“I never used to think about retirement,” the teacher said. “I thought I would teach forever. Now though, thinking of retirement is the only thing that keeps me going.”
This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*
“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”
Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.
Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to
Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.
But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.
“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”
Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!Can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Click To Tweet
So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.[bctt tweet="So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children."
*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.
This post was originally published April 4, 2014 and titled "Teaching: Miss P's Retirement Rationale"
“Ugh! I’m so overwhelmed,” my sister said.
It was 1998. She had a toddler and was working full-time; I was working part-time and had three children between the ages of eight weeks and three and a half years. (We were often overwhelmed back in those days.) We’d been on the phone for some time. I don’t remember who called whom, but one of us was incurring some serious long distance charges. (Another thing we did a lot of back then.)
There was nothing exceptional about that day. I wasn’t particularly sad or especially down. I felt fine, my version of normal. So I don’t know why I said what I did. It had never slipped out previously. Not during the horrific months of my sister’s complicated, high-risk pregnancy. Not when I had lived half-way across the country and suffered intense homesickness. Not during our college years when we mailed long letters to each other or in any of the years previous when we shared a bedroom. But that day, with the phone cradled between my shoulder and ear so I could talk and load the dishwasher at the same time, I said it almost absent mindedly.
“Yeah, I know. Doesn’t it make you wish you could just die?”
The line went silent. After a moment, my sister said, “Ahm, no. It just makes me stressed out.”
Whoops. Did I say that aloud?
“Yeah, right. I just meant, not kill yourself or anything, just get hit . . . ya know . . . ha ha, by a Mack truck. That’s all.”
“No. I don’t ever wish that,” she said. (I recall the moment in slow motion.) “Aileen, do you have times when you want to die?”
I did. I had all my life.
“Sometimes,” I told her. “But not now. I promise. Right now I am fine.”
We talked for a while and I guess I convinced her that I really was fine (either that or one of the four wee ones in our care demanded attention). Still, I could not get the conversation off of my mind.
My sister is so much like me. How is it that I feel this way and she doesn’t? This just might not be normal. (I’m pretty quick on the uptake like that.)
Thus began my growing awareness of my own depression. Shortly after that conversation, I began my search for effective treatment. Through trial and error, I found the right mix of medication, therapy, and behavior modification to keep my depression under control. Most of the time.
That conversation with my sister was nineteen years ago. I’ve kept my struggle mostly private, confiding only in family, my closest friends, and a few others along the way. I haven’t actually been ashamed, per se. Rather, I feel protective of that part of myself. Protective of the new mother terrified of messing up, of the 13-year-old who cried herself to sleep, the 8-year-old who found existence so very tiring. But over the years, I’ve learned ways to take care of me that allow me to share my experience. And now it’s time to share that story with you.
It’s a long story though, longer than one blog post for sure. So if you want to hear about my 40-plus year struggle with mental illness in the form of chronic depression, stay with me. I’ve got a lot to say.
After all, Tracie is less than 200 points shy of a perfect 2400 on her SAT; she’s made the highest possible score on all five AP Exams she’s taken; she has a solid GPA; she has studied abroad; and she’s even started her own small business. No one thought Tracie would be denied admission anywhere.
Yet, she’s heard from all four schools to which she applied. She was admitted to one: her last choice, her safety school. She’s wait-listed at one and denied—flat-out rejected—by the other two. Crazy.
Caveat: All along, I’ve thought Tracie should choose the state school closer to her home. It is an excellent university and I think she will thrive there. And anyway, I never have cared for those exclusive schools with the skinny little admission rates.
Still, I cannot believe she did not get into the schools she dreamt of attending. It makes no sense. But then, the fact is the admissions process is not fair. It’s just not. You can do everything nearly perfectly, as Tracie did, and still not make the cut. (You can also do very little right and get admitted, but that’s another blog post.) At many schools, when it comes to the final decision, it is almost random selection.
So students (and parents) dealing with college admissions disappointments, listen up. I have something to say (I do go on). You may feel free to read these aloud. Preferably while looking in a mirror.
*Name changed for privacy.
It’s spring and many of the high school students in my life are planning for prom night. Hear me on this: I’ve got no problem with the prom itself. I do have a problem with the high expectations for the night and also the exorbitant costs (financial and otherwise) associated with it.
Parents, talk to your children about the prom. Really. A lot of bad choices are made on prom night. Your conversations with them can help them avoid life-altering mistakes. It doesn’t matter if your teens don’t want to hear what you have to say. It doesn’t matter if you find it awkward to talk about these things. Do it anyway.
Here are just a few things you might say to your kids.
And finally (brace yourself)
So teens, go to the prom. Have fun. But don’t make it into the high point of your life. It’s just one night.
“One quick question,” I said to my pastor. He was heading back to his lunch table with a full cup of coffee; I’d finished my lunch and wanted a word with him before I had to leave.
“Oh hi, Aileen,” he said, more gracious than most would have been, having been caught between coffee and dessert. “What’s up?”
“A lot. For one thing I just lied to my pastor." I realized in that moment what he no doubt already had guessed. “My question is neither quick nor singular.” Guy Sayles smiled, relaxed and unhurried. I forged ahead.
“My friend’s son—he’s 10—has inoperable brain cancer. He got bad news yesterday, really bad news. His mother and I were talking last night, and she asked me some tough questions. I’m only in the second semester of seminary here. I have no idea what to say.”
"I’m not sure theological degrees give you the words to say under those circumstances," Guy said, speaking the frustrating truth of pastoral care.
“My friend's question was this: ‘If God is omnipotent as we believe God is, then why hasn't my son been healed?’ Good question right? So, ya know, why?”
Setting his coffee on the counter, Guy shook his head. “Well the first thing I would ask myself is, 'Is this really an appropriate time for a theological discussion?' It probably isn't. If not, I would say, ‘I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I love you.’”
I found this to be brilliant instruction. How many times do we spout off theological treatises when it just isn't the time? The person really needs to hear, “What you are going through is awful and I’m sorry that you are going through it because you matter to me.” And we start quoting scripture, telling them about God’s will or the nature of creation. Sometimes, we need to say less in order to say more.
Guy continued. “If it is a good time for a theological discussion, then I might say, ‘Well, God doesn't always get God's way.’”
He must have noticed my hesitation because he elaborated. “When people disagree with me on this, I ask them, ‘Does God always get God's way with you?’ Of course not. If it is true with one person, it must be true with others. And if God doesn't always get God's way with people, then God doesn’t always get God's way in the world. After all, if God did, then why would Jesus have commanded us to pray for God’s will to be done? It would just be done whether we prayed or not.” (Intriguing, huh?)
“But,” Guy said, “If God is omnipotent, and we are Christians, then we believe
Christianity is confusingly full of contradictions. The equations just aren't as simple as we would like them to be.”
I knew he was right. But what could I tell my friend that could comfort her, if only momentarily?
“There is one simple formula, though,” Guy went on. “God loves us. God just loves us. God always, completely, beyond-our-imagination loves us.”
“So, when our hearts are breaking. . .”