Because “I [too] am a teacher in Florida”

There’s been a ton of stuff in the Florida news the past month about a certain bill (SB6/HB7189) passed by legislature (and then vetoed by the Governor, which made the Republicans and Tea Partiers none too happy).  Politically, the bill put Crist between a rock and a hard place — specifically between a army of rapid teachers, parents and students and an equally-rapid army of tea baggers party members.  I mean, you can’t win a Senate seat in a state where you’ve pissed off the key players in education in a state that boasts three school districts of the nation’s 10 largest (and six of the largest 20 in the country).  You also can’t win without the Republicans in a state that tends to be red everywhere except Broward County.

When the bill passed the legislature, bets were probably leaning toward Crist letting it slide — if not signing it directly, letting it sit idle until it passed anyway.  I mean, he’s supposed to be a Republican.  He’s supposed to be for screwing over teachers in favor of rich kids cutting salary budgets and slashing pensions for public servants so the state can afford more expensive corporate-created textbooks geared to more expensive corporate-created high-stakes tests.  He’s supposed to be for keeping the poor down, ignoring the research that supports early-childhood education gains (such as Head Start and quality preschools of the kind rich parents can afford) prime kids’ brains during those critical years before first grade.

There are a lot of debates back and forth.  One of my favorites, aside from the factory comparison, is this:

You see documentaries on teachers that are successful with ANY students, so it’s time we get rid of teachers that don’t want to deal with kids and all the issues and peer pressures they face. (calls teacher’s lazy)

On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore a message like this one (please click this link and read this poem because it really sums up the argument many teachers made far better than I could).

The poem writer is one of the teachers the previous quote alludes to…  She’s one of those teachers who spends her whole day, most of her night, parts of her weekends, her money, her energy, on her students and job.  There’s no room left for a family of her own.  There’s no room left for separate passions, hobbies, interests, and friends — the sorts of things that keep people re-energized to go back to soul-sucking, soul-wrenching work.

Some of those teachers, like Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers fame, end up divorced or single — much like cops, now that I think about it — due to the job requirements and pressures.  (Interestingly, Erin Gruwell only taught high school for five years — from 1993 to 1998 — before moving on to a professorship at a local university.)   Overall, teachers tend to be average or a little above and manage to stick with the profession for an extended career; they’re bad at their jobs and eventually move on to administration, school board positions, coaching or other positions outside the classroom or other careers; or they’re exceptional at their jobs but burn out early and lapse into one of the other options.  Even Michael Jordan couldn’t continue his best-year performance for 30 years.

I actually had a student spend a half an hour picking her nose one day.

There’s another political cartoon out there, one with the desks labeled to represent the problems students commonly come to school with these days, problems my lead teacher constantly rails about.  Because, while the teacher in the poem has her share of issues, she hardly sees the slices of humanity my co-teachers and I find marching through our classrooms.

Students in Florida come to school homeless — there’s even a link about it on the main page of the school district’s website.  Students in Florida come to school addicted to drugs, selling drugs, doing drugs, passing out drugs, hiding drugs or half brain-dead because of their own prior drug use or their parent(s)’ prior drug use.  Students in Florida come to school speaking a multitude of languages, come from a multitude of cultures — some of which respect education and some of which do not.  Students in Florida come to school pregnant or avoid school because they want/need to stay home an

d take care of their child(ren) — there’s a school in the Broward district designed to combat this problem by offering onsite day care.  Students in Florida have abusive boy/girlfriends.  Students in Florida have parents/grandparents/foster parents in prison, cemeteries, drug rehab.  Students in Florida have committed crimes.  Students in Florida have mental problems, issues, disorders that interfere with learning, social interaction, focus, behavior, impulse control, and the ability to refrain from harmful choices.  Students in Florida worry where their next meal or fix will come from.  Students in Florida wonder where they’ll sleep that night.  Students in Florida also have access to the same national news that shows their classmates shooting each other, transferred to jail for beating a homeless man to death, setting each other on fire, kicking each other, shooting pregnant girlfriends…

Some try, despite all these challenges.  Some don’t, even with minor challenges (like parental divorce, for example).

They’re defiant, disruptive, and they don’t care who they hurt — even if it’s themselves.  They’ve been given power beyond their maturity levels and they wield it poorly.

In my classroom, all these problems that are sprinkled throughout the district — throughout the country — become concentrated.    They come to me lacking basic skills most of the time (most are afraid of fractions and more than a few never learned the multiplication tables), though sometimes they’re labeled “gifted” or have passed Algebra 2.  It would not be uncommon for me to teach a sex offender in the morning and a rape victim in the afternoon.  It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to tell a kid to quit rolling his paper into a “joint” a dozen times before lunch.

I do my best.  I try to help the ones I can.  When they come back, I try again.

I was a regional finalist for Teacher of the Year a few years ago (for the juvenile justice programs).  On paper, I have the certifications (English and math for middle and high school as well as social science if I ever get around to paying the state for the privilege of adding that notation to my certificate — I passed the test months ago, but I’m unwilling to part with the $75).  I’m working on a reading endorsement and an ESOL endorsement so I can teach juniors to slog through Dr. Seuss and I’ll know all sorts of exciting strategies to help the non-English-speaking students realize math is a universal language and their prior school was probably further along in the book.

I’m appalled that I can get in-service points toward renewing my certificate for “reviewing” pre-algebra (meanwhile, I’ve been considering taking an online calculus class because the slightly-more-interesting-sounding organic chemistry class only seems to be offered in the mornings (when I’m busy explaining decimals).    I work with some very good teachers — perfect for the juvenile-justice populations — get run out of their jobs because they held certifications in something there was a shortage of somewhere else or because an administrator didn’t like them and I’ve seen others struggle to pass certification tests or get national-board certified because the material they get to cover is nowhere near grade level.  (I’m qualified to teach Macbeth and trigonometry, but it rarely comes up because you just can’t make the leap from Sharon Draper novels to Shakespeare in 21 days anymore than you can jump from 23 x 17 to the cosine of anything.)

I often get students, brought in wearing handcuffs in the back of police or Sheriff’s cars, a few hours before the FCAT starts.  How is their score indicative of my teaching ability — or lack thereof?

But all this is a wordy way of getting to this analogy, which fits perfectly.  Would we judge dentists this way?