America Needs Its Teachers, And I Won’t Give Up

Sundays are weird. They can be both rejuvenating and exhausting. On the one hand you have that rested feeling from some time off work and maybe even some spiritual vitamins pepping you up from going to church. On the other hand, you have the entire week’s tasks lined up in your brain, each with five-star importance. Sunday evenings are some of my most anxiety-filled for that reason. I go through the list of chores and errands and appointments and work needs, and it seems like I’d need at least three clones to make it all happen.

For those of us who care about education, the list of problems our current system faces is like staring down a busy week on Sunday night. There are not enough of us to complete all the work that needs to be done.

Photo credit: Village Vine Press

When we moved back to Texas, I was looking forward to getting back to teaching. I could feel my instincts and drive telling me it was time. I was very fortunate to get a tutoring job preparing seventh graders for their writing and reading STAAR tests at a school I love. I was so nervous about that first day. I picked just the right outfit. I lesson-planned well in advance. I even packed a lunch! And when one of the regular seventh grade English teachers told me that first day that I was a fun and educational, well, that was it. Teacher Stephanie was back baby.

I’m hoping to get a full-time position next year. I love being a teacher. This tutoring job has reminded me of all the great things about it. When a student gets a concept because of the way I explained it, it’s magic. Being able to cheer them on as they try things they thought were too hard before they met me is another benefit. I get to talk about words all day. And I really enjoy being around so many friends who are also teachers.

But the negativity is there waiting to bring me down. All teachers know the tough parts of our profession. It’s the teachers in the lounge complaining about a student they don’t like or a regulation that makes no sense. It’s the pressure to have students pass a standardized test we  didn’t help create. It’s the worry that retirement money won’t support us. It’s parents who expect greatness without cultivating it at home. It’s the parents who would love to cultivate greatness but are too busy working two or three jobs to supervise homework. It’s the pressure to have grades in the gradebook pushing up against your own feeling that too much homework only hurts. It’s the general perception that anyone can teach, and therefore, educators aren’t valued or supported as professionals.

And on and on the list goes like your busiest week in your worst nightmare.

And it’s not just the teachers who are getting burdened and burnt-out. We are failing our kids. There is no soft way to say that. We’re failing. I am not against testing. I am against it being the be-all-end-all. Passing a test means nothing if our students are incapable of surviving in the workplace. And, oh, how I mourn the loss of time to explore in great depth. My sons are really excited about space right now; they eat up every tidbit. It kills me that one day our school system will try to beat that love of learning out of them. And what are we doing for students who are not college-bound? How are we preparing them for life and work?

And on and on and on.

The list makes even the most dedicated teachers want out. I see teachers I respect and love wishing they could do something else. They see no hope for fixes and no point in what they do every day.

We cannot let this happen. We cannot lose anymore greats nor stop creating new teachers. And I’m telling you right now that I’m not giving up. I gave up teaching once, and it hurt. I was born to do this, and I will push through the crap to continue to do it. The kids need me. My fellow teachers need me to support and encourage them. Dude, grammar needs me to continue fighting for the Oxford comma.

Just like a week comes a day at a time, we must approach the needs of our education system one day at a time. We cannot change it all at once, and we can’t change anything if we stop fighting.

Do you have concerns about education in America? Are you worried for your kids’ futures? Please let me know what education topics you’d like to discuss. I hope to feature an education concern at least once a week.

Wiser Words

I think we can now agree I shouldn’t post while emotional. My post on Friday after learning of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, was written quickly (without editing, gah) and just isn’t what I meant it to be. I’ll leave it up though because many people were kind enough to read it and comment. I also think it does show one reaction to news of 26 dead at an elementary school.

Yesterday we took the boys to Old Town in Gdansk. It was softly snowing. The river was frozen. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants and enjoyed hot chocolate and classic Polish Zurek. After our late lunch, we walked the main street and looked at lights as snow continued to fall. We were able to see the Christmas market and eventually find our way back to our car. We dusted off the snow and headed home for a quiet night in our cozy apartment. We had a near-perfect family outing. It was pure Christmas joy and family love. It both soothed my nerves from Friday’s news and broke my heart. I can’t even imagine how those families are feeling, how snow and beautifully lit trees will bring back the hurt again and again.

All is calm; all is bright.

All is calm; all is bright. I am so lucky today.

And then I read my father’s words and felt even stronger hurt for our country and the things that are broken. My dad is a good man, and he tries to see both sides of every issue. He thinks his feelings through, and rarely acts hastily. He also doesn’t try to share them on Facebook because he prefers a real-life discussion. So, his published words really made me think. Here is what he posted on his Facebook:

“Tougher gun laws or no? Lots of discussion with good arguments on both sides I guess. What occurs to me is our whole culture seems to glorify violence, greed, and sex. I think it has dulled our senses to what we have become. When my grandkids are here, I can’t even watch most television because of the trashy programs. The same ‘caring’ Hollywood personalities that take a high and mighty stand on social issues make a huge living on sex, violence, and greed. Our legislators care more about getting re-elected than any other objective, and fill their pockets from donors and influence-buyers. It is hard to name a big formerly solid organization that hasn’t been tainted i.e. religious entities, boy scouts, teachers, unions, police officers – you name it. Social media is so dangerous today we should not let our kids use it unsupervised.

My heart aches for the victims and families of this latest atrocity. We are all hurting if we have a speck of humanity, and we should all consider what we have made important in life.”

Those are some really good points. I think this isn’t just a tragedy about a school and its inhabitants being so grossly violated, but it’s also a picture of what we’ve become. And sadly, they were probably not the only children killed by guns this week. My friend Addye left some comments on my post Friday that spoke to this as well. She was saddened and angry by the deaths on Friday, and it was important for her to remind us that violence is not so newsworthy in many cities in our country because it is just so common.

We also will be talking more about mental health issues after this. I alluded to it poorly in my original post. Whether or not the killer was mentally ill is not the main point. Mental illness does not egual evil; most people who suffer from mental illness are not destined to go on violent rampages. As with gun control, I meant to say I hope this tragedy brings about a discussion on how we view and treat the mentally ill. We cannot leave them to suffer because we assume they are dangerous or unworthy. And we can’t paint all persons who suffer from mental issues with the same brush. They are as individual as the rest of us. Don’t push away this tragedy and say it was an anomaly because the gunman was crazy. Don’t use that as a reason to do nothing.

That brings me to my real main point from Friday. We can’t keep getting upset and then doing nothing. What is bothering you today? Are you sad that guns are so easy to get? Are you mad that you have lost family members to mental health crises because they had no support? Do you wish we showed violence and other harmful activities less often on TV and in movies? Then do something. Change your family. Change what you talk about. Bring up the hard topics and try to get people talking in a constructive way. And please, please, write and call your politicians. We need to make them accountable to what we want as citizens.

Finally, I would like to share some wiser words I’ve read this weekend. As a writer, I try to read the best, and it makes a difference in my writing and in my heart. I’d like you to see what I find to be well-written arguments and concerns. Some are calls to action, and some are just hearts pouring out their pain.

“Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god. This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns.” by Gail Collins of the New York Times.

“Why in the world do we regulate teddy bears and toy guns and not real guns that have snuffed out tens of thousands of child lives? Why are leaders capitulating to the powerful gun lobby over the rights of children and all people to life and safety?” by Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund.

“I cry for the parents, running to the school as if they themselves were on fire, hearts pounding, praying out loud, please let my baby be safe, please let my baby be safe.” by Alexandra at Good Day Regular People.

“As a culture we must set better priorities.  We have created an environment where an abstract sense that everyone is entitled to own guns in this country trumps a safe reality for our children.” by Korinthia Klein at Korinthia’s Quiet Corner

If Not Now, When?

I admit that I am easily riled. I can get angry or excited pretty quickly. Yes, I’m very cocker spaniel puppy that way. I’ve learned over the years to slow down and think before I act on my impulsive feelings. Usually.

I’m not going to wait today. I’m going to get it all out because this is important. It’s important that good people start getting angry and active.

We need more restrictive gun laws in this country. We need them yesterday. And we need more access to mental health services. Yeah, I’m making that connection early in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy, but I know that these two things are related.

First, don’t tell me not to ‘politicize’ this today. I’m not. I’m personalizing it. I’m owning my anger and frustration and acting on it. I’m using these feelings to act and do my part. I’m mad. I’m anxious. I’m terrified. I’m sick to my stomach. And the only way I can do something is to voice it, to write about it.

Things I’m thinking about today:

1. “Guns don’t kill, people do.”

Yeah, that’s true. But you know what? People with assault rifles kill more people faster. Angry, drunk, or mentally unstable people commit rash acts that are only intensified with a gun in arm’s reach.

2. “Cars kill more people every year than guns, should we outlaw cars?”

No, we don’t outlaw cars, but we do have many restrictions in place to make them as safe as possible. Police monitor our driving and keep tabs on who is being responsible and who isn’t. And you know what? When it is warranted, we change those restrictions. Minimum driving ages have been raised since I was a teen. Why? Because as safety issues change, laws change. Well, for cars anyway, for guns we say, “No! Do not change ANY of my right to bear arms.” Listen, when our Constitution was written, guns took a lot longer to load and reload. Our founding fathers could never have imagined the power that modern weapons have. And that’s why our Constitution has provisions for change. Times change, and our morals and values do too.

3. “Criminals will find a way to get guns no matter then laws, why take away my rights?”

Drunks find a way to get behind the wheel too; let’s just forget about drunk driving laws. Or, we could keep enforcing the laws we have and maybe even tighten them if they are not strict enough. Criminals act against the law, but that doesn’t mean we abandon laws. That is ridiculous. Oh, my house was robbed? Crap, no use trying to make breaking and entering illegal then if people just do it anyway.

My main concern today is how to keep kindergarteners from being murdered at school. The only way I can do that is talking about ways to curb violence. And I believe one way is to put heavier restrictions on gun ownership. Will this inconvenience law-abiding citizens? Yep. Do I care? Nope. Add gun permit/regulation worries to that part of your life where taxes and the DMV live. I think it’s worth it.

I also think I need to do more to make my voice heard. And so do you. We need to be stronger and louder than the NRA. It feels like a mountain we can’t possibly top. I know. But, we won’t know unless we try.

Sick people kill children and teachers at school, but well people have a responsibility to learn from these tragedies and act.