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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The injustice of being a teacher



I am a bit angry today. I inadvertently let slip the word "hell" in my middle school classroom and had a discussion with my principal about it, who said he understood that such things happen from time to time but to be more careful. I thought that the slip-up and resulting discussion were sufficient and resolved to work on how I phrased things.

This morning I got a note in my mailbox.

It was printed on school letterhead and must be in my personnel file by now. It misquoted me in a way that entirely misrepresented what I had actually said and the context in which the word "hell" appeared. After misquoting me, it said I had taken responsibility for my actions (which I had, but not for the words attributed to me) and warned me that further incidences of using "profanity" in front of students would result in formal reprimands.

I now understand why the more uncooperative students in the room were bragging that they had "told on me" about what I had said. (The cooperative students saw no problem with it and most probably agreed with me.) What galls me about this event is not simply the fact that I was betrayed by my principal, whose tone indicated that he understood that we all slipped up from time to time and had to be careful. What bothers me most is the fact that these same students whose pretended outrage sparked the whole discussion are routinely allowed by the administration to curse in such a way as to shame a rap musician. They tell their teachers to "F*** off!" They call each other "faggots" and "motherf***ers." When sent to the office for such disrespectful behavior, the office referral routinely reads: "Spoke with child. Timed out for rest of period."

Not only do these children receive no consequences for disrespecting those who are attempting to instruct them, but they get to skip class. They are being rewarded (in their minds) for disrespecting their teachers. They receive the acclaim of their peers and are treated as heroes by their less-reputable classmates. Meanwhile, a teacher slips up and uses the word "hell" and his personnel file is forever marked.

There is a disparity between the reaction to a word as common as "hell" and the reaction to calling one's teacher a "fat motherf***er." I realize that asking a few students who refuse to stop conversing loudly during a lesson "Why can't you just listen? Is it really so hard? What the hell is wrong?" is a bit on the uncivil side, but labeling it "profanity" is over the top. Technically, perhaps, the label applies, but semantically it conjures the image of someone who crazily throws out F-bombs and uses the most foul sort of language imaginable. I am not that person and resent being characterized as such.

I have resolved to leave the public education sector. My results have been consistently stellar. One hundred percent of my students passed their End of Course Assessment with a score of eighty percent or higher, most above ninety. This test had to be approved first by my principal and then by the district office. It was comprehensive and rigorous and incorporated every single state standard. Judging by my results, I am an awesome teacher. Results, however, matter little in the politics of modern education.

I believe that the private sector will be a better fit. There, my results will weigh most heavily. Profits will matter more than politics. I will not be frustrated by the expectation that I simply accept indignation after indignation. (The creation of a hostile work environment, after all, is subject to litigation.) I will be judged by my own performance.

I feel sorry for those who are currently in college to become teachers. Most will likely have to work outside of their field or at charter schools which offer no retirement benefits and pay teachers as if they were assistant managers at fast food restaurants. They will never be able to pay off their student loans. Their sense of self-worth will be eroded by a daily barrage of insults and injustice from children who are poorly raised and whose parents will likely spend more energy cursing at the teacher than disciplining their own children if they are contacted about misbehavior.

We have abandoned Thomas Jefferson's vision of an educational system whose primary purpose is to prepare a generation of patriotic and productive citizens. Civics and citizenship classes have, for the most part, been abolished. Teachers are often chastised for requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, at least in those states that still even recite it. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are a perfect example of the end result of this decline. We have raised up a generation of sociopaths and ingrates whose modus operandi is to bite the hand that feeds.

I should have chosen my words better. In that much, I was wrong. It was the type of slip-up that rarely ever occurs for me, as I almost never curse even in my private life. However, the reaction to it compared to the administration's attitude toward language routinely used by students to their teachers is infuriating. It is difficult to smile when you are screaming inside.

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