Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Spirit of the Teacher

I am inspired all the time by the people I surround myself with. And they are all teachers. This week, one of my favorite people (Hi Julie!) posted an excerpt from a book I have not read. Yet. And I have been thinking about the words ever since.

I don't know where to start. 

The book is called "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y'all Too" by Christopher Emdin. I just bought it on Amazon and it is being delivered to my iPad as we speak. If the rest of the book is half as amazing as the one paragraph I have read, we should all read it. Every single one of us. 

I got lucky. Because even though I have been surrounded by my share of unhappy and disgruntled teachers, I have managed to immerse myself in greatness. The disgruntled and unhappy are no match for me. I have had no choice BUT to be surrounded with great teachers. My parents are all teachers. My siblings are almost all teachers. Teaching is what we do. Whether we do it in the classroom, as a principal, or as a immediate family teaches. 

My little sister said something last week that I loved. She was telling us about a colleague that she saw off campus that hadn't really had an opportunity to get to know her. (I hope I get this story right...Alicia you can fact check it and leave a comment if I mess it up) When he ran into her in a different setting than school, he had a chance to find out she's pretty awesome. She's funny and smart and kind. He told her that he thought maybe she was a little "stuck up" because he hadn't spoken to her much while at work. She explained...

She told him that she doesn't always have the time to "chat" while at school, and definitely not when she is with the kids. She said, "The kids are my business. When I am with my kids, I am taking care of my business!" Her words made me so proud. She is almost a decade younger than me. And she has every right to be disgruntled. She will never make the pay she was promised when she graduated from college and accepted her first job. But she maintains the one thing that is most important...the KIDS are her business. The rest of it is just background noise. 

I had no choice but to be the kind of teacher I am. I can't avoid great teachers, they are always right in front of me whether it is during Thanksgiving dinner or out at my nephew's baseball game. I can't escape them. And I don't even want to try. 

My older sister said something to me one year ago that has also stuck with me. She is a teacher and a psychologist, and she said, "We have ten years to transform education." And she meant it. I took her very seriously...and that is my plan. But there are so many obstacles in front of us every day. And one of the biggest ones is ourselves. 

When I read the passage from Emdin's book, so many different faces came to my mind. I remembered all of the unhappy and disgruntled teachers I have been faced with during my 20 years in education. It's easy to be miserable as a teacher in 2017. Every day brings new challenges and laws meant to make our lives harder and our futures more bleak. Just a few days ago in Michigan, our governor signed into law yet another bill that will further gut teacher's pensions and security. The legislation that changed our evaluation system did little more than create a competitive atmosphere and hinder collaboration. It has taken us AWAY from teaching our kids and has us focused on so many other things. 

Avoiding the unhappy and disgruntled is impossible. "Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company - it recruits, seduces and romances it." OMG It REALLY does. I am so happy that I cannot understand the resistance to transformation in education. The world is changing every single day. We aren't keeping up and we definitely are not teaching ALL of our students. I, for one, will NOT be recruited, seduced OR romanced in an effort to make me more miserable. I know what kind of teacher I will become, because I know what kind of teachers I surround myself with. Some of them are my sisters, and some are my friends. But they are ALL my people. The people I can count on to understand what I mean when I say, "Is that the best thing for the kids?" 

I have seen firsthand the dismantling of the spirit of the teacher. I have watched it unfold in front of me. I have combatted the attempt to destroy my spirit. I have watched our best and most amazing be silenced and become fearful.  I think the destructive political climate, along with the mean-spirited public sentiment that "teachers are the problem," has made it so easy for the unhappy and disgruntled to lead us. There really is so much to complain about....I couldn't even narrow it down to a top-ten list if I tried. 

The passage from Emdin's book is impactful. It reminded me that while we are managing legislation and anti-teacher politics, we are also battling each other...which makes it so much easier for our opposition to further the narrative about public education and makes it so much easier to make sense of the argument that we are the problem.   

Teachers WILL be the solution. But it is necessary for us to fight really hard so that the unhappy and disgruntled among us don't beat us down and break our spirit. Teaching is awesome. But it gets harder and harder every day. 

My spirit has been challenged time and time again. But it will not be broken. 

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