Bad Teacher or Bad-Ass? You decide
There has been a great deal of talk this past week on “bad” teachers. As Whoopi Goldberg made her statement on unions, she decidedly drew the line that there are good and bad teachers. It seems we forget to look at the big picture. Just who and what deems an educator a “bad teacher”?
I received a good laugh from my friends and colleagues when I told them about my latest “school nightmare.” For educators, it is not a unique experience to begin the school year on the back of several gripping school dreams. In my latest nightmare, I arrived on the first day of school to find that my schedule had changed. I teach high school language arts classes, but to my disbelief, there on my schedule I was teaching Surfing 101. After gripping my desk and controlling my breathing, I calmly walked to my principal’s office to question her decision to offer Surfing. I plead my case … this is Ohio, there are no oceans; I don’t know how to surf; I’ve never even been surfing; some of my students don’t even know how to swim; others are afraid of the water; we have no surfboards. She listened respectfully and then replied, “Those are small obstacles, Robyn. You’ll do just fine. It’s a mandate from the state, and my hands are tied.” I appreciated her confidence in my teaching and left determinedly to the cafeteria to grab sporks to begin digging our ocean.
Still not realizing it was a dream, I woke with many questions. How will I write SLOs (Student Learning Objectives)? Is there a Common Core State Assessment on surfing? How can I prepare myself to teach surfing before students arrive on Monday? Is there enough money in my checking account to purchase some of the necessary materials to get us started? How will the community treat me if I cannot get every student to surf? How will this affect my evaluation? Most importantly, is this really what is best for my students?
Sounds absolutely absurd, right? Quite honestly, it isn’t far from the truth about teaching. There is a reason the teacher psyche fixates on the profession in August. Oftentimes, teachers are asked to succeed against insurmountable odds.
School libraries are closing around the country. Ours closed several years ago. Teaching English classes with no books is very similar to teaching surfing with no surfboards. The passion I have for teaching reading and writing are inhibited by a lack of the necessary materials available to my students. Make no mistake, this situation will reflect in the learning growth of my students. Please look only at my test scores and you will see I must be a “bad” teacher.
Many students enter my classroom below the designated reading level. The Common Core says teach them where they are. You cannot go back and waste time teaching what they should already know. That is equivalent to teaching a kid to surf who doesn’t know how to swim. Can you imagine? It really is a desperate situation, and I refuse to watch a student drown even if it is reflected on end of course exams. Look at the data; I’m a bad teacher.
With many students below the poverty level, I cannot expect them to get the help they need from home, either. They cannot practice the skill of surfing outside of the classroom when there is no ocean. In my career, I have offered both before and after school tutoring programs, asked students sit in another section of the same class, met them during my lunch or their study hall periods. I, like every teacher I know, do this free of charge. We make no extra money, give up time with our own families, and spend our own money on supplies our students need to be successful. We dig the ocean with a spork. Usually a spork that we’ve paid for ourselves because the charter schools have been given all the backhoes. I cannot afford shovels this month once my bills are paid, even though the ocean would get done more quickly. I guess the ocean progress won’t get as far as it needs to by the end of the year. My evaluation will say so. Looking at the progress on paper, I’m a mediocre teacher at best.
This summer, as I purchased 25 reams of notebook paper and 50 boxes of yellow number two pencils, among many other things, the cashier exclaimed, “You must be a teacher!” She went on to express how many teachers have come through her line buying an absurd amount of school supplies. The man behind me in line spoke up and said, “Well, they CHOOSE to buy those supplies. They don’t have to.” And he pointed his finger right at my chest. My heart sank. When did teachers become the enemy? I really don’t think he understands the complexity of choosing to. I simply replied, “Yes, we do.” I paid for my supplies and left the store. This year, I will choose to hand a sophomore girl a pencil no questions asked because she is already worried about what to feed her two younger siblings that night while her mom works a second or third job. I will choose to supply paper to a student who works 30 plus hours a week to help his family make ends meet at home. I choose to allow my students to focus on what is happening in my classroom, and I’m not sorry for that choice even though I will be evaluated based on a test my students will take one time regardless of what is happening in their home lives. When the scores come back, it will tell me that my students are successes and failures. It will not say, Katie’s father left home last week; Jack’s girlfriend broke up with him this morning; Jenny hasn’t eaten since school lunch yesterday; Robby worked 30 hours already this week… It will say, Robyn Futhey, you are a bad teacher.
Yet teachers all around the country will continue to choose to. We will continue to dig the ocean. There will be community members, even Hollywood stars, who say our ocean isn’t wide enough, deep enough, or long enough, that we didn’t dig it fast enough. But even if the ocean consumes us in the end, our students will know we care about their learning. Evaluate that. Call us bad teachers. We are bad. Bad-Ass!
From BAT Robyn Lyndi Futhy