Lest this blog turn into a grumpy ole teacher’s lunatic rants on education reform, I would actually like to take a break from the sarcastic cynicism and take a moment to acknowledge what little I have left to be thankful for in my career. It’s been a rough couple of years for teachers. Pay freezes, increased insurance costs, increased class sizes, absurd new and costly evaluation systems, Michelle Rhee’s empty talking teacher bashing head on every cable news network, union leaders selling teachers out while teachers’ dues pay their six figure salaries, internet commentators decrying bloated teacher salaries for a six month job, presidential candidates’ last minute professions of love even though they go on to pass the most anti-teacher policies in history, Racing to the Top of a heaping pile of worthless data, billionaire financed Hollywood films perpetuating myths of the great evil of the tenured teacher…etc. Despite all of this, there are a couple of things that keep me on the job for yet another day.
Before I get into my teacher blessings, I’d just like to say how much I love Thanksgiving! I love that it’s all about food and bringing people together around a table to do nothing but gorge themselves. Even though the history of Thanksgiving is based on a total myth, the idea of two different groups coming together and sharing a meal around a table is a beautiful concept. I love that there are no presents to buy, no presents to wrap, no presents to unwrap, no presents to have to return to the store the very next day. Just sit down, eat your turkey, smother it with gravy and top it all off with a nice piece of pumpkin pie!
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions was started at my school a few years back by the Future Teachers of America club. Every year they pass out little sheets of paper to students and ask them to write a short note of appreciation to a teacher. Teachers then find these little gems in their teacher mailboxes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving morning. It’s a teacher’s version of Christmas! If you don’t have a tradition like this at your school I highly recommend starting one. It does wonders for staff morale. Teachers post their little notes of gratitude around their desks or shove them in a special drawer and look at them every time that old country song, “take this job and shove it” starts playing in their head. When that kid who spends the entire class rolling their eyes at you and constantly complaining “why can’t we just watch a movie?” writes you a note of gratitude for making them learn so much, well, it makes it all seem worthwhile at least for a few moments.
Many students like to complain that such and such a teacher gave them a D just because that teacher hates them. I try to explain to them that no teacher actually hates their students. They might be annoyed, frustrated, and driven to the point of a nervous breakdown by some of them, but they certainly don’t hate them. You cannot stay in the teaching profession for any length of time if you hate students. Students are the only people you have contact with your entire working day. Students (and this came to a great surprise to me) are actually the best part of the job. So dear students, first and foremost, I would like to give thanks to you and all of your crazy energy, practical jokes, smiles and tears that keep me waking up at 5 am in the morning every day. You truly are the best part of the job and I think most teachers would agree to that statement.
On to a few other blessings at my school. I am thankful for a wonderfully supportive, active, and generous PTA. My $5 PTA membership is much more valuable to me than an $800 union membership. They even take time to feed the staff a few times a year (and we know how much kafkateach loves to be fed).
I am thankful for a smart, rational, fair Principal who has put up with my loud mouth teacher activism over the last year without trying to run me out of the building.
I am thankful for a classroom with windows and a door. I went to high school in a building designed by a man who designed prisons and there were no windows in the building and for some bizarre reason, no doors. The classroom walls were made out of heavy cardboard and I can’t imagine trying to teach under those conditions today.
I am thankful for the one cafeteria lady who I know will always go out of her way to find change for a $20 so I can get my baked lowfat chicken fingers and tater tots (she also always hooks me up with a fruit cup and a smile).
I am thankful for the janitor who cleans my room and says kind words to me every afternoon in Spanish. She buys her own cleaning supplies and worked while battling breast cancer with a smile on her face every day.
I am thankful for the few teachers around me who allow each other to vent and to pass off unruly students into each other’s classrooms.
I am thankful to teach students who are way smarter than I ever was and who’s intelligence has rubbed off on me.
I am thankful to teach students who may not be the sharpest pencils in the box, but who have hearts of gold and who’s kindness has rubbed off on me.
I am thankful to teach students who may have the most heart wrenching home lives but somehow manage to show up to class, be polite and give it their best. Their strength and perseverance has rubbed off on me.
I am thankful to teach students with decent taste in music who’s musical recommendations have allowed me to expand my cloud player selection and fill my classroom with beautiful melodies even when I am torturing them with quizzes on Islamic terminology and Chinese philosophies.
I am thankful to have become a teacher. I’m not sure how much longer it will last but there are only two things in my life that I can say have made me a better person: becoming a mother and becoming a teacher. Thank you my babies, the ones I gave birth to and the ones who have passed through my classroom walls. I remember all of you.
***Please feel free to express your teacher gratitude in the commenting section below.