Five Years

I abandoned my blog five years ago. I got a job working with incarcerated youth. I was able to teach again. Teaching really is my first passion. Some of the residents wanted their GED and worked their tails off to earn the degree. Some did it so they could parole. Some told me it beat sitting in school. The last group did it because they were told to by the powers in charge of their lives.

I loved that job. Sure, it was challenging. I had to figure out how to reach each student individually. These kids came from such diverse backgrounds that a lot of flexibility was required. I also had to put aside preconceived notions and my feelings about crimes. I worked with students charged with drug dealing, students on weapons charges, students on sex offense charges, and occasionally students with murder charges, I’m sure there was a myriad of other charges I was not aware of, Yet, these were young adults who were being given a chance to change.

So, I taught, It’s what I do. Slow, fast, patiently, or firmly, I taught. Because that’s what teachers do. We teach. Teaching is a calling. If you think it’s just a profession, you don’t understand. I’ve been a licensed teacher since 2007. I’ve actually been teaching since 1986. I taught afterschool enrichment. I taught Deaf community members how to get the help they needed. I shared knowledge with my Girl and Boy Scout Troops. I taught others how to do certification procedures. I taught.

Recently I received a text from a former Girl Scout. She told me that the time she spent with me showed her how to spread the seeds of knowledge, She thanked me for not giving up. She thanked me for giving of myself. I really needed to hear her words that day. I occasionally hear bits and pieces about other youth I have spent time with. Each moment is tucked away safely.

The greatest gifts I have ever received were thank yous. If you have the opportunity to say thank you to a teacher, please do. That is the fuel that keeps us going.


Why am I fighting so hard

It’s been a rough couple of days. The big event is that I quit my job. Well, quit is an odd word to use in this case. Let me explain.

Last year, I decided to go back to work. I located what should have been a great job for me…special education teacher at an alternative middle school. Lots of behavior to sort out. I know it’s odd, but after so many years to trying to understand why people did things certain ways, I like untangling those balls of yarn and helping kids see there are other ways to communicate. There were academic challenges of all varieties. Really, lots of diversity which is what keeps my mind in problem solving mode. And I very much like to be in problem solving mode. I accepted the contract.

Like all teaching jobs, the pay was not great. In this case, the pay was almost exactly 1/2 what I should have been earning under the pay scale. I accepted it because I would have the freedom to still take care of my medical needs without having to beg for time off. The contract worked really well for both parties last year. And then, fall arrived.

It seems everyone thought I had the same contract when I left in May. I found out the week before school started that somehow, my paperwork was never processed. Here I was, district ID, building keys, district computer in hand and not a district employee. The principal assured me he was working on it and, in good faith, I showed up for teacher workdays. And the first week of students. Not a district employee…not being paid at all. Left to teach and supervise students without oversight. Two business weeks after the discovery, still not paid what is owed.

In less than a week, I went from being told I would have my own classes and be responsible for my caseload to being an accessory. One teacher kept going to the principal and demanding things like taking a special education student and putting the student into an inappropriate setting because “I’ve been teaching him for 2 years and it’s not fair I don’t get to see him this year.”

The full-time special education teacher never let go of the case load. A martyr complex kept her running. She was always “so busy” and yet refused assistance. She had to be involved in every student. She convinced the administration the she alone was responsible. The teachers would tell me “I’ll just ask Roberta” whenever I made a decision they didn’t like. The last straw…I was sitting in the principal’s office laying out the case for keeping the aforementioned student in the appropriate class. The principal says it’s a conversation he will have to have with Roberta. That’s when I stopped fighting.

You see, I’d been disrespected enough. There is only so much disrespect a person can take before they decide enough. I probably took more than I should have, but I felt obligated to keep the students on track. It turns out, my thoughts weren’t valid or requested. When I left last week, I really felt that they didn’t want me there. I was an inconvenience to be dealt with, not a peer or colleague.

In case you are wondering, this is why I can advocate for students and take districts to task. Here are so-called professionals who only care about their feelings. The irony of this is one of the teachers wrote a passionate op-ed a few weeks ago about caring for student needs. That would be the same one who wanted to take a student out of an appropriate placement because she wanted him in her class. She didn’t want to take the other 17 special education students, just one. That’s not demonstrating caring. That’s blatant discrimination. It’s called cherry picking. I’d bet there would be many parents at that school who would love to know how decisions are being made.

So, I will speak out. I will support parents who question their child’s education. I will answer questions truthfully. We trust that teachers will be “helpers” in our student’s lives. Yet, here is another example of what education really looks like. About how our most vulnerable students are being passed around like a candy dish, each teacher picking their favorite. It’s not okay.

Your challenge is to ask questions. Don’t accept “uh huh” as an answer. Go to the school and see for yourself. You have a right to know what’s going on in your student’s education. And you have a responsibility to make sure your student is receiving the appropriate education that is due.


Dear Teacher

I know you mean well. really, I truly believe that you started your journey with that spark. But, maybe you’ve forgotten why you’re here, in this job. Twenty five or even thirty years is a long time to be in a career that has such high emotional demands. You are not only an educator. You are a nurse, a psychologist and perhaps a shoulder to cry on. You are a cheerleader and a disciplinarian. Sometimes you feel like an ATM, buying school supplies and lunches for kids you know won’t get anything unless you take care of it. That’s a lot of demand placed on one person who gets paid less than $30 per hour.

Today I watched you with your students. I heard you yell in a way that made me cringe. I heard you call a kid stupid. I watched your body language, with your arms folded tightly against your chest. I saw you interact with other teachers, cutting them off mid sentence so you could say your two cents worth. The looks from your peers should have been a clue, but you were too caught up in yourself to notice.

The message you are sending is that you don’t care as deeply as you once did. The jaded tone in your voice tells me you are just treading water until you retire. Your peers see it. Your students see it. And yet, you seem oblivious. You have all the answers. You play all the games. No one could possible be as “good” as you.

But your actions are speaking very loudly. When you lose the ability to truly listen, it’s time to stop and think about things. When you resort to name calling, it’s time to examine your reasons for remaining in the career field. When you rely on passive-aggressive relationships to maintain your “position” in the hierarchy, you’ve lost what made you an excellent teacher. When you no longer care what message you are broadcasting, it’s time to let go.

You’re not the first teacher I’ve met with this attitude. You probably won’t be the last. It’s sad that in this career field there aren’t many opportunities for sabbatical or even true job changes. You will work your entire career doing pretty much the same thing. And while this job is vitally important, you will become jaded because of expectations, curriculum swerves, student behaviors and lack of support. I just wish you could see yourself and realize what you are really saying.

What you are telling students…they don’t matter. You have more important things to think about. “I” am not important. Why should “I” try when “You” aren’t?

So, dear Teacher, I encourage you to rethink why you are here. What is the purpose of you showing up every day? How can you change so your students change? What can you do to improve the school so everyone can learn? Because it’s not about you.


Your Future