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Reality Check

February 17, 2011

I love being a teacher.  Love it.  Besides the fantasies of being discovered as a famous signer or actress some day, or maybe even a photographer/wedding planner, I have always thought of teaching as my life’s work.  In some way, shape, or form, I have been teaching people since the ripe old age of three when my sister was born.  Teaching younger siblings kind of comes with the territory, right?  When she took dance class and was a bit of a handful, our dance teacher asked if I would help lead the her class to set an example (I was eight).  I tutored my peers in high school, got a job tutoring middle and high school students in rural schools in college, got my teaching degree and license in undergrad, and then got my Master’s in teaching the year after.  I have worked during the summer at day camps, teaching kids about sports, how to canoe and kayak, how to hike, and how to generally have a good time.  Like I said, teaching is awesome.

Except for when it’s not, and you feel like you have been kicked in the face with metal cleats.  Today, after my department meeting, my department head pulled me aside and asked if I had time for a private meeting.  I had heard rumors about budget cuts, so I bravely said yes and figured this would be a speech about how budget cuts may eliminate my position.  In a way, I wish it had been about that.  Instead, it was about how he had been approached by five of my students.  They claimed that I had publicly disrespected them and that they wanted someone to do something about it.  They wanted someone with power to take action against me.

I was, and still am, shocked.  Never in my wildest dreams would I want to humiliate or disrespect one of my students.  What would be the point?  They would hate my class, turn against me, and turn against my subject matter.  None of that does any good for anyone involved.  I have often been praised for my relationships with students, so where did this come from?  In the words of the play my drama club is putting on, “why this non-welcome?”  I have a feeling it has to do with course selections.  Two of my students had written that they intended to take AP classes, and I voiced some concerns.  Not in front of the whole class, mind you, but to them as they came up to get my signature.  Did I mean to show them disrespect by telling them that they needed to step up their game in order to succeed in AP?  No.  If anything, I think I was showing them more respect by caring about their mental and grade well-being in the coming year.  I want them to be in the best place for them, whether it is AP or the class level under it.  I believe that these students certainly are smart enough – most of my students are – but it was a question of work ethic.  I wanted them to be sure of the fact that they need to work as hard as possible to really be ready for an AP class.

Another point that was mentioned was that I didn’t hand papers back fast enough.  I’ll admit that I carried papers around in my bag for quite a while last semester, not because they weren’t graded, but because I would run out of time at the end of class before I could hand them out.  Does that make me a bad teacher?  Even when I did take my time grading them, I feel like I have the right to sometimes.  I have around 85 students total.  When papers get handed in, I have around 85 to correct.  Am I going to be able to turn them back into them the next day?  No.  That’s just not realistic.  Sometimes students try to turn the tables on this issue, saying that if they have to hand in papers on time, I should have to hand them back in time too.  Fair, but they don’t have to write 85 of them.  It’s certainly something I am working on (and currently am tonight with the quizzes they took last class).

So what do I make of this?  After crying about it, getting angry, and then crying some more, I have landed in the spot where I am just shaking my head.  It was humiliating to be pulled aside and lectured about the importance of showing students respect.  Maybe that’s what my students wanted me to feel.  But why not just talk to me?  Why seek out higher-ups?  To do the most damage?  To try to get me fired?  Is this sincere concern or just trying to flex some power muscle?  I don’t get it.  I guess I will find out tomorrow.

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