Did you hear that “whoosh” sound that swept across the city only a few hours ago? A weather anomaly? No, the whoosh was 70,000 teachers breathing out – the end of another school year.
Teaching is a complex and enervating task.
For many of us we are the only stable adult in a child’s life. Households can be chaotic, children can have a variety of caregivers, ask teachers of 3, 4 and 5 years old, they hear the stories and they try and respond.
Each teacher is the author, actor, director and critic of a play with a run of one day. One day our play is a hit, the next day a flop. No matter the quality of the script, the lesson plan, there are no guarantees of success. The teaching process might check all the boxes, the object of the process; the children change from day to day.
When the light bulb goes off we give an internal fist bump, when s/he looks at us blankly we snarl: what did we miss, what am I not doing?
With each year, hopefully, we get better, our toolkit get deeper, we become more competent, we become a better self-critic, we become more reflective.
The external critics are many; the public may scoff, “They have the summers off,” for others teaching is simply babysitting, except if we’re teaching their children.
School leaders may be collaborative partners or egotistical oligarchs, and school district leaders often seem to be in another galaxy.
The chancellor may have anti-bias training at the top of his list, for teachers, help in getting kids to come to school everyday may be the first priority.
We may never know the impact of our efforts.
A plumber, a carpenter, an electrician can flip a switch or turn a knob and know whether their repair was correct.
As teachers, we rarely know, a simple act of kindness can change a student’s life.
A kid in my class was small, bothered with teenage acne, he always sat right next to my desk and was a loner. One day he apologizes for not doing his homework. I gave him a “teacher look,” he said, apologetically, “I’m in a band, our practice ran late.”
“Is the band any good?”
The kid hesitated, I said, “Bring me a cassette”
I gave it to my son who had a friend who was in the music scene.
He had a promoter listen to the cassette; I passed along advice to the kid, “Pretty good, keep playing at open mikes.”
Years later an adult stops me in the street, “Mr. G, nice to see you.”
It took me a few seconds, the same kid, I asked, “What happened with the band?”
He laughed, “We weren’t that good, I become the sound guy, and I’m a sound technician now, make a good living, I always wanted to thank you for the encouragement.”
An offhand comment can impact a kid’s life.
An alumna of the school in which I taught is writing a history of the school based on the school newspaper that was published every month over many decades.
Three kids she interviewed vividly remembered an assignment from my class about thirty years ago.
In a Sociology class we constructed a statistically correct survey of student attitudes and opinions and presented it to the principal.
We’re “judged” by our students’ success and failures. Are we responsible for a kid’s success, and, conversely, for their failures? Could we have done better?
Kids seem to take endless tests, we prepare them, and did we do enough?
It is not surprising that the teacher attrition rate is far beyond any other profession, and, the neediest schools have the highest attrition.
The recently negotiated New York City teacher union (UFT) is offering a higher rate of pay for teachers in designated high attrition schools.
Teachers need time to decompress, to get away from the increasing pressure as the school year prepares for April/May state testing or the June high school regents exams.
For some teachers: a week off and on to teaching summer school, to pay off college loans or just get ahead of the curve. For others, summer school to complete required course work.
In my day really low cost charter flights (“Air Obscure”) a backpack and a summer of traveling across Europe with a Euro pass staying in hostels.
One change, a major change, is teacher political activism. As the attacks on teachers escalated teachers began to realize that the organizational skills of classroom teachers are transferable to the skills required to elect a candidate. More and more teacher are running for office and working in the political arena.
I have friends working for an organization fighting the concentration camps incarcerating children and families on our Southern borders, reminiscent of teacher civil rights activism in the 60s.
For my teacher colleagues: read a few books, eat a healthier diet, plenty of exercise, and keep a notebook, as the light bulb flashes, jot it down, before you know it you’ll be waking up really early thinking of the clock counting down the days to that Tuesday after Labor Day.