Saturday, January 17, 2009

Teaching in the trenches

As you may know, my daughter is an intervention specialist. At the present time, she is still looking for her first full time teaching job. She does plenty of substituting.

The reason that I'm writing this post is Sandy Carlson posted yesterday about blogging your blessings. Sandy is a middle school English teacher and she blogged about the bad kids. You know the ones she was referring to. Those who take away valuable teaching time from the rest of the class. Those who may crave attention, but don't know a way to get the positive kind.

Sort of takes me back 35 years to my senior year of high school. I took a course called living math. I had to take the class to graduate, as math would be my second minor. The teacher was fresh out of college, sort of a nerdy type. His name was Mr. McCormick, and we called him Cy, after Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the reaper. We also gave him the hardest time possible. Although I am good at math, I just barely passed the course. I spent most of the second semester in the hall. I wasn't the worse one by far. One of the others kicked in the rear fender of his car. Some reduced him to tears.

One day during the spring after I graduated, I come home from work. My brother met me at my car with that day's Medina County Gazette. The headline told me that Mr. McCormick jumped off a bridge in Akron. I knew there were other problems, but I asked myself(and still do at times) "did I help push him off that bridge?"

Another reason I think teachers are underpaid.


SandyCarlson said...

Wow. That's a powerful story. So damned sad. I think the misbehaving kids do their damage. I also know I am not living "Mr. Holland's Opus"--that the transformation inside of kids is not a movie-length event. I wish it were!

I am richly blessed with family, friends, fellow bloggers, and teachers who keep the goon squad in perspective. I know a few too many veterans to take this junior jerks too seriously all the time.

I think I am most frustrated with a system that favors the bad guys. I think we spend a little too much time trying to understand them--see it their way--instead of challenging them to the freedom that comes with seeing it our way by working hard.

Your post is an apt reminder that bits of petty cruelty, like drops of water to the forehead--can drive a person mad.

I type this and consider all you have said with Suzanne in mind. She is our best teacher these days, eh?

74WIXYgrad said...


I thought about Suzanne as I was considering this post. I also hope the other two educators who follow this blog will weigh in. I know Struke has some stories to share and I emailed him a link to your blog.

Ms Hen said...

Teenagers are still NOT totally formed.

((hugs)) about you teacher. He did NEED help and something was going to set him OFF.

But as grownups we all should remember that "our words can harm or make some shine".

I try to give true compliments all day; and since they are TRUE; I see people LIGHT up.

A deli cutter with deep blues and auburn hair in her 60s that is looking tired from her work.. I notice her eyes and told her what beautiful eyes she has and her face lit up (as she handed me my cold cuts).

It was a true compliment.. and so that is why she responded.

I do this even when I'm having a bad day..

Shellmo said...

I have a friend who's a highschool teacher. She's been thru it all - a parent chasing her into a lockerroom sweearing at her (my friend was also a basketball coach and had benched this person's child), she had another student hit her in the face w/ a backpack (that student was transferred to another school) and many other things - but she has persevered - and she is strong - and is a well liked teacher now. There's only a few bad apples. She blames the bad apples on bad parents - parents who don't teach their children the merits of kindness and respect, and also to have responsibility and accountability. I have so much respect for your daughter and the job she has chosen - not many can do it - and if they choose to do this - they need to have a strong backbone as well as a school system that will stand behind them. I wish her the best!

Michelle said...

Very thought provoking, Cliff.

I know two teachers when I was at school who had nervous breakdowns. Both were young women, (one was a nun) who were timid and in way over their heads. Sadly, as a kid you don't think you're doing harm. If kids see a weak person they don't respect it's all out war.

Akelamalu said...

I came via David's after reading your Sunday Roast interview.


I remember in senior school the hard time we gave one of our English teachers and feel ashamed. I work in a school and cringe when I see the students doing exactly the same thing. I can understand your dismay when you heard about that teacher jumping off the bridge. :(

Amias said...

Good post Cliff.

I had some of the worst teachers in my life, they judged by skin color, and taught you the same way. A teacher once told me, after writing her a poem, that I would do better to learn to wash and iron -- and not waste my time in school. Now this was just the tip of the iceberg...

I respect teachers, but everyone that stands in front of a class is not a teacher -- they are just picking up a pay check.

By the way, no one thing or person pushes another to commit suicide -- it begins at birth, and all their life entails, which cause them to fall. But young folks, as well as old folks, and everyone in between can be so very cruel.

Maggie said...

My youngest daughter is in the teaching field...she spent 6 years in college to prepare to be the best she could be to help students to learn to prepare for adulthood in the Math field.
She told me there were times when she first started teaching she felt threatened by students who towered over her in height and some would argue with her in a violent manner...even tho the grades which they received were the result of their own lack study or understanding their lessons.
She loves teaching in the class rooms but said she is so disappointed by so many who attend school just because it is the law for them to do so.
Her biggest joy in a classroom was to have students who had a desire to learn.
I do not feel all who call themselves teachers have the best interest of the child and can break many a spirit...I had such a fourth grade teacher.
I learned more from the school of hard knocks when I started thinking and learning for myself.
Bless the good teachers and may the rest go to pasture.

BB-Idaho said...

I knew an excellent young teacher who left the profession after two
years. Parents!!!

Neva said...

I work in a high school (not as a staff) and I had no IDEA how bad some of the students are but by far....the Parents are the plant a get a cabbage....Even bad teachers have to work hard. not a job for the faint of heart.

Daisy said...

Teaching has got to be one of the toughest jobs out there in my mind. Teachers are definitely underpaid, overworked and under-appreciated. Well written post, Cliff.

dons_mind said...

i think the key in that story is where you say, "i knew there were other problems...". God works in funny ways and it's mostly different with every single one of us....sometimes we're just not meant to know things.....

Pat Jenkins said...

oh my goodness. there were times when my buds and i may have brought our teacher to tears, but we never pushed them over a bridge!! kids are cruel to the teachers as much as they are to their fellow students i guess..

Frasypoo said...

Very thought provoking,Cliff.My school distric is a bad one so they dont get any teachers here.They are bringing in teachers from India and Africa and of course they have accents so the students go crazy making fun of them.
Its sad but kids dont value how much the US educational system does.They dont realise that its not free in any other country and its something they need to take to heart.
On the other hand there are parents driving kids too hard(mainly asians and Indians) and a high rate of suicide becuase they did not get good grades rules there

PS:On the food comment:You wont be able to keep up with my eating!!!
Not sure if you saw FB but I had mentioned that you look very artistic in the new pic!

clean and crazy said...

I agree with Neva on this one, today's parents are the worst co- signers of their little angels BS that you could imagine, I think back in your day it was a little different for teachers, I mean there was a time when teachers were allowed to hit children, in Kansas they still can but don't, however I know in my time my mother would have BBQ'd my bottom if I sassed a teacher, yet on the other hand my father would co-sign my sister and yell at the VP for suspending his baby for being a Mexican!! (really she got into a fight and deserved it)that was just his excuse. And this was in California but when he grew up the teachers were very bigoted like Amias said and so he carried that with him. I really think parents need to quit co-signing and actually follow through on their discipline, weather it means grounding or taking away a dang cell phone that doesn't teach kids anything about saving money, all it teaches them is to spend every last dime they have, there is another problem let's give them a car, because we CAN!! That makes sense, and the teachers are left defending themselves instead of teaching. Look at that you got me on a soap box again !! Dang your good. Great blog, very thought provoking