Saturday, April 18, 2015

Am I Counting Down?

One of the things that absolutely burns my toast, grinds my gears, and irritates my irritatable places at this time of year is The Question.

It comes in a variety of forms. Are you counting down the days? Are you ready for summer? Are you excited to get out of there?

I know people are generally trying to be chatty, pleasant, or conversational. I know that they're just latching onto a conceit that has floated around the culture for decades, just like complaining about the old ball and chain or assuming strife with you mother in law. But what I hear is the assumption underneath, which bugs the shit out of me:

Don't you just hate your job? Don't you wish you didn't have to do it any longer than is absolutely necessary?

Well, no. No, I don't. I don't hate my job. I don't find my students annoying and unpleasant. I don't find teaching a dreadful chore.

There are things that go along with the job that are a royal pain, not the least of which is that every year gives me less time to get the job done, squeezed out by testing and test prep and shorter periods and more required extras.

So I try not to be rude (because life is too short to be an ass any more than necessary, even if you have a natural aptitude for it), but I refuse to acknowledge the attempt to engage me in some nudge, nudge, wink, wink bonding over how much I'd like to not be doing my job. I will respond as if it's a real question, answer, "God, no. I am stressing over getting everything in before I run out of time with these guys. There's so much to do and so little time, and then I'll have to send them on their way, and I try not to think about that because I'll miss them."

I'm not an idiot. I look forward to the chance to travel to see family, to enjoy some lazy days with my wife, to work on some of my own projects. And I am grateful for the summer time to recharge and prepare for next year; it is a considerable luxury that regular working folks do not have, and I try never to forget that.

But it pains me to see my fellow professionals play this game. To hang up countdown numbers, or cross off the calendar squares like an advent calendar. I cringe. How can we expect students to take school seriously when we stand in front of them and say, "Yeah, you're right. This place is an awful waste of all our time, and won't we be so much happier when we can get out of here."

If we don't think, or act as if, school is an important, valuable, interesting, exciting place to be, how can we ever, ever hope that students will see any value in being there?

So, no, I'm not counting down. And no, my wife, who loves her work and may well be a victim of staff cuts come next fall, is certainly not looking counting down. And no, I am not counting down to retirement, either. As long as I can get important, exciting, invigorating, rewarding, fulfilling work done, why would I pass up the chance to keep doing it?

Look, I know times are rough for teachers. I know that people teach in places far rougher than my district. I know some people are hanging on by fingernails. And I don't fault those people for a second. You can only do what you can do. You can only take what you can take. When you get to the end, then you have to move on. That day hasn't come for me yet, but I fully get that for some folks, in some places, it has, and I don't think any less of them for it.

But when we, as teaching professionals, buy into, reinforce and amplify the cultural assumption that teaching is awful work and putting up with kids is dreadful and teachers all dream of vacation so they can get away from their terrible situation-- well, hell. We don't talk like that about pro sports or being a rock star or being a lawyer.  We don't look into our spouse's beautiful eyes and say, "Man, I'm glad you finally stopped kissing me. I thought that was never going to end."

We don't tell our kids at the end of a Little League game, "Boy, you must be glad you get to go home now." We don't routinely tell the band and choir kids, "Boy, I bet you can't wait to be done with that concert." I don't pep up the cast of the school musical by standing back stage hollering, "Hang in there-- only fifteen minutes till intermission."

If we want people to stop treating public education like a painful unpleasant terrible torture, we can start by knocking it off ourselves. Sometimes standing up for schools means writing letters and making phone calls and carrying signs and walking the picket line. But it's also as easy as looking someone in the eyes and saying, "Counting down till I'm down? Why would I do that? I love this work and I always miss the students when summer comes. But I'm grateful to have the chance to get prepped and ready to go back in the fall, because that is going to be awesome."

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you Peter, even though I retired after 30 years because my health was breaking down. It was funny though, it took me a year to get used to being retired, which is something I didn't expect. After so many years of so many obligations, I felt guilty not having anything that I absolutely had to do. Almost like survivor's guilt or something. I also went through what almost felt like PTSD, waking up at 3 in the morning trying to think if my plans were all ready for the next day. Even though I found teaching very rewarding and really enjoyed working with young people, missing it hasn't been strong enough to make me want to substitute or anything like that; I just feel I'm in a different phase of my life and I'm happy to have had a fulfilling career. But I'm with you. I really cringed when I saw a paperweight on my daughter's fifth grade teacher's desk that said, "The best three things about teaching are June, July, and August." She was not one of my daughter's best teachers. And I'm so thankful I discovered your blog so I can feel I'm still in the loop again.