While We Wait.

I’ve been missing my dad this week.  Things at work are not going well this year, for lots of different reasons, and Dad had this way of cutting through bullshit and getting right to the heart of matters.

When you are a teacher, your work becomes personal, no matter how hard you try to separate work life and personal life.  I’m pretty good at that balance, actually.  I hardly ever bring work home, even if it means going in early or staying later.  Generally speaking, I leave my work stress in my classroom every night when I leave.  And I have somehow mastered the ability to show my students love without bringing the stress of having 125 extra “children” in my life.

But there are always exceptions.  This year is a big exception.

You don’t have to be too well-informed to know that education is going through a major transformation right now.  All across the country, we are setting new standards, raising the rigor, and expecting so much more from our students and their teachers.  And I understand why.  We want to keep our students competitive in the job market.  We want to keep the future of our country’s economy stable.  And if you met some of my students today…  Well, let’s just say you’d probably agree we needed to raise some expectations, too.

I love that more is being asked of and expected from teachers.  Too many of my own teachers growing up were burned out professionals who taught from the same textbook they had learned from when they were in school.  Their lessons were stale, their enthusiasm was non-existant, and their expectations of themselves and their students were low, to say the least.

But for every one teacher who taught like this, there were at least three more who lit the classroom on fire.  Teachers like my very own mother-in-law, Jackie, who was my 7th AND 8th grade history teacher.  I don’t ever remember opening a textbook in her class, but I definitely remember building hurricane resistant homes out of popsicle sticks and learning about Robert’s Rules of Order (Point of Information:  I went on to work as a page in the Florida House of Representatives when I was in high school, and I remember the first time I saw RROO being used in real life.  I think I always thought Jackie had just made them up herself!)

Teachers like Mrs.McDonald, my 9th grade English teacher, who was the first teacher I ever had who used the word “sexual” in class (oh my!).  She was also the first person who told me I was a gifted writer.  Teachers like Mr. King, my 10th grade English teacher, who could read “Beowulf” in the original Celtic dialect and who made Shakespearean plots explode with passion and power.  And teachers like Mr. Mills, who taught AP History.  His incredibly high expectations for his students raised all of us to levels we didn’t know we could reach – AND HE WASN’T EVEN MY TEACHER!

There are teachers in the world like Amy, who teaches down the hall from me at my current school.  Like me, she teaches low performing students and students who have special needs.  But if you heard her speak to her students, you would think they were the smartest, most gifted and talented students to ever walk inside our school.  And teachers like Jessica, who is a reading teacher in my hallway.  Her interactions with her students go far beyond classroom learning.  She encourages and supports them in school, but is a huge advocate and cheerleader for them in every facet of their lives outside our school day, too.

And good teachers don’t happen by accident.  We are all groomed and shaped by those teachers who have been in the classroom since I was a student myself.  I learn most of what I teach by watching Tammy, one of the other 8th grade language arts teachers at my school.  She has taught every level of student, every grade, every strategy, every curriculum, every anything that has blown through her classroom over the past almost 20 years.  And yet, as seasoned has she is, she is the first to try a new technology tool in her classroom or the first to test drive a new idea or lesson plan.  Her courageousness in the classroom is unmatched.

For every seasoned teacher that brings stability and validity to our profession, there is a new teacher, fresh out of school, like my friend, Steven, who teaches across the hall from me and is only in his second year of teaching.  He’s 10 years younger than I am, but teaches like he has been doing it his entire life.  He teaches as naturally as breathing.  His involvement with his students, his commitment to their success, and his contribution to our profession is truly a thing to behold.

And, y’all.  These are just the teachers on my hallway.

Good teaching is not easy to do, but it is prevalent in the school systems, I assure you.  And with each remark in the news about the state of our country’s education, with each hurtful comment from parents who nonchalantly blame teachers for their own child’s failures, with each suit that walks through my classroom and scores me on how well I write a lesson plan, good teachers everywhere feel their heads hang a little lower.

I wish I could talk to my dad.  I wish I could tell him I am not sure I’m doing enough.  That I wish the teaching profession and the education system were different.  But even as I type that, I know what he would say.

“Well, Kate,” he would say quietly.  “Either do something about it, or quit complaining.”

For several weeks now, I have walked around feeling overwhelmed and disappointed with my job.  But here is the thing…

When my lesson plans are submitted, when my common board is configured, when my technology is engaged, and when my classroom door closes, that’s when it becomes personal.  That’s when it becomes more than just a job.  And there is no time to be overwhelmed or disappointed when you have 120 children sitting in your classroom every day.

Those students aren’t overwhelming.  They aren’t disappointing.  They are my kids.  And just like so many, many other teachers – both past and present – I’m going to put everything else in the world aside and teach them.  Because that’s my job, yes.  But mostly because they are what matters.  They can’t afford for their teachers to wait around for laws to pass or for change to happen or for decisions to be made.  They can’t afford for me to be overwhelmed and disappointed because, while teachers are sitting here wallowing about what has become this unrecognizable thing that is the education system today, the world is moving ahead.  Jobs are being created.  Economies are failing and succeeding.

The world marches on while we debate education reform and the people that are left waiting are not the government or the politicians or school boards or even the teachers.  It’s the students.  It’s always the students.  They wait and they wait and they wait for the adults in the world to make decisions, and while they are waiting, the world around them marches ahead.

When I remind myself of this, the weight of my job and the frustrations in my classroom get smaller and smaller, until all that is left is a 14-year-old kid standing there.  Waiting for me.

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25 Thoughts to “While We Wait.”

  1. Well said. 14th year teaching. Finding it harder and harder to close the door, ignore the noise and get down to the business of teaching and learning.

  2. Teresa

    Bless you. For when you cut to the chase, that is really what it is all about. Those kids that sit there looking back at you each day. While you are there with them, you give them all you’ve got and hope they give you their talents back. (Retired teacher–taught 32 years.)

  3. Kelly

    Bless you and all the teachers like you out there! It’s such a tough job with not nearly enough credit. Also fun fact, I was a few years behind you at GBHS and also had Mrs Barnes and Mr King 🙂 I didn’t know that you were from there when I first started reading your blog years ago but it’s crazy how small the world is!

  4. PJ

    Thank you for all that you do! It is because of teachers like you that students grow and gain confidence and succeed.
    I’m not a teacher; but, my mom teaches special education and one of my best friends used to teach high school English and lit. So, I know all about the challenges and commend you for being able to work within such a convoluted system and to still love it and not let it weigh you down (too much). My friend just moved from the classroom to the district administration because she couldn’t take the bullshit from the district and decided to do something about it. So, I think your dad is right on.

  5. Tabitha Jones

    So very well said!! I will definitely be sharing this on facebook.

    Ps. Besides the fact that I am married to a man who is striving to become a teacher (he’s gonna be amazing, btw) I never ever want to be a parent who blames a teacher for my students issues. Silly talk.

  6. Kim B

    Thank you for this post! As a third year teacher but one who is new to a different district with much lower performing students and much more involvement from The Men in Suits, I needed this reminder. I will be sharing with my department!

  7. Amanda H

    Beautiful! The world needs more teacher like you. It’s about the kids.

  8. Cheyenne

    Wow Katie! You are truly inspirational! I was at my first graders open house tonight and his teacher told us all about the new curriculum they are using. This curriculum is only used by 2 schools in my city. And when she showed us what they were teaching I was impressed and wowed. First off, it’s advanced and she acknowledged that. But she also told us that they teach it in a way that these children will understand. In hopes that next year in second grade they can take what they learned and apply it to the next chapter of whichever subject it is. So it’s a gradual growth. I thought wow I can’t imagine being a teacher. Teachers are truly amazing, as are you Katie! Thank you for giving me happiness in life!

  9. Adrienne

    I’m 7 years in. I’m with you. I hear you. I feel you. Don’t give up. You rock!! 🙂

  10. Jenna

    I’m a third year teacher who wonders why I joined this processing on some days, but loves my 25 school kids. So yes … x 1000. Katie, you’re GOOD. Thank you!

  11. Meghan

    It brought a smile to my face to read the names “Mr. King” and “Mr. Mills”–two amazing teachers who I still fondly think of from my own experience at GBHS. Random Mr. King memory– he always used to challenge us to find a word based on its definition, and there was one in particular that no one had ever found: “the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth” (this was in the mid-90’s, so no Googling). YEARS later (after I finished college and was living halfway across the country), I was reading the paper and saw the word “Arachibutyrophobia” defined in the newspaper! I was SO excited to have solved the challenge, years later, that I cut out the clip and sent it to Mr. King at GBHS. Good teachers make you think long after you leave their classes, and I suspect you are one of those teachers, too. 🙂

    Second, I just read a very interesting article for my grad program about the purposes of American education, and why competing goals are causing such problems for our educational system and making it such that we don’t really accomplish anything very well. The name of the article was “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle over Educational Goals” by David Labaree, written in the American Educational Research Journal in 1997. It was a very interesting read and relates to your post.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and hope that things get better and easier for you soon.

  12. NS

    Amen. My twins started school this week and if their teachers are even half as dedicated and talented as you they will be blessed.

  13. Elisabeth M

    I am sending my thoughts your way. My sister has been a kindergarten teacher in the Florida education system for over a decade. I know what you’re up against down there. Not an easy battle. It’s a worthwhile fight, but sometimes it’s just tough carrying that load. Keep it up. What you’re doing matters, and it’s so important to all of our futures!

  14. Carrie

    I think your dad would be so proud of how you’re handling this. The schools in this country need more teachers like you.

  15. Linda

    I have been teaching for 26 years in the public school and private school system…I taught at GBHS with Mr. King, Mrs. McDonald and Mrs. Barnes-all exceptional teachers! They taught my children and are better people for it!
    You have to keep fighting the good fight, because at the end of the day all that really matters is that you did your best to get the information across to your students in a way that they understand…and that your students know that you love and appreciate them, for who they are, not for who they are not! My husband is one of those “suits” and has a love/hate relationship with his job; loves going into classrooms and observing great teachers but hates evaluating with the current models! Hang in there… The pendulum is bound to change back around soon!

  16. After 10 years of teaching, I walked away. It wasn’t the kids. It wasn’t the lesson plans or the teaching. It wasn’t the grading papers. It was all the other stuff. When I started having to take home 3-4 hours of extra paperwork and reports to do for upper level admin at least 3 nights/week, when I started being required to spend my Saturdays at the school and missing my child’s soccer games, when I started to realize that both my students and myself were being put in danger on a daily basis by students who were violent and angry yet were allowed to remain in the classroom, when I wasn’t allowed to teach anymore but instead had to give over 20 days of practice standardized tests leading up to the real deal, when it became about “the test” and not about the kids . . . I couldn’t do it anymore. It was only in the last three years of teaching that it got really bad, but I have friends who teach all over Texas, who are struggling with the same issues. The sad thing is, I don’t think making things more rigorous is helping. Our kids can’t solve problems, but they can bubble answers.

    Sorry for my rant.

  17. Jen M

    This is my sister’s blog, who is a teacher in the Colorado school district that has been in the news lately. Please read.

    http://messedandblessed.blogspot.com/2014/09/stay-heck-out-of-my-classroom.html?m=1

  18. Suzanne

    First of all, I love the GBMS and HS references 🙂 brings back good memories…my personal favorite was Mrs. Rogers (8th grade English) and Mrs. Duffy (Algebra). They had a way of making things come to life instead of standing on the page. I have a strong feeling you do the same for your students. I can tell you’re a great teacher. I will go ahead and thank you for striving to be good, better and best for my daughter’s sake. We need more teachers like you. I don’t foresee myself being a parent who blames the teacher for her child’s failings but I know that a great teacher makes a huge difference. So thank you.

    As for the rest of your post…you’ve heard of divine timing, right? 🙂 This post couldn’t have been any better timed. I love God’s sense of humor. I’ve had a horrible couple of weeks at work and well frankly, the past year has been rough but the past two weeks have been super bad. But after some soul searching, prayer and lots of overthinking I’ve pretty much come to your father’s conclusion “Either do something about it, or quit complaining.” Amen, Mr. T, Amen. I attended a friend’s sister’s funeral yesterday. Such a tragic event especially at such a young age…however, listening to her stories and the events that make up her life made me realize that she was really living. She probably lived more in her 24 years than most people do in a lifetime. She used to leave little pieces of paper around the house with inspirational quotes and what not. The family copied those pieces of paper in her handwriting and passed out a piece at a time as you were leaving. Mine said this “Where we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. – Viktor E. Frankl”. I knew immediately that God through my friend’s sister was speaking directly to me. I will carry that piece of paper around for the rest of my days. Thank you for your words, Katie. Thank you for taking the time to write it out, inspire, remind people that sometimes…you just have to do what you can do right where you are.

    1. Suzanne

      ** “WHEN we are no longer able…” **

  19. Pamela

    Keep up the good work, Katie. Teaching is a tough profession and it seems more and more expectations are being put on the teachers, with less flexibility allowed to complete those expectations…even in kindergarten. My mom is an amazing kindergarten teacher and I often hear about the latest stack of tests she is expected to prepare these kindergarteners (kindergarteners!) for. Try not to let all the red tape get you down and keep using your teaching gifts to teach those students!

  20. Jen Gibbons

    I totally agree with this post. I teach in the UK and by the sounds of things we share similar issues. My school is awaiting its visit from the ‘men in suits’ I love being the classroom but it’s everything else that goes with it. I have to bring home work every night otherwise I would never keep up. I teach History in high school and teach over 200 children and the amount of marking this generates is enormous.

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  22. I. LOVE. THIS. Amen, amen, amen. As a product of public school (and supporter), as a former public school educator myself, AND as the sister of a current public school educator, this is right on the money. So, so, so true. Praying for teachers in the trenches as I applaud, support, and cheer on all those GOOD, hard-working teachers out there who STILL put their students first despite the flawed system and despite the adversity they face. Thank you.

  23. Sarah

    I love this post! I am a teacher and just recently moved from 1st grade Title 1 to 6th grade sped, and work in a hallway a lot like yours!! This post gave me chills and the motivation to keep trekking after several long weeks of late nights and never ending piles!!

  24. This post was amazing.
    My sister is a 2nd grade teacher, and I see and hear from her the struggles she faces in the classroom – trying her best to teach to kids of multiple grade levels, dealing with behavior disorders, and handling a lack of involvement from parents. I see how much she loves her students and I am so proud to know she is making a difference in their lives.

    I liked your insight about needing to raise some expectations of the students. Some of the stories my sister and teacher friends tell about parents allowing horrible behavior and expecting the teacher to “fix” it just blow my mind!

    Teachers don’t get nearly enough credit for the hard work and time and love and energy they put into the future generations. I applaud you all for everything you do to help today’s youth succeed. Thank you for caring.

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