Thursday, November 19, 2015


I have to say this is, and has always been, a high-pressure profession. I don't know how anyone manages to stand in front of 34 teenagers without noticing it. Don't mistake that for a complaint, because it's not. There's really just about nothing I'd rather do, but I've been doing this for a while so it's easier for me.

Some of my younger colleagues are not so sanguine. I regularly hear them being jealous, jealous of me because I've put in more years and can retire. They, of course, ignore the fact that they're maybe thirty years younger than I am because that's not precisely what's bothering them now. What's bothering them now is this--on top of all the pressure already inherent in this gig, there are these do or die Danielson directives. At any moment, someone can walk in, say you suck, and if they say it enough, you're busy pursuing your private interests, e.g. looking for food and shelter.

There aren't really a whole lot of needs more basic than those, and having them hanging over your head is not precisely inspirational. Mulgrew can go on about how there were "only" 700  double ineffectives, but if you're one of them that's little consolation. And even if you aren't one of them, there are a few issues with that line of thought. One is that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends an inordinate amount of time and energy fretting over this. The other, of course, is that this "low" number and others like it are precisely what inspired Andrew Cuomo to sell his even worse evaluation bill to the Heavy Hearts Assembly.

It must be great to get up in front of hundreds of cheering loyalty-oath signers and declare how wonderful everything is. Unfortunately, when you have people crying to you that they only have a few years in and are hoping to make it to twenty so they can get the hell out, it's tough to get up and sing a happy song. Me, I have no words. You can't make someone feel better when they're looking you in the eye and declaring, "Only 137 more days to go."

Sadly, that will only get them through this year, and there are ten or fifteen more to go. I know there are plenty of Americans out there who will say, "Yeah, my job sucks, and my life sucks, so what the hell do I care if your life sucks too?" That's a popular attitude, and simultaneously one of the worst attitudes of which I can even conceive. Now here's the thing. It's one thing to be miserable. That's really your problem. It's quite another to endorse the notion that role models for your children should be miserable. It's kind of a chain reaction.

In our zeal to emphasize test scores, to rate teachers by junk science, to open charters and close public schools, we've neglected to examine the relative happiness or lack thereof in our children.  Maybe I'm not as sophisticated as those who preach rigor and grit, but that's kind of important to me. I don't want my classroom to be a source of rigor. I want it to be a source of joy. If I can find joy in myself and share it with the children while teaching English they will learn more than just English. They will learn to love English. Maybe they will even learn to love life. Who knows?

Now I haven't got a rubric or formula to precisely express that, but having seen many rubrics and silver bullets over the year, I've got little faith in them.  I've got a lot of faith in happy children. I don't think it would be all that terrible if we tried to create happy teachers to inspire them, even if they miss a close reading here or there.
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