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Taking control of chaos

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Teaching

This teacher’s not buying your kid’s supplies…

I know, I know. We are supposed to. It is part of the martyrdom intrinsic in the teaching profession. We work 70-hour weeks, we give students our lunch money, we buy them supplies…it is just what is done, right?

Not this year. Not in my class. I teach high school English. Each year until now, my school has provided me with a case of copy paper, 12 ink pens, 12 pencils, a box of chalk, a box of paper clips, a box of staples (no stapler, though), and a chalkboard eraser. Until now, I have spent upwards of $600/year on my classroom ($1100 year before last). I have ensured that there were tissues and hand sanitizer readily available. I have cleaned desks daily. I have maintained two computers and an electric pencil sharpener. I have purchased items to make learning fun in my English classroom…reference posters, a classroom library, beanbags to get the kids moving during discussions, balls to be used during learning drills, a spinner for the chalkboard to determine student groups, activity centers full of supplies. Every year, I have had to repurchase all of these items.

Why? Because students don’t appreciate them. I take money from my family’s budget to ensure my students are well-taught, and they jam paperclips into pencil sharpeners, steal keys from the computer keyboards, rip books apart, write on posters, cut open beanbags, steal the spinner, and throw activity center supplies around the classroom. They draw lewd pictures on the desks I clean, use hand sanitizer as a weapon, and make spit balls with the tissues.

In short, they are jerks, and I am no longer supplying them with materials they can use in their competition to be the jerkiest.

So, please, ensure that your student arrives to my class with a fully-stocked backpack. Because while I am willing to help polite, well-behaved students on an individual basis (and will maintain a small supply of materials for them), you need to do your part, too.

The Impact we Have

This will be my last year at my current school. It is closing, and students are being transferred all over the county. I will never see many of my kids after this year, and that has been difficult to accept. I call them “my kids” because they are…I help them grow their minds and their worldviews, and I can’t fully express how much that means. It is amazing to watch them adjust as they learn more about the world around them…I love teaching high school!

This year, I have had a lot of thoughts like, “What difference could I possibly make in this last year? It’s just one year out of their education.” I am used to having relationships with students over multiple years. Once they leave my class I still check up on them. My impact with this year’s students is such a tiny part of their experience that it couldn’t possibly make a difference, right?

This morning, a few things happened to change my thinking.

A student I’ve only substitute taught while her regular teacher is out came to say good morning, even though her class is nowhere near my room. We chatted a bit, and she hugged me when she headed off to class and asked if she could come by at lunch time. I have no idea what is going in her life right now, but I am honored to be a known safe person.

Two of my students were rapping in the hall, and one of them dropped the “N-word” as it is used in the song. When he saw me, he apologized immediately. “Mrs. Johnson… I’m sorry. I know you don’t like that word.” No, I don’t. And you shouldn’t. You’re better than that word. Remember that.

A student came by after the bell rang. I immediately told him I wasn’t going to give him a pass to get into class, that he had to go to the office. He held up a pass in his hand and said, “No…I came to see you! I’m going to miss you next year.” I told him I would miss him, too, and he asked, “Do you think I could have one of the books from your library to keep? And maybe you can sign it for me?” If you promise to read it, if you promise to read anything, yes! Yes! Yes!

This one year contains many moments in which I can make an impact on my kids. I had forgotten that in the emotional chaos of the school closing. I am so thankful for these reminders.

As I sit here…

My teaching day just ended. I should straighten up my room. I should change my board to tomorrow’s warm-ups, objectives, classwork assignments, and vocabulary.  I should call the building’s IT guru to figure out why the internet has been down all afternoon, requiring me to use my phone as a hot-spot to get my work done.

Instead, I am sitting here. As I sit here, I am wondering whether it is all worth it. It seems that my reasons for becoming a teacher are being slowly chipped away by a system more concerned about bureaucracy than students.

Today, my last class of the day was assigned a standardized test. Boring, oh so boring, but necessary. Not really for them, but for me. Because that boring test influences the student achievement portion of my evaluations. Only one student bothered doing the test.

Today, I spent my free period meeting with students about their grades and troubleshooting solutions with my colleagues. Today, I comforted a student mourning a friend lost to violence. Today, I advised a student facing a life-altering decision. Today, I split my lunch between two students because their mothers don’t have any money right now to add to their lunch accounts. Today, I locked my classroom door and cried over a student whom I simply can’t seem to reach. Today, I sent healthy snacks home with a student for him to share with his siblings for dinner. Today, I fretted over the consequences to my students of our probable school closure. Today, I worried about the outcomes my students will face now that the school system has decided to discontinue the intensive-level placements they need in order to be successful.

As I sit here, I wonder why an employer would sacrifice an employee’s meaningful work on the alter of assessments students don’t take seriously. I wonder why an employee would continue working a job in which they are so devalued. But what do I know? I’m just a teacher.

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