Five Things You Hate about Teachers and What You Can Do About Them. . ..

5. We Have Summers Off.

(And Christmas, and Easter, and Thanksgiving. . . ) so many breaks, you’d expect EVERYone would try to become teachers. I can’t count how many times people work this issue into the conversation once they discover I am a career teacher. Currently, close to two-thirds of newly minted teachers quit the profession within three years of gaining a full-time teaching position, never to return. Maybe they were women with a “Mrs. Degree” who were just waiting for Mister Right to marry them, so they could work at home raising their own kids and not yours. Maybe they landed a rewarding spot on American Idol. But whatever it is, the summer breaks were just not long enough to keep that two-thirds in education for a career.

Just the other day, a man I had just met, literally, said to me, out of the blue, upon discovering I am a teacher, “You know, I hear these complaints about them teacher salaries (I had not been complaining about a thing.). . .Y’all got three months off in the summer, go get a job in the summer if you all want more money instead of sitting on your rear ends.” He said it with a pleasant smile like it is completely socially acceptable to insult someone you just met about their profession as so many people do to teachers.

I just sighed and did not correct his grammar, nor his incorrect count of how much time I have off in the summers. I didn’t even try to discuss how many hours we work in a year stuffed into ten months. . .or how many redundant classes I have to take each Summer.. . .or explore the salary scale/experience/pay-per-hour-worked ratio compared to other careers. I learned to stop doing that a long time ago. I simply smile now and say, “Oh, I agree. Why don’t you go into teaching, so you can enjoy summers off?” and walk away.

4. We can’t be fired.

I know. That dirty thing called tenure. First, be honest: every job has due process, every single one. If you have not enjoyed due process when you were let go, then either you were screwed and you need a lawyer, or you were laid off. Teachers get cut when there are not enough jobs, and we sometimes meet the nasty end of due process. I have known teachers who have lost their jobs for being drunk, stoned, or just bad. I have known drunk docs and immoral lawyers who are still practicing, protected by members of their profession. All it takes in any case is a boss who is willing to do the paper work, willing to go through due process, yet often they are too busy, or too political, or even too lazy to do so.

To fire a teacher brings public scrutiny that doesn’t happen in most jobs. (How often do most jobs and their failings get accounted for in the media? Education is always in the media. In fact, I recently heard yet another dig at tenure on Tim Allen’s latest comedy.)

But imagine you have a principal willing to do the due process and bring on the public scrutiny: to prove someone is a weak teacher is difficult since the standard for quality varies and seems subjective Sure, you’d think that the public would all agree about who is good, but people really don’t. For instance, the guy who curses in class, yells at your kids till they cry, has a high failure rate, but gets great results on Nationally Normed Tests. . .or the teacher who is positive, supportive, motivates quality projects from children, coaches everything, has a high pass rate, but a somewhat questionable result on national tests. . .which educator is best? Not everyone values nationally normed tests as the only indicator of talent in a teacher. Many principals face these conflicts: teachers who have strengths and weaknesses. It is rare to hire perfection, which is what we want in our teachers. And the principal also knows the old adage: the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t know.

Due process takes any boss precious time to document; when a principal finally succeeds at letting the weak teacher go, and then hunts for someone better, he or she takes months sometimes to find a strong applicant. You’d think in this economy, there would be talent climbing out of our pores. But, no, not so. And trying to hire qualified replacements in classically “tough” schools with higher crime, higher failure, is nearly impossible; few apply. So stop thinking that we can’t be fired. We can, just as easily as you. The difference is that when people lose a job in most industries, the boss just makes their colleagues pick up the slack. Principals cannot do that.

3. We were often “C” level students in college or high school.

The most embarrassing statistics prove this true. While that doesn’t describe me or many of my fellow teachers, it is generally correct. What’s worse, teacher’s education programs are notoriously tedious in work load, but lacking in intellectual demands, so we are talking about “C” students in non-rigorous degrees. What are you willing to do about it? You demand excellence from medical students and law students and even engineers, why not education majors? (Well, I personally think there should be no such thing as education majors; I am as appalled as you when I discover one of my children’s teachers is a numbskull).

Much of my explanation about tenure and summer breaks applies here. The trouble is. . .whenever any state does raise standards, folks stop going into the profession (or worse, fewer folks qualify), and then there is a teacher shortage. With that, we are forced to hand out provisional teaching certificates to people with no training at all just to fill the seats. Does this problem exist because academically sound graduates have plenty of work options. . .? School systems are victimized by supply and demand (Not enough high level graduates going into education), by their funds (richer counties hire the better candidates), by even the colleges and what they are doing with their students (some colleges are paper mills).

2. We are with your kids more than you are.

Admit it. When you first sent your babies off to school, aside from the secret joy you felt that you had more free time, or that your day care bill was going down, you were uncomfortable with someone else being so central in your child’s life. Studies in child development show that children shift their hero-identity focus from parent to teacher around first grade. So instead of a child believing your word is like God’s, now it’s “Mrs. Belachik says this. Mrs. Belachik says that. ..” ad nauseum. This does not sit right. In fact this sits so poorly that I have watched my friends and neighbors tear apart teachers behind the closed doors of Bunko Games, Book Clubs, and Scrap booking meets, discussing their children’s teacher’s clothes, their personal lives, wedding faux pas, pregnancies, husbands, as if we teachers are cast members of Housewives of Education County, not the professionals who love their kids. Jealousy is an ugly beast to feed.

Add in that we are around your kids for 8 hours a day in elementary school while you are with them, once they finish their bus rides, perhaps 6 waking hours- some of which they spend away from you with buddies, computers, television. . .You should be a little jealous. Even in high school, teachers seem to spend more time with your kids than you do, since as teens mature, they spend even less time with their parents; today’s families rarely eat, ride in cars, or watch television together.

1. We are the government (who once controlled you.)

I know you try to overcome this truth by acting like you are the boss who pays my salary. Never mind that you pay the salaries of anyone who provides you a good or service. . .what makes you so irritable is that this salary you pay us just pops right out of your paycheck and moves into a system that the media loves to tell you is failing.

Think of how we feel. Imagine when you have been shaped to question any form of government, its intentions, its policies, its spending, its system of “checks and balances”, its buddy politics. . .and then you go to work for that very government. It is your boss.

Most people I know who stand around at cocktail parties complaining about the governor, the president, the Republicans, the Democrats, etc.. are the same ones who complain about education. Ironically, they don’t seem to know that any education system is one of the most political machines out there. Who sets the education budget? The government of that state. Who defines standards? The government of that state (along with people who moved out of the classroom usually within seven years of their teaching career to become politicians/lobbyists on some governor’s panel.) Who runs your local system? A board that campaigns for office. Who puts principles into power over your teachers? That very board. How does one get notice to earn a position of power from the board? Play into that board’s belief system. Who earns leadership roles under those same principals? The ones who say, “Yes!” to his/her every whim, no matter how ridiculous it seems. The system is designed to eliminate individual insight and creativity, and endorse sycophantic behavior. I imagine this is true in the business world too, or comic strips like Dilbert wouldn’t be so popular.

Teachers are at the mercy of any politician who is staging a campaign to his constituents. If you voters make it sound like you want higher standards, he says he will attach pay to performance. He doesn’t care what it does to your kids in the long run; he doesn’t even care if it’s a valid performance evaluation system. (Before you get all up in arms over student testing linked to teachers; I am all for it, once it is fair, infallible, irrefutable, and valid.) If you demand more discipline, then he creates a zero tolerance law. Or the opposite, if you are tired of zero tolerance rules, suddenly there are no rules. . .

And here’s a dirty secret. Many politicians use studies to prove whatever their whims are. Now those same studies were typically performed by students in education programs. . .education programs that are not rigorous. . .education programs that don’t care that the study sample was too small, or even “made up.” Education programs that never truly require validity testing in their published studies. Yes. True. Scary. (Did you not see my answer to number 3?) And if the studies are performed by a group that is not in an education degree track, then the group is trying to make money for their products, or a political lobbying group. The evidential studies the politicians lean on are not standardized studies like the sciences perform. They are filled with flaws, and distortions.

What can you do about a;; of this?

So then here we teachers are, hated for our free summers, hated because we are par-educated, hated because we get to see your kids more than you, hated because we are “the man” and toss in that, even though we suffer from the very government you do, we whimsically were at once in charge of you when you were a student. We gave you tests someone else told us to give, we demanded that you read things that some board approved, and sometimes we were rude to you because we were too busy with the other 37 kids in class. Probably. No wonder you hate us.

Resentment doesn’t bring change. Don’t just vote your people into office; examine the promises they make against reality. (You Floridians once actually believed your governor when he promised to cut the sizes of English classes in half. Californians at one point believed that every kid would get a state provided laptop. HELL, a whole load of people believed The Clintons and then The Bushes that everyone could be above average by this century. Really? Do the math.) Examine who moves into power and why in your entire education system. And definitely pay attention to how the money is spent.

Help come up with a clear cut picture of a good vs. a bad teacher. Discuss this seriously with your friends and coworkers. Principals and parents now have their personal opinions that vary vastly. I have known bad teachers-ones that seem illiterate-whom parents will defend to the end. I have known great teachers whom parents want to lynch simply because they weren’t passing out “A’s” like candy. So collectively, as a country we have to agree with what defines good teaching. As it is now, many of you don’t even agree about norm testing. And if you know of teachers who are truly bad, like grading arbitrarily, sleeping at their desk, drinking from their cupboards, writing illiterately in their email. . .document it, take it to the board, force the principal into due process. Don’t just criticize it.

Require improvement in the talent pool. I personally believe teachers should have to have Bachelor’s degrees in a tough core subject, then complete a rigorous Masters degree in Education before being credentialed. Getting into these graduate programs should require stellar GRE scores, not the current, lower than national average scores. Then, prior to being certified, teachers should pass boards that are as strict as those for other important professionals.

Ask yourself why this profession doesn’t draw/keep its intellectual talent. What can we do to make it more, say, palatable to smarter people? You know the answer to this is very difficult to find, which is why you probably are not a teacher with your summers free. It’s a tough, sometimes completely unrewarding job; as a taxation-based field, it can never offer financial rewards on par with other intellectually demanding careers. My own scores and records could have led me to med school or law school. But I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t care about the money. I hate blood and I hate legalese. My career rewards are my students’ success. But this isn’t enough to draw everyone to teaching.

Since the certification methods are unlikely to change, you must press your administrators to hire folks from the toughest colleges, with the highest scores on whatever test is most current for certification. Make it public. Make it embarrassing if you have to. Right now, pretty much all level colleges, from the “we take anyone with a pulse” community colleges to the private Ivy League offer teaching degrees. Only three in my state now offer law or medical degrees. You want “smarter” teachers, you have to change THAT-selectivity in education programs.

About your jealousy…It doesn’t matter how normal it is for your kids to transfer hero worship to us; even I, as a parent, want to clock a teacher now and then when I think she thinks she knows more about my kid than I do. I completely understand your discomfort. Once I became a mom, I learned how to communicate with parents of my students, for I suddenly related to what they fear. Build a relationship with your child’s teachers. I can tell you as a teacher, for parents who talk to me as a partner, not a servant, not an enemy, not a rival, somehow, I am psychologically unable to neglect their child. I try hard to see my children’s teachers as part of my team and make sure they know it.

There is much you can do to improve education. Do something. Don’t just walk up to a teacher you have just met and unload your personal bitterness. We are not the enemy, no matter how much you hated your 11th grade calculus teacher.

The Secret Life of Oscar Nominators

Disclaimer: I have good taste in movies. Disclaimer for my disclaimer: somehow liking a movie that the critics hate forces people to claim they actually do have good taste in movies. I’m sure that the movie industry with its multiple dish ditches that help promote or demote a film has always played the who’s cool and who’s not game, where anyone who wants to appear “in” loves every nominee on the Oscar list, or otherwise simply is dismissed as a member of the embarrassingly unintellectual pop movie masses. . .sort of like loving caviar over a Big Mac, right? I probably just never felt defensive about it because either it was a year I completely didn’t go to the movies or I just happened to be part of the in crowd that year. Not so, lately.

American Hustle. What a hustle. Yes, I am pleased that there are still filmmakers out there who are bold enough to focus on characters. Yes, this movie turned me into a Christian Bale fan. And I have always known that Amy Adams was a sexy, heavy-weight as an actress. But honestly, I was ready to fall asleep in the first hour or two. I was kept awake by mentally analyzing if anybody really did walk around showing that much breastbone and boob slices in the Seventies as if it were completely normal. Oh, sure. When I was a kid, we saw Amy Adams’s style in Cosmo. And we wondered if it was rampant in the clubs that we were too young to enter. But on the streets. . .in business suits. . .regular day time restaurants. . .? I don’t recall it. And I am pretty sure as a kid, I would have noticed. So at least I had that to entertain myself as the movie took forever to make me hate the curly-headed dude played by Bradley Cooper.

I am not saying I didn’t think the movie was “good” by movie-making standards. I’d hate to be the uncool kid. Seeing the comb-over scene and the sympathetic face of the woman who loved it was great. Bradley Cooper’s recent turn away from what was dangerously becoming his type cast (rich, handsome ass hole) was once again a pleasure to see. But watching Jennifer Lawrence do her Ellen Barkin impression from half of Barkin’s films was only fine (JL is coming very close to being over exposed. I mean, I was distracted too often by the fact that she really was too young to play this character. . .explore other actresses Mister Director.) So sure. I can see why it was supposed to be good. Just like I know why pickled brains are a delicacy. But again, let me stifle the yawn and say, well, it didn’t rock my world. Remember Pulp Fiction? Now, That’s what I’m taking about!

I read the critics after seeing AH. Of course, I am alone in my critical boredom. And it’s not that I need fast cars or crashes or heads-in-trunks to love a Cops vs. Bad Guy movie. I have no interest in any of The Fast and Furious movies. . But obviously the critics just adored AH, and the filmmaker, and the actors. I think the whole cast and production crew received an Oscar nod, right?

Now the weekend before seeing that film, my family saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I resisted going because I thought it would probably miss the point of the short story. My husband resisted going since he is not a Ben Stiller Fan. But we went and we were wowed. Snagged from the opening scenes. My twelve year old son said it was his “favorite movie ever”, and I’d be perfectly happy seeing it again with him. My twenty-year-old found it buoyant. (Yes, His word.) I enjoyed the sweetness of it, the beauty of every single scene, the idea that we could actually begin living a fuller life if we could overcome our fears. And even the humor vs. sobriety was well-balanced. Sure it had a tidy ending. And we did struggle to see how being the negative asset manager for LIFE could ever be dull or uncool. But I came away feeling I had a movie experience.

Of course, I read the critics afterward. Again we were not on the same page at all. They hated the CGI. (It’s okay in a Sci Fi futuristic film. Not okay in a real time fable. . .?). They hated the concept, the actors, the ending, the tidiness, the everyman quality of it, I suppose. What it felt like, to me, was that they hated Ben Stiller for thinking he could pull it off.

When I read the Oscar list this morning, that is exactly how I felt: the industry, along with its sucker fish, the critics, cold shouldered Ben Stiller for not being one of the cool kids. . .has he made too many Zoolander type films for the industry to overlook his tiny WM mistakes, because not one of the other film nominations was flawless. .. Stiller’s gorgeous visual feast didn’t even earn a cinematography or a CGI nod.

The industry suffered this sense of snobbery last year, too. Denzel Washington’s subdued, controlled study of an alcoholic coming to terms with his drinking was so nuanced, but then crushed by the heavy caricature of Lincoln by Lewis in the votes. Yes, I said, caricature. I never once stopped thinking while watching . .this is Daniel Day Lewis. But Washington, his portrayal was so deftly handled, I was lost in his every emotion. He at least got a nomination.

Point is the same. The movie goers’ experience seemingly now has nothing to do with it. Don’t tell me the issue is a film versus movie issue. Remember early Spielberg? He made movies, great ones. The critics and the industry in general now vote by what they think they are supposed to think. Thus, the Actor who takes on only “superior roles” and immerses himself like a crazy man for months into his character MUST be better than the actor who sometimes plays in buddy comedies. It’s becoming like a giant game of the emperor who had no clothes. Critics to be “serious” have to love and hate very defined elements, sometimes even when they don’t exist. Thank goodness I read them after my viewing pleasure has been fulfilled.

Brooklyn, The Real Cat-Dog

Brooklyn CompileBrooklyn, named for where he was found sixteen, maybe even seventeen years ago. . .by a dear friend, one half of a couple, married spiritually long before marriage was a debatable topic between gays.They rescued cats as volunteers, named them for places they loved, Savannah, Sante Fe, Cozumel, Brooklyn.

He was really annoying to them, for they didn’t sit still that long, and he was a true lap kitty.  A meower.  A sock stealer (letting you know loudly that he had a kill for you). But they adored him still, and our friend gave him to us only when HIV disallowed him the chance to care for so many love bugs.  Cat boxes are, after all, festooned with bacteria.

So my then future husband took over Brooklyn, with visitation from his former Dad.

Brooklyn loved everyone, wanted to check in with all, but he loved Tony most.  He did what we called the flop at least once a day: Tony sat on the sofa, Brooklyn’s hind legs planted on Tony’s thighs, front paws on Tony’s chest. He would gaze into Tony’s eyes, head butt Tony’s chin several times in the classic cat kiss, and then suddenly do a full body flop to Tony’s left, rolling off his lap, if Tony didn’t strategically block his fall with his arm.  From there, Brooklyn would lie curved snuggly against Tony’s side watching hours of football each weekend, purring the whole time. He didn’t care how often Tony wasn’t fast enough to catch the flop.  Sheepishly flicking his ears when he rolled off lap, and sometimes sofa, he’d get back up and give Tony another chance.

My chest kept him from ever getting a good flop going, but he’d try.  Instead, to make sure I wasn’t left out, he’d move  into full arm-curl position on Tony’s side, tilt his head back, give me that upside down gaze, and demurely meow at me, asking me to scoot over and scratch his forehead. . . expecting such until he dropped off to sleep. I always complied.

He even became pivotal in Tony’s marriage proposal on Valentine’s years ago. (Don’t groan.  I don’t care how many of you think it’s a greeting card holiday.  I love my husband and my engagement story.)  I arrived at Tony’s house, late for the play we ended up missing. Brooklyn was wearing a wide red ribbon around his neck with bow. .  Yes, he didn’t care about those things.  He was the only cat I knew who wore a studded collar proudly.  I did think to myself, huh, so I am in love with a guy who dresses his cat up for Valentine’s.  It didn’t occur to me to say, how come he didn’t get a Christmas ribbon at Christmas?  Or even, who the hell ARE you, man?  That previous Christmas, I was more concerned that Brooklyn opened more presents than I did from Tony. . .far more. . .so it made sense that, though he was a typical manly, sports-minded, somewhat chauvinistic, stoic guy, he’d dress up his cat.

It took me an hour to notice  that ring.  The poor animal kept trying to go out for his evening prowl, but Tony wouldn’t allow it.  Why can’t he go out, I demanded, ignorant that there was no way Tony was letting my diamond venture the neighborhood. So poor Brooklyn had to wait until I eventually discovered it  under his chin.

Once we were married, (Tony is my second and last husband) Brooklyn accepted my sons, my dogs,  AND my cats. Frankly, Brooklyn was an alpha kitty, and very few things ruffled his fur. He always greeted us at the door along with the dogs while the other cats barely noted our return.  We used to say he was part dog. My older son can swear this is true: Brooklyn this past year woofed twice at  a sock he was hunting.

Many cats don’t like young children. I worried that Brooklyn was part rag doll, those cats that seem boneless, when my youngest would grab him and carry him around, which often occurred before a long  visit to the bathroom.  (Our youngest liked company if he had to be in there for any longish amount of time.) We began to worry that our son wouldn’t be able to pooh if anything happened to Brooklyn, the cat had to accompany him so often. And he did so without a peep, draped over our son’s arms.

Brooklyn taught one of our feral rescue kitties to love us.  Moon, our overly shy boy, had for years before meeting Brooklyn, never let us pet him, let alone hold him.  In fact when I had to take him for shots before we all moved in together,  I almost lost an eye, and got a nice scorching face full  of that putrid brown liquid they shoot out of their rear glands when highly stressed.  But once Tony and I married and we blended our families, Moon soon worshipped his old man, Brooklyn.  He would sit near him while Brooklyn slept, watching over him like a Shakespearean night man. He’d do a few driveby’s a day, run in front of Brooklyn, saying lookie, lookie, lookie, rubbing Brooklyn’s face with his shoulders. He’d copy his cat.  If Brooklyn curled up, Moon curled up, too, not haphazardly.  But in the same pattern exactly.  If Brooklyn gazed out of the window, Moon followed up.

But most of all, Moon began to sit near us, let us pet him.  He discovered that he loved being rubbed anywhere, tummy, ears, back, toes. . .but he just couldn’t bring himself to sit on us, or even too near us for too long.  Still, Brooklyn had changed Moon for the better and had taught him that we had some attractive qualities as Human beings.

Then, last week, we had to put our best kitty ever down.  Brooklyn had tongue cancer, which is awful for anyone, but for a cat, it’s the end.  They cannot lap, groom, eat.  He had biopsies in Summer; he improved, but the tumors returned, and slowly he withered in size. We saw it coming, and we did everything we could to prolong his life, but not prolong his pain, but as you all know, all the effort never lightens the mourning of losing someone you love.

We gave him forbidden milk, and tuna juice, and whipped liver his last days.  He could barely get any of it in, but he still purred as if he were a king, even as we each hugged and missed our goodbye’s to him.  We brought his body home from the vet,  and ceremoniously buried him on the second to the last day of 2013; one of our dogs lay quietly nearby.  A sad close to the year for a cat that made us laugh,  whom we adored.

After, he was gone, this week,  Moon has suddenly  begun sitting on my lap.  Yes, he really has.  At first, he had to just put his front toes on me, but leave his rear safely perched on the arm of my chair.  Finally, he has climbed all the way on my lap, and gone to sleep while I scratch his back.  It is the best tribute he could give our beloved Brooklyn.  In fact, he is here sitting next to me as I write now.  Now tell me that animals don’t love the way we do.

I was worried about how to tell our friend about the cat he loved so much, too . .in fact, our friend had created a web page devoted to all-things-Brooklyn years ago that may still be somewhere in cyber space.  It is is well and good that HIV has not come close to claiming him and that he outlived Brooklyn, but somehow it is a cruel trick of nature to make our beloved pets have such brief lives compared to our own.  Our friend’s response was simply that Brooklyn brought so much joy to so many lives, he would enjoy a good rest. Well-put.  And thank-you, friend, for sharing him with us, he did bring us great joy.

Promise, Promises

I’ve thought that New Year’s Resolutions had become passé; hadn’t we as a nation simultaneously  noticed about a decade ago that though they seem positively motivational, resolutions are depressingly self-defeatist?  Yes: There IS something very hopeful, when we lovingly welcome each new year for all its potential, celebrate leaving behind one version of our lives and meeting a new one.  I love that hope.  But more often than not, we face pretty much the same selves from year to year.  When New Year’s resolutions and their failure became fodder for every armchair comedian years ago, I thought we all simply decided, “Okay. . .Whew! I don’t have to join that charade anymore.”

So what the heck are all of you doing still thinking you will lose weight, save more money, and stop worrying so much in 2014?  Nothing is more damaging to our self-esteem than not meeting the image we have of ourselves.  My FB account is stuffed with friends’ promises to themselves this year, complete with photos  of new trainers, salads, elliptical machines. What happened to our collective sigh of relief when we stopped seriously making resolutions?  Broken promises hurt even if you are the one who made them to yourself.

But. . .that isn’t why I can’t bring myself to join this swamp.  I’m pretty sure I won’t lose weight, save money, or worry less this year.  Though as much as I wish I were that self-accepting, I simply can’t make those healthy resolutions.  I had a traumatic back surgery last October that still keeps me from exercising at an aerobic level; I will be paying the medical bills and losing salary while I recover for months and months; and man, does it make me worry about how normal I will ever feel again.

Thus, a blog. In a year where I know I am forced to change from 2013-2014 whether I resolved to do so or not, I promise  myself  to write more.  Here. About anything.  Stories about kids, students, cats, dogs, husband(s), parents, in-laws, alcoholics,  tea-totallers, bosses, reading, cooking, tennis, music, science, politics, love, hate, friendships, loneliness, indifference, excitement. . .I got them.  Opinions?  Oh, yes,  plenty.

So until I am in a  position to run, earn money, and be care free again. . .I promise in 2014  to work it out here in writing.