Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Straws and Camels

As a first-year teacher so many years ago, I thought my veteran colleagues had an air of wisdom about themselves.  They looked and sounded experienced.  While they could certainly still be surprised, they never appeared shocked.  Sarcasm was a sign of their seasoning, and their passion for teaching was evident in how they shared, how they offered, and how they employed patience with me. P-l-e-n-t-y of patience.

I remember when they suffered illness, and when others became heartsick.  Puffy eyes, gray pallor, restraint and a need to back away from or even avoid "extras" were quietly noted and the rest of us sympathized, discreetly offered help, and volunteered to take on some of their load, knowing full well that we'd benefit from reciprocity when it was our turn...when life happened...when we were the most human. To care for colleagues, to see them through, was professional.  I found myself the newest member of a teaching family united in purpose, bonded over responsibilities, and when needed, ready to step up to help another through the rough patches.  No one was left by the wayside, no one mourned alone, and it wasn't considered a sign of purposeful antagonism when questions were asked, pedagogy evolved, and new resources came and went... and came again.  The meetings weren't always fun and the arguments could become impassioned; colleagues could make asses out of themselves; apologies were offered; forgiveness was given.  We learned one another's boundaries, strengths, limits and humor.

And we respected them.

Enter NCLB (the Age of Teacher Blame) followed by the Sell-Your-Brand-to-the-Consumer Era, and a collateral gap has emerged between the young bucks and their veteran mentors.  Peppy and eager to implement this generation's peddled cure-alls, newbies have found themselves partnered with colleagues whose pedagogy reflects a much less manic pace and reluctance to toss the baby out with the bathwater.  I remember when shame wasn't associated with this difference.  More and more, today's teachers are burnt out in mere years, instead of burning out after decades.  It's been almost a year since I've blogged here at Kindergarten's 3 R's, so you might wonder if this post is me hinting around that I'm toying with the idea of running away to join the circus.  Clowns give me the creeps, so that's a big NO.  Since:

... here's the short version of what's been going on since last February: I taught.  Continued grad school.  Was busy with family and, time permitting, friends.  I explored other social media. Then a DVT was found in my leg followed by three pulmonary emboli in my chest requiring that my summer vacation be spent healing and learning how to not only handle blood thinners but the accompanying worry, stress, and fear that came along for the ride.  Life happened, as it does.

The new school year started and I was blessed to be able to greet my newest group of students who were unaware of the changes I was experiencing.  My colleagues allowed for the jumble of emotions that were spilling out from me and asked how they could help.  I became better at saying "no" when necessary (something so hard for teachers to do) and for whatever reason assumed that the freight train of public education would slow down a bit to accommodate for the adjusted amount of self-care I found necessary.  This has been my first long-term moment of need where a sabbatical would be much too long of a pause... and I'm nowhere near considering retirement.  I can also still effectively teach kindergarten students the skills that they need and from which they'll benefit most (and I love to do it)... as long as I don't have to recreate the wheel mid-year after spending months establishing the routine that my students and I both need, because *that* dear reader, is the straw threatening to bruise this camel's back.  

I'm not the only one. This afternoon I looked out across a sea of my colleague's faces after it was proposed that we attempt to implement another new modification to the instructional rhythm that we planned and set as our year's pace.  Among the tired were those who were intrigued, along with a few who wore expressions of confusion as they tried imagining how this newest change might affect their jam-packed plan that already barely allows for needed flexibility and breathing room. And then there were some who appeared authentically haggard and disheveled, making me furrow my brow with concern as I realized I hadn't really touched base with them since the frenzied start of our second semester.  Their faces didn't illustrate a desire to deprive students, to slack on the job, or to naysay, scoff at or rebut the suggested modification. None were aspiring to be Debbie Downers either. Their expressions simply pleaded "please, no."

From time to time, some teachers' incentives and intentions are other teachers' camels and straws.

Teachers know that every school year benefits from some rah-rah, and every successful plan requires support and a commitment.  But educators deserve acknowledgment when they've reached their limit too, and it's that accommodation, that consideration, which is rarely if ever provided by a canned program or scripted regimen that dictates hoops to be jumped through in order to attain some status valued by consumers of not a product, but a brand. "Back when I started teaching," curricula and programs were test-piloted by a few teachers with the understanding that an extensive debrief was expected before full-scale adoption would be considered.  This system worked because it enabled the teachers who were most interested and most able to not only explore new resources but to better guide their colleagues as educational needs were identified. Teachers were recognized as whole people with full lives: those with young children could miss more work as their kids shared germs while singles had more time and the freedom to travel hither and yon to conferences, sharing everything they learned upon their return.  Educators motivated to guide the next generation of teachers could regularly host and mentor practicum students while their colleagues next door could build collaborative programs with local businesses or cultural resources to benefit multiple schools.  A grade-level colleague could ask another to share a contract for a year in order to spend more time at home to care for a sick parent, while another could fully mentor a new-to-service teacher before, during and after school daily.  All of these essentials could happen "back in the day" without resentment or shaming because it was understood that the human conditions of both students and teachers contributed to the successes and failures of school.

I too, feel a bit like how some of my incredible colleagues looked this afternoon.  Please.  Not one more thing.  I have enough.  I am doing enough.  I'm not failing my students and I'm not refusing to be a team player. I will jump rail cars and tracks when I am again able.  But not today.  Not this week.



As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!