Tag Archives: Teach For America

The “Tripod” of the Public Education System

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Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 🙂 Thank a teacher who supported you!

Now on to a less happy topic…

There’s this lovely “tripod” that’s supposed to be a thing in the teaching field: the students, the parents, and the teachers/administration. I remember sitting in grad school, listening to this tripod explanation, and thinking Yup, I got it, that makes sense, if we all just work together, we’ll have the perfect system!

I was teaching 7th grade English at the time, in Aiea, Hawaii, and I was struggling. The added stress of my masters program, my Teach For America responsibilities, and the craziness of uprooting from Texas was definitely weighing on me. I kept thinking Well, my end of the tripod is steady, for sure. I figured my kids’ third of the creation was probably sturdy as well. So I mostly blamed parents. Why don’t they check grades online? Why don’t they check their kids’ backpacks, planners, folders? Why don’t they show up to meetings or buy their kids supplies or make their kids read at night? Why aren’t they like MY parents, or like ME? It’s easy to blame.

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But as the years went on, and I moved back to Texas, I realized a much bigger problem: WHY is the teacher end of the tripod combined with admin? Shouldn’t they be on their own, a fourth leg? There’s a disconnect between educators and their bosses–a gap that’s growing and growing. To casually throw a backslash in between teachers and admin is ridiculous. Teachers/admin. As if we’re the same, as if we have the same job, make the same salary, deal with the same daily ups and downs…HA!

I’ve tried hopelessly to get to the bottom of why this disconnect exists and how it started. The only conclusion that really makes sense is lack of respect. We don’t feel trusted by our principals or assistant principals or curriculum specialists or whoever we’re “reporting to” on any given day…and I don’t think they feel trusted by us either. Respect, open communication, team building…all of those buzzwords that are major duhs in well-run companies are merely pipe dreams in the public education system.

We are told that it’s our fault if kids fail–by people who, five years ago, were (shockingly) teachers themselves, dealing with failure rates themselves. It’s kind of insane.

We ask for behavior help, classroom resources, parent or community relationship assistance–until eventually we stop asking. Because that’s usually what people do after so long of asking and not receiving–they stop asking entirely.

We fill out all the required busy work and attend all the unhelpful, mandatory trainings and simultaneously sew our lips together.

I’m only in my fourth year of teaching and I’m guilty of this. I start off the year strong, passionate. I begin fizzling and fading fast. So much time and effort…for what seems like nothing most of the time. I care about my students as if they are my own flesh and blood–I pour my heart into this job–and the “tripod” still topples. Every year.

Admin seem to blame teachers, teachers blame parents and admin, students blame no one because usually they don’t even see the real problem…

I think it’s pretty clear that this “tripod” is wobbly on EVERY end. There’s no 100% strong, healthy leg of the public education system. It’s not one group’s fault. I don’t even think one group is a little more to blame than another. Everyone knows we have a flawed system. Large strides are needed–from everyone.

But I do think that the first step in solving this massive nationwide issue is to close that disconnect between teachers and admin, so that maybe we CAN one day be teachers/admin.

I mean, if we can’t receive the support that we deserve from our superiors…how are we supposed to function effectively in the trickle-down of disrespect?

Teacher Rant

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It’d be so damn cool if teachers got the respect they deserve. Or the pay. Or the acknowledgement.

I have this dream that I’ll see all those wishes of mine granted in my lifetime. I know that people who make touchdowns and music videos and movies will still be earning over triple the amount of income and recognition, but I have faith that one day after I’m gone, that will change too.

I’ve tried to pinpoint in my three short years of teaching, what exactly it is that makes our job seem so easy and worthless. Most likely, it is the fact that we get summers “off”. I guess most people don’t realize that we are never really “off”…we are constantly planning, collecting, brainstorming- bettering our teaching and our classroom. Our kids follow us everywhere like nagging/loving little hairs flying across our face at all times. They are our motivation. And let me tell you, we are forced to be the most passionate and motivated profession out there- because we’re in the business of “failure is not an option” and “no child left behind” and “give me only your best”.

We are warriors of Potential and Effort and Rigor and Pride. We are champions of Respect and gladiators of Equality. We are artists because we “mold the minds of tomorrow”. We are absolutely, bona-fide crazy- but in a “you WILL find a book that you will enjoy” kind of way. Glorified babysitters? Sure, if a glorified babysitter can stomp the flames of bullying and teach a kid what onomatopoeia means all in half an hour.

I realize we don’t carry briefcases (if we did, they’d be filled with stickers and pencils- you’d be surprised how much a kid will write for a sticker/pencil prize). We don’t wear suits. We spend our entire day with mini adults. But if we had business cards, every millimeter would be filled with tiny text, listing our hundreds of roles and responsibilities. Or they’d just say Professional Badass.

If you think juggling 100 middle schoolers, all with their individual needs, is easy, I welcome you to come trade shoes for a while. Please don’t forget to modify for the language learners and special education kids, scaffold for the different levels, add in each type of learning style, give the kids choice but structured choice, stay on top of behavior management, make sure you utilize technology, keep cultural significance in mind, let them have individual, partner, and group time, and of course, they should be engaged, participating, and having FUN!
P.S. Plus, you have a department meeting, a professional development, a team meeting, a faculty meeting, a parent meeting, tutoring sessions, UIL practice, monitoring duty, a REED, an ARD, an SST, and an observation all in the next couple days.
P.P.S. You have 100 essays to grade.

Yeah.

Sorry to go all Mali on y’all.

Faith in Failure

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I had never been inside the gates of government housing, much less into an actual apartment. But I had to meet DJ’s parents. DJ, or Danu, who had just spent a whole hour after school with me, perfecting his essay while humming rap songs, picking at the scrapes on his arms, and drumming on his desk. He had jumped at the chance to get a ride home, but begged me not to come up into building seven. Too bad, so sad. I was going to light some kind of fire, I was so confident. This was step one in my naïve  plan. The parents would see how invested I was and they would therefore also become super involved in DJ’s English skills. It was going to work like magic. I was smiling as I climbed rusted steps, lined with “slippahs”.

DJ walked through the open door and shot upstairs, jerking a thumb towards me before he disappeared. I tiptoed in quietly, not sure if I should wait outside. I looked in the direction that his thumb had jutted toward. I saw a glimpse of two brown faces and four brown eyes. “Hi! I’m Alysha, I’m DJ’s English teacher!”  The open windows washed a breeze over everything. Flies floated around the furniture. I tried to direct my gaze only on his parents, not the large pile of dirty laundry next to the stove or the molded dishes in the sink.

No one said a word. There was a sound from both of them, I guess an acknowledgement of my presence. But I couldn’t discern if it was a grunt, a dismissal, or a standard greeting used for all. Dad pulled his shirt down, still not covering a huge, hairy belly. Mom got up off the couch reluctantly, leading me back out through the front door. A little girl appeared, her innocent smile reminding me of that same feeling of childhood excitement I see in DJ sometimes. “Ooh, look, a teacher!” Her pony tail bounced and her eyes popped. DJ’s eyes. I wanted to scoop her up and hug her tight and whisper in her tiny ear to never give up, because I already believed in her and her seashell earrings.

Mom still hadn’t said a word. DJ had finally joined us, peeking from behind the doorframe as I started an uncomfortable spiel. Her son was great. Her son had shown such, such incredible improvement. Her son was so smart, had such potential. I could see a sly grin appearing and disappearing from inside.

She gave that same grumble, almost inaudible, with a nod this time. She never looked into my eyes. In fact, she looked pissed, like I had just ranted about the complete opposite. I briefly wondered if my words could’ve somehow been misinterpreted. But no, I had been crystal clear; your son rocks. My whole body was burning, not because of the midday Hawaiian heat. I wanted to send spit flying at her neck tattoo and gold chain, I wanted to scream at all 300 pounds of her, “BE PROUD OF HIM! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT HIM! BE PROUD OF HIM YOU STUPID COW!” Because I sure as hell am. And I shouldn’t have to be the only one.

I said my goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and plastered on a fake smile, waving to DJ and his little sister as I made my way back to my car, completely dejected. I wanted to break down. I wanted to sob in fury and disappointment. But I couldn’t. I wanted even more to be like DJ; strong in the face of a situation in which I should be my weakest.

The next day, he cussed in class, daydreamed through half of the notes, and tried to hide in the closet after the bell rang. The usual drill. But he passed that freakin’ essay, the highest grade he’s ever made on any writing. I pulled him aside and told him how proud I was. He shrugged me off and sauntered away, but not before I saw that same giddy grin lined with dimples. He was proud of himself too. And you know what I realized? Two people having that kind of faith in an almost-failing 12-year old student is better than none. And if there aren’t more now, there will be. And that’s something.