Two of Me is Still Too Little

There is a lot of talk in the media lately about our education system.  Much of it places the blame on teachers.  However, the last couple of weeks in my classroom have been eye-opening, and I wish I could invite the critics into my world.

That world demands I work overtime, by MANY hours, every week–without compensation.  If I divided my salary by the amount of hours I average during a semester, bus drivers and janitors make more than I do–though I have a Master’s degree.

That world demands I fulfill multiple roles for a variety of students at any one time:  mother, father, teacher, friend, coach, counselor, janitor, mentor, nurse, chef, advocate, warden, babysitter, tissue…..  And that’s once I’ve figured out what my 120 or so students need on any given day!

That world demands that I have a certain amount of education, yet not be recognized as a professional in regards as to what is best for my students.  In other words, I hold most of the weight of the consequences, and yet little influence over the politics that determine those consequences.

That world demands that I never complete a to-do list.  The hours of planning each week only lead to hours of grading.  The hours of grading only lead to differentiation to best help students with their individual needs.  This is not to mention the redundancy of standardized assessments I am made to give.  Over and over the cycle repeats, though with very little compensation.  Over 90% of these requirements cannot happen during the school day, on the clock, because during those fleeting hours I am in meetings, helping students, or fulfilling other duties.

I have noticed this so much as of lately.  I am blessed to have an amazing student teacher with me every day, all day.  Each day, we strive to accomplish the duties of one teacher: planning, instructing, assessing, giving feedback, revising the next day’s lessons accordingly, and most importantly connecting with as many students as possible.  What is overwhelmingly obvious is that even with two of me, we are not enough.  My student teacher takes over for the next three days, and I am out of the classroom completely.  I am looking so forward to it, because I can finally plan some lessons, some small group instruction, some assignments, and grade some current assignments.  Did I just say that?  I am actually looking forward to work, so that I can accomplish work?  It is so backwards, and yet it is the depressing essence of a teacher’s reality.  I acknowledge that at times I am unmotivated or disorganized and so don’t accomplish much; however for the most part, I am working as hard and efficiently as I can on a daily basis, and so is my student teacher, and yet we still cannot manage the many facets of our ONE job.

This is a crime.  So many teachers give everything to influence the lives of their students.  Yet they are robbed.  I guarantee you that once this country invests more in teachers, the education system will improve.  The American public thinks we’re valuable?  Prove it.  Make our jobs more manageable,  pay us more, compensate us for overtime, recognize our education and professionalism, honor us as artists.  The American public is willing to pay millions for entertainment that lasts but a moment; why not education which is an eternal forming influence?

Happy teachers support students and for make successful schools.  Frustrated and over-worked teachers…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

 

Tributes

This week I was delighted and surprised to receive a lengthy letter from an old friend.  In it, she delved into the images and experiences that have defined her life as of late.  In some ways, her letter has been a spark, igniting the illusive fire of nostalgia.  I cannot help but linger in the past, recollecting the women with the memories we created that have formed me from my earliest of years.

To Jaime—a woman whose compassion for nature mirrored the great John Muir.  No matter the company we kept or the time that pressed, she insisted on stopping and offering a benediction for any injured animal.  Many a time can I remember bending in awkward prayer, amidst shouting kids and swaying trees, our hearts breaking for a fallen bird lying next to the concrete curb.  From her I learned how austerely beautiful an interruption can be, and that “not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father” (Matthew 10).

To Stephanie—a woman with whom I share a kindred soul.  This one time, at band camp… in all sincerity, one time at camp, a peer leaned over and asked me for a pen.  Searching through my collection, I chose the one I was least likely to miss—probably a black or blue Bic missing its cap.  In a swift rebuke, Stephanie leaned over and whispered to me in words that echoed Jesus:  “Be generous; give your best pens first.”  Who knew that a writing utensil could be so indicative of a heart?

To Dwana—a woman who has taught me one of my most memorable lessons.  One Sunday after church, we sat on some couches, chatting with our legs tucked under us.  I was not doing well, haunted perpetually by some spiritual ghosts that I could not shake.  And that was not who I was!  I was strong, immovable, fierce; I did not have weaknesses that I could not eventually overcome.  “Dwana, I understand that there are valleys, but they should end… sometime, no?  But I feel like this one is never-ending.”  “Mary, be patient in your valley, give it time.  You don’t always have to be strong.”  Years later, these words—this memory—still arise like balm to sooth my soul.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12).

To Leigh—a woman who is never afraid of sublime transparency.  I still have cards from  years ago, cards in which Leigh left not one single white space empty; rather, each corner was filled with the confessions, delights, and mysteries of her heart.  Those cards were like the written manifestations of our friendship: our coffee conversations, sleepovers, shopping excursions, double dates and car rides never had a moment in which I could not witness her dismantling authenticity.  From her, I learned that an open heart is an inspiring gift.

To Ruth—a woman who has taught me more about God than I thought possible.  More than being my roommate (and the best one ever, sorry Dave), she revealed to me the complex balance necessary when viewing the Creator.  He is intimate, like a daddy; yet He is awesome, demanding reverence.  He wants our feeble prayers, words as precious as a child’s innocent laughter; yet He is beyond words, scoffing at our humanistic attempts to confine him in a mortal box.

To Tammy—a woman whom I have counted a best friend for 17 years.  From her, I have learned that true Divine relationship lies in mystery.  That if I worship a god I cannot question, then my god is too small.  Together as sojourners we have departed the deceivingly comfortable land of Certainty, climbed the mountains of Regret, forged the river of Americhristianity, parched in the deserts of Doubt, napped in the meadows of Surrender, and danced in forests of Ambiguity.  Though never arriving, we have relinquished the definition of arriving; together we relish the Unknown.

These are just a handful of women who have molded the shape of my soul.  There are more, who for the sake of time, I cannot pay tribute to in this moment.  I recognize that just as the current of a river shapes the rocks that contour it, the women I call old friends, new friends, or forever friends have indubitably changed my landscape.

And for that, I am forever in their debt…

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