Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I'm Not Cranky. I'm Simply Outraged

Prominent charter advocate James Merriman surprised me by tweeting my Daily News piece. I can't argue when he calls me a veteran, as I've got almost 35 years in. He also called me "cranky."

He's got me thinking about what it means to be cranky. I can't dispute that on the surface, but I may use that adjective differently than he does.

The first day I taught was one of the worst days of my life. I got the job via a subway ad and had absolutely no preparation. I decided I would be nice to the kids, which almost no high school teacher had been to me. It was a terrible mistake and the kids walked all over me. Not literally, but they might have if they'd had half a chance.

I'm happy to say that, over the years, I've found better ways to be nice to kids, ways to do so without rendering my classroom into a place of absolute chaos. However, back in 1984 I could not have envisioned a way to achieve that.

In my very first lunch period, I went down to the cafeteria. Back then all schools had teacher cafeterias. (Michael Bloomberg later decided comfort and convenience were things teachers didn't need unless they turned a profit for the city. Ours survived, but we're the exception that proves the rule.) I met a table full of guys who looked to me like cranky veteran teachers, and they had advice for me.

"You're new, right? Get out while you still can!"

"The kids here are the worst."

"Go to Long Island."

"It's a waste of time with these kids."

"There's no future for you here, kid, You'll get eaten alive."

"Get out before you're stuck like we are."

Wow. Tough crowd.  

They were cranky. It was interesting, to say the least, to see how cynical they were about their own careers. It actually would have made a great deal of sense for me to have listened to them. I was having a day like I'd never had before. I'd accepted false notes from students, one of them knocked a briefcase full of papers onto the floor, and my classes were totally out of control. If you ever want to know stress, stand in front of 30 teenagers who you're ostensibly in charge of, and watch them do any goshdarn thing they feel like.

In fact, during the first few weeks of my teaching job, I was weighing an offer from a friend of mine to drive a truck for Federal Express. It paid marginally more than teaching did, then at least, and it certainly seemed simpler. You drive packages places, you drop them off, and then you go home. At Lehman High School I was struggling just to get by. We were required to write capsule lesson plans for the entire week, in advance. It was excruciating, as I had four preps, which they later adjusted to five preps.

This notwithstanding, my reaction to these teachers was not what they were hoping for. I decided that day, that moment, that I never, ever wanted to be like them. I never wanted to be bitter and cynical about my job. And despite the fact that I've been complaining on this forum and elsewhere for over 14 years, you won't see me say I hate the job, or the kids. I love the job, even though it's impossible, and I love the kids, even if they're crazy. I simply strive to be crazier than they are, and usually I am.

That said, there are an awful lot of things that outrage me. I have no patience for bureaucrats who waste my time with idiotic and baseless mandates. I'm tired of wasting my time with DOE lawyers who can't be bothered reading the contract they're interpreting. I'm particularly upset with state officials who think that English Language Learners will acquire the language via magical realism, or whatever it is they call the nonsense embodied in CR Part 154.


I think this is the best job there is, despite all the political nonsense swirling around it. I'm totally freaked out by young teachers who walk around sarcastically declaring, "I'm living the dream," or reply, "I'm here," when I ask how they are. There's a joy in this job. It's our job to find it and share it. It's my job to show students the joy in English, to put their hands and hearts around it, and somehow make them carry it with them. My job would be a lot easier without idiotic mandates from Albany, but there's always a way.

That said, there's always something to be outraged about. Merriman and I may not agree on exactly what constitutes an outrage, or much else, but I'm sure we both see that.
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