that have threatened my ship.  I am amazed by their stamina and their courage.  Every day the people I am privileged to work with labor endlessly for the common good of the kids they are responsible for. Their lessons are creative and challenging and I could never, ever have survived this perilous journey–much less enjoyed it–without them.  I have learned so much from their skillful maneuvers and from their grace under pressure. Being among such seasoned souls has made me more able to conquer the choppiest of waters.  Being among such very fine people has allowed me not to lose faith in humanity.

Enjoy the journey.

After a year of hurricanes and squalls, sand bars and rip currents, we will soon dock.  My little craft will show the wear.  There will be places where rocks have ripped the hull and where sea water  has washed over the gunwales. It is my fervent hope–there’s that optimist again–that by August, I will be healed and will once again be able to make that new school year’s resolution to enjoy the journey.