I am a teacher who has become infected with an increasing sense of disenchantment. Each of my 3 years as a homeroom has been wrought with struggle. By this 4th year, I am beat down, which is so unlike me, always up for a challenge. I am in a constant state of self-encouragement to get me through the week, “You can do this.” “Friday is coming.” I have invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and emotional energy into the pursuit of teaching. It is disappointing to feel within me a growing desire to transition.
What do I love about teaching?
- The content is what drives me. I enjoy approaching a subject, mathematics, science, social studies, and using literacy to delve deeply into the knowledge. With voracity and delight, I enjoy learning and exploring in community, exchanging ideas, constructive argument, and analysis.
- The order and structure grounds me. A classroom and the larger school is part of a system that demands order. From the alphabetized class lists, neatly labeled materials, and the rows and stacks of desks and chairs, a school cannot thrive without orderly systems and procedures.
- The autonomy (most of the time). The research suggests that the teacher is the most important determinant of student success. Sometimes this leads to daily autonomy. For the most part, the teacher is able to create a classroom community aligned with her own teaching personality with limited meddling from administration. Of course this is not absolute as the teacher has to adopt the teaching models espoused by the school and modify based on student needs. Overall, though, the teacher “rules the roost” and creates the work environment they and their students inhabit daily.
- Creatively igniting a passion for learning in the students. Seeing students become excited about the content and learning gives me great gratification and joy. I can indulge in and invite them to indulge in multi-model means of expression: singing, writing, dancing, and technology.
- The two month summer vacation and other holidays off. This is a great perk. Most people don’t know that teachers are required to engage in continuous professional development so the summer is not constant lounging poolside. Given the stress of teaching, it would be difficult to imagine teaching without these breaks.
- The mission driven nature of the job. One of my gifts is helping others. Teaching is nation building as we form the minds of our future citizens. Teaching is unequivocally people centered. We meet students at their areas of need, academically, socially, and emotionally.
- The salary and benefits are good.
What disenchants me about teaching?
- The perpetually expanding demands and requirements placed on teachers with little or no tangible support. Every year. there is some new instructional practice or teaching framework that teachers are required to adopt with minimal training. Often the training is on the job without adequate opportunities to learn the new strategy/practice and incorporate it into the daily routine alongside the plethora of other required duties. A few of the new and subsequently repackaged practices are: The Workshop Model, CAFE, Daily 5, Depth of Knowledge, Word Study, Greek and Latin Roots, Formative Instructional Practices, Number Talks, Calendar Math, Inquiry Circles, Conferencing, Formative Assessment, 6 Writing Traits, Literature Circles, Word Walls, Cooperative Learning Groups…I’m not disputing the efficacy of any of these practices. It is overwhelming to implement them while new ones are introduced and some are forgotten. With the advent of least restrictive environment, teachers, are expected to deliver instruction to each student according to their individual needs whether they are general or special education. These needs might include accommodations for a learning disability, behavior/social/emotional problem, limited language proficiency, medical issue, and any other thing the child might need. There are support teachers and paraprofessionals who are assigned to assist the classroom teacher; however, barriers often push the responsibility back on the teacher or lessen the effectiveness of the support they are supposed to give. These barriers include a lack of on the job collaboration between the teachers. Often the support teachers show up and jump in as needed. Their presence would be much more effective if the teachers had time to collaborate beforehand. Additionally, the support teachers are often pulled from their regular schedules to provide assistance in other areas so they are often not there to deliver the instruction. In these cases, teachers have to be creative in providing the accommodations for these students and all students.
- Necessary Multitasking & Breakneck Speed. Managing a classroom full of students requires superhuman feats of multitasking. I am in the Autumn of my multitasking, my dendritic leaves are falling. I often make mistakes. I forget things. I am scatterbrained. This is due in large part to the required time multitasking and lack of time to think and process. When there are so many calls on your time and attention, slow purposeful thinking is too expensive. The scope of all the content we have to present ( I dare not say cover) in the small amount of instructional time provided makes teaching a daunting task. It doesn’t allow for the fun aspects of teaching and learning: experiments, projects, hands-on learning, creativity. In school we learn that we need to create lessons for every type of learning. It takes more time. Collaborative learning takes time. This is precious time you don’t have.
- The long arduous process to get a student into special education. I understand the reasons for having a multi-step process for qualifying students for special education. Too many of African American children were shuttled into special education due to the racial and cultural biases of teacher. But now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. The process is so long and paperwork driven that teachers are dissuaded from pursuing it unless in extreme cases. Students who are below grade level are pushed along with no hope of catching up. The students with serious behavioral problems who disrupt learning create a particularly stressful environment for students and teachers.
- The inordinate focus on standardized test scores. Test scores have become the marker of effective teaching in education. This is unfair and disheartening for teachers like me who have a high level of students below grade level in all areas and suffering with behavioral and emotional problems. A contingent of my class receives 45 minutes of instruction from a special education teacher. I never get a chance to collaborate with them. Those who are in special education for reading and writing are in general education for Science & Social Studies. These two subjects are heavy on reading. When it’s time to take the test, I have to read it to them.
- The emotional & idiosyncratic demands. This is where I confused my love of content with my love of teaching children. I do enjoy teaching children in the teaching moment. I don’t enjoy the job of a homeroom teacher, being with the students all the time. I cringe at how it sounds, but it is true. I would rather pop in for a lesson or activity and then leave, have concentrated time with students instead of the everyday, all day presence of a homeroom teacher. I enjoy getting to know them, but am frustrated by their individual idiosyncrasies. Most of it is developmental, I know: their need for constant attention, bent for tattling, spaciness, laziness, failure to write their name, forgetfulness, inability to use a stapler after repeated lessons, lying to parents…I could go on. I would have less disenchantment if I had more time away from them. I would much rather support other teachers like those support teachers I describe above who pop in and out. WOW, this is revealing.
Considering that every year has been a struggle for me, I wonder if one year without struggle would change my tune? I don’t know. I want to stay in education. Is the answer to teach older kids? Adults? I’m not sure. I do know I’ll have to figure it out by next year.
Reluctant obedience or sheer willpower will never last the distance. Only a joyful heart can walk the long and difficult road.
from Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles Ringa
The above quotation is the last two sentences of a devotional I read this week. It pierced my heart, opening it up to receive the beautiful epiphany I needed for the journey, my journey. I must have a joyful heart to survive and thrive in my vocation.
I am on a journey, a long, difficult one. Are my adjectives correct? Is this journey both long and difficult? I could argue for the accuracy of both. The journey I speak of is my professional, vocational journey. I am an elementary school teacher. Though I’ve been in this profession since 2009 and officially since 2011, I am still a novice teacher.This is my first year beginning at the start of the year. The other years I began after the school year started, or I was in a different capacity other than a homeroom teacher. During this time, I have learned a great deal. Yet, I have a so much more to learn.
My journey is long. I work many physical hours and a triple amount of mental hours thinking about my teaching practice, my students, or my perceived shortcomings. It seems as if the work of teaching is never complete. My hours put the “lifelong” into the “lifelong learning.” I’ve cut back some out of self-preservation, but each week brings new challenges. The requirements continue to mount without the proper assistance.
My journey is difficult. Each student has his or her own unique behavioral and academic strengths and weaknesses. In my case, students require additional services they are not getting for various reasons. As a result, it is my responsibility to meet those needs. In the process, I feel scattered. I want to go deep in my teaching, but often I have to sacrifice depth for breadth. In the face of these challenges, I walk away feeling ineffective and defeated. Often, I’ve felt like a silo.
What I describe seems negative and dreary. It is, but it is because I am making it that way. For success, attitude is as important as ability. This has been my mantra. However, I still walk away with a negative attitude. What I need is a joyful heart to last the distance. I like to feel successful. I get joy from helping others, being a leader. I’ve often felt too tired and overwhelmed to really help anyone or feel like a viable part of my grade level. When you are drowning, you have to save yourself first, right?
After meditating on the devotional, I realized the joyful heart providing the sustenance for my journey has to come out of a daily intention of joy. I can create my own mental reality, thereby affecting all around me. There is much to be joyful about each day. My students are lights along my path.
Days are long.
Nights are hasty.
Time is scarce.
Joy must be sought where it can be found.
Up and down.
Back and forth.
I love to stroke back there
Removing all traces not gagging
When that place out there twirls and spins on its tilted axis
I reach for my brush and paste.
I bask in this small task that isn’t a task at all. All I am and all I have to give is a good brushing.
Much too often, I forget that I am free. I surrender my freedom to forces outside myself and stew in the miasma of my perceived situation. I focus inward and create a “woe is me” silo. In this state, I become helpless and fearful. These twins manifest as negativity and fatalism. Essentially, I become someone else.
There’s only been one time in my life when this state lasted for more than a day or so. I’m casting this off because as I am settling into my vocation I’m becoming more and more forgetful. “STOP IT!” I say to myself.
I am free and unbounded. Daily blessed to shape young minds, thereby shaping the very matter and course of the future. I have words and the ability to craft them into stories that others read and enjoy. I am called on to help others craft stories. I’m loved and adored in Spirit and in Truth.
The challenge, the task is to remember that this freedom is mine, unbroken and unfiltered. Accomplishing this will surely bring that fulfillment I seek. It will overflow and break the bonds of others around me.
Imagine your back yard is filled with various colored buttons, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. One of your tasks is to sort the buttons by color back into plastic bags and line them in your yard in equal rows and columns. There are 490,000 buttons. You have 5 days to do this. Additionally, you need to dig holes in the dirt with a spoon to bury any white buttons you find.
As you get to work, it starts to rain and you are tasked with filling small glass cups with the falling raindrops, but they cannot overflow. Now you need to make sure each glass has a button inside it. Someone is supposed to help you with this task daily, but that person may or may not show. Every hour, someone appears and adds 50 additional buttons.
This is an exaggerated metaphor, but essentially it describes my life as a teacher. I’m not whining. I’m reflecting and accepting my fate. My Sisyphean task is breathtaking. The most important thing is for me to show up daily. Hmm these are my reflections for now.
flesh between enamel pulled
from that inner place deep
that inner place dark
that inner place wet
I hear the sound
It calms. It soothes. It balances
when life gets too noisy.
The overbite that sometimes draws that metallic roux.
It regenerates, ready to serve.
Fana is disconnected. She has few friends. It seems she only writes in her diary when things are going wrong. Could a month hiatus from journal writing mean she has connected with someone?
May 2, 2015
I miss college. There, I wrote it. I didn’t know I missed it until I logged on to stupid Facebook and saw Melanie’s pictures. There she was in New York with Kira, Diana, Euphoria and Marcus hamming it up in all the usual tourist places–Times Square, FAO Schwartz, some random subway, and in front of a flashing Broadway show sign–that screamed, ”I’m living an epic life with my fabulous friends.” Was I in any of the pictures? No, of course not. Those were my college friends, the operative word being, “were.” I can’t help that those friendships were not as ”ride or die” as I thought they were.
After graduation, we had pledged to keep in touch. It was easier for them since they all got jobs within a doable driving distance of each other, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia. I ,on the other hand, had moved back to Atlanta and gotten a teaching job at home. I tried to stay in touch with them, constantly texting, sending direct messages, and reaching out on our shared social media sites. I visited them more often than they visited me. When I got really busy that first year of teaching and couldn’t extend the effort, they just forgot about me.
Why hadn’t I seen this in college? Was I always a 6th wheel? Maybe I was. Chalk it up to being an only child. In my exuberance for interaction with other kids my age, I often come on too strong, taking the initiative in well…everything when it comes to friendships. In high school, I had friends, but they only lasted as long as whatever brought us together…Student Council, Yearbook Staff, Band…whatever I was involved in.
So I miss college. Perhaps my friendships were superficial or tailored made by me. But they were existent. Maybe I don’t miss college as much as I miss having friends.
Arrggh! I stopped and reread what I wrote above and it reads, ’mildly depressed feel sorry for myselfish.’ I’ll stop writing now. I’ve been out of college for almost two years. Get over it, Fana!
May 8, 2015
Fourteen days of school left and the last day cannot come too soon. Most of my 5th graders don’t want to do any work. They are done. Finished. After two grueling weeks of bubbling in multiple choice tests while sitting quietly, they want to break loose. I can’t say I blame them.
Full disclosure. I say I’m ready for summer, but I’m really not ready. After getting used to not getting up at the butt crack of dawn, not having a mound of work to do that grows unaided, I’ll be bored fast. People think Atlanta is a black mecca, the black promised land where you’ll find instant connections with all kinds of black folks. That may be true for some, but not for me. I could make more of an effort. I do sometimes. I joined several MeetUp groups: Singles in Teaching, SistasRead, MyBlackNaturalisBeautful, and BlackProfessionalsConnecting. These efforts were crushed by my talent for creating reasons I shouldn’t go to this or that event. When I couldn’t come up with a reason, a phone call to my mom would do the trick. ”Fana, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Do you know these people? These groups are probably fronts for sex trafficking….” I’d let my dear murder mystery obsessed mother scare me into staying home.
So…aside from three professional development conferences this summer and my trip to Dallas, TX with my Mom for the family reunion, my summer plans are pretty much wake up, walk my dog, watch court shows, read, try not to surf social media (makes me sad), masturbate, nap, visit my mom, return home, bed, repeat. I might throw in a movie here or there.
Maybe I’ll sign up to teach summer school. Easy money.
May 20, 2015
I went to church with my mom yesterday. I really had a great time. I didn’t think I would since I hadn’t been in about 6 months. I knew everyone would shame me on the down low. ”It’s so good to see you, Fana. You are teaching in this state aren’t you?” or ”Fana, you aren’t a CE Chrisitian are you? We are open aside from Christmas and Easter, dear.” I don’t have anything against church. I consider myself a Christian. It’s just that I feel so disconnected at church. My mom encouraged me to join the Singles Ministry, teach in Children’s Church, or sing in the choir, but I don’t, just won’t. I was so overwhelmed with school that first year. I always found a reason to stay home when I first moved back.
I wish I was more like my mom. After my dad died, when I was 3, she poured everything she had into me. She was a postal worker for 25 years until she retired last year. She had a ”guy friend,” Sam, who helped us out, driving us to and fro until my mother bought a reliable car, picking me up from after care…just helping us. I never thought Sam and my mom were more than friends. He never stayed the night. Nothing more than a platonic hug passed between them. But I got the gist of their relationship, that it was a relationship, when they broke up. I overheard part of their argument. ”I’ve waited too damn long and followed all your damn rules! Fana will be graduating from high school! I’m tired of waiting and pretending!” he’d said. I didn’t hear my mother’s response, but after that day, Sam didn’t come around anymore. I was sad at the thought I had something to do with their break up. I tried to talk to my mom about Sam, but she changed the subject, saying it was her business.
My mom is mysterious that way. Now she is dating Brother Thomas Knight from church. I reason because I’m a grown woman now, she feels free to do what she wants. My mom has a lot of friends too, friends from high school, friends from work, friends from church, friends from her salon…she never meets a stranger. I don’t understand it. My mom is not much of a talker either, but she wins friends and influences people. Why the hell didn’t that rub off on me??? I am the opposite of mysterious. When I meet someone new, I launch into a monologue about myself as if I have to get it all out. To my credit, I don’t do that much anymore as I rarely meet new people.
Arggh! I’ve reread this entry and it sucks. When I die, people reading this will think I was pathetic. If I died, who would come to my funeral? My mom for sure and extended family. The extended family will come to support my mom so they don’t count. My principal would come and possibly some of the teachers on my grade level. They like me because I’m helpful. I always volunteer to do the grunt work. Would Melanie, Kira, Diana, Marcus, or Euphoria come? Probably not. They’ll be too busy on a college friends cruise or something. Would Bernard come? He still lives in Atlanta. I know because of Facebook. Probably not. Considering we only dated for a year in high school.
This is too depressing. Maybe I’ll go with my mom to Wednesday Night Prayer meeting.
May 24, 2015
Another Sunday at church. Yippee… No erase the snark. I had a good time…again. Maybe God is spreading some good blessings my way. I have a date tomorrow night!
It’s not a date so much as an outing with colleagues from school. My math coach, Karen is hosting a party to celebrate her new job promotion to an Assistant Principal and she invited me. ”Come on, Fana, some interesting guys will be there. My sister is in charge of the guest list. She knows the coolest people,” she had said.
I accepted without reservation. I really like Karen. She has always been very helpful to me, especially that first year when I felt like I was barely treading water. When I would doubt my pedagogical ability she would encourage me with compliments and general positivity.
Good news, finally! I have a genuine event to go to and on Memorial Day. I’m killing two birds with one stone.
June 30, 2015
I’m mad at myself. I’ve had the most thrilling month and none of it…not one word of it is in my diary. Is my diary only for the depressing moments in my life? I guess so. It shouldn’t be.
Going to Karen’s party changed my life. I met the most amazing person there and we are dating! Her name is Flora. I am giddy so giddy that I can hardly contain myself. That the one I’m dating is a,”she” and that her name is Flora…Fana and Flora?! She is beautiful, a Kearran Giovanni look alike from Major Crimes. She says I look like Gina Ravera from The Closer only with natural hair. We’ve had our share of Detective Amy Sykes meets Detective Irene Daniels role plays.
I’m totally in love with Flora, but no one knows but her friends. Considering my lack of real friends and that I was, until a month ago, heterosexual who can I share this with? My mother has met Flora, but she thinks we are just friends. I feel the need to start a new journal. I need to record my joys. Flora is a joy.
Author’s Note: Trying to get my creative juices flowing to begin a new work in progress.
I’ve been updating my fanfiction lately. I really had no intentions, but every now and then a reader will contact me with an appeal to update. Usually, I can’t resist a request and so I update. Then the writing fever hits me, the characters start bugging me with their dialogue noise and I’m off. I’ve written a couple of original pieces, but there aren’t any readers for those.
Perhaps one day I’ll write a full story without expectation of it being read. The best, most effective way to write is to become addicted to the writing process, when it’s just you, in a room alone, with your laptop and the characters. It’s best to align oneself with the space between your imagination and the paper and not the reader.
I began following this one young author’s blog today. I even bought her book. She reminded me of me when I self-published. Unlike me, she was wooed by a publisher.
Today’s episode of Justice with Judge Mablean has me reflecting on the perils of existing while black. In this episode, the plaintiff, Jerome Mills, sued David Green for emotional distress. According to Mills, he was outside a restaurant phoning his mother to pick him up from a restaurant he’d just patronized. The defendant, Green approached him and began asking for ID. Mills ignored him. Green responded by patting Mills down while repeatedly asking for ID. Mills, now alarmed, asked why. Green threw Mills to the ground. Others come on the scene. Mills was handcuffed. Once the authorities came, Mills was checked out and found to be as he said, “a regular person,” and let go.
This was a textbook case of racial profiling. The defendant Green is a security guard at a strip mall. According to him and in textbook fashion, there had been a rash of robberies in the area. He received reports that a man dressed in a hoodie, baggy pants, and sunglasses was acting suspiciously. Green said he approached Mills from the back and saw him moving around suspiciously.
Jerome Mills is not only a black man. He is blind.
Judge Mablean asked Green an important question. “Why didn’t you identify yourself as a security guard.”
David Green asserted that he wore a uniform so Mills should have complied. At the time he said he didn’t know Mills was not sighted. Mills as a blind man couldn’t see the uniform. Judge Mablean asked why Green didn’t see the cane Mills carried. The cane along with the glasses were telling clues that Mills was blind.
The Judge ruled on behalf of the plaintiff.
Why is this a textbook case? Some “concerned” citizens saw a black man, the most important descriptor for racial profiling, wearing sunglasses, a hoodie, and baggy pants, standing outside a restaurant. They alerted the (obviously) untrained security guard. He was untrained in proper protocol but very trained in the socio-cultural morays of the day, i.e. black=criminal. He approached the presumed black criminal from behind–Green is shorter than Mills and probably unarmed–with demands for compliance. He didn’t care that this was a human being with rights and the privilege of being treated with courtesy. Green thought Mills upon “sight” of his whiteness should have complied without reason. Had Green been armed, he probably would have shot Mills.
Judge Mablean made good points. Without notification, Mills, blind or sighted, didn’t have to comply. Green could have been an assailant she explained. He could have been impersonating a security guard. Green lost his cool at one point saying he wasn’t going to risk going home dead to his two children just to inform Mills he was a security guard. Translation: He had determined that Mills was a criminal on sight, probably armed, and undeserving of rights.
As is custom on these shows, the plaintiff and defendant usually interrupt each other and the judge repeatedly. Judge Mablean admonished Mills for this a number of times during the episode. She did this with Green as well, but not as much. She admonished Mills for having an attitude during the incident as well. She told him he needed to deescalate the situation for his own safety. I didn’t agree with that. There is much data that shows no amount of compliance or “niceness” will stop the law enforcer from using inappropriate force with the presumed black criminal. The racially profiled victim is at the mercy of the law enforcer and their level of fear and aggression.
Had Jerome Mils been white he would have been treated differently. I bet the “concerned” citizens wouldn’t have reported him as suspicious. You are only suspicious if existing while black. If you are existing while black, there is no presumption of innocence or benefit of the doubt. David Green didn’t understand any of the admonitions Judge Mablean gave him about his duty to inform. He saw no problem with his actions. He was afraid, essentially, afraid of the black monster before him. How does one combat that fear in so many who wear badges and carry guns? If it’s not fear, it is outright aggression. Both are equally dangerous.
This is the second episode of this sort of case. There was another case of a white man suing a black employee of the business where he was employed as a security guard. He blamed the employee for causing him to lose his job. The black employee accused the security guard of harassing him as he entered and exited the business to and from work. The black employee accused the security guard of telling racist jokes and subjecting him to daily searches each time he left work. He didn’t do this to any of the other employees who all happened to be white. The black employee audio recorded the security guard and caught the white security guard saying he would do to him what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin. When the black employee sent the recording to the owners, the security guard was fired. Judge Mablean ruled on behalf of the black employee.
I wonder if the producers solicit these cases? I was surprised to see two of this sort.