In which I am in the presence of excellence

Just a quick note today again, because while I made it to work today and got through the entire day I’m still feeling pretty shit: we had a parent-teacher conference today. It was prescheduled, mind you, as it’s the time of year for these things, so it’s not like it was one of those YOU MUST COME IN NOW AND DISCUSS YOUR CHILD WITH US sorts of things.

I think the highest compliment I can possibly pay to my son’s teachers is that they make me miss teaching. I mean, in general the quality of the staff at Hogwarts is pretty damn high, but I am going to seriously miss him being in first grade with the teachers that he has, and– and I say this without even knowing the names of the second grade teachers, so I could very well be wrong– we are going to seriously have to prepare for a letdown next year, because there’s just no way he’s lucky enough to get people this good in charge of his education two years in a row.

I mean, yeah, it didn’t take that long of having a non-education job for me to miss being around education and around kids, but moments in the past two or three years where I missed teaching itself are vanishingly rare. And every time I sit down with these folks I spend the entire conversation thinking yes, that’s exactly how you should handle that and yes, that’s exactly what I tried to do on my best days in this job and yes, that’s exactly the sort of mind-set I want you to have about my son, who is smart as hell but who is manifestly not perfect and absolutely has any number of things that we want him to try harder and do better with.

And it’s every single conversation I have with them. I just hope he realizes how fucking lucky he is. I wish everyone had teachers this good.

In which I’m not sure what I’m mad about

R-580242-1518276830-4202.jpegSo the district I used to work for just named its Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 school year.  I don’t know the guy; he teaches fourth grade and has been with the district for five years.  I assume he’s good at his job; typically that’s a requirement for being named a building TotY, and to be named for the entire district is a genuinely big deal.  Best I ever did was top 10.

There’s an article in the paper about him.  After thinking about it, I’m not going to link to it, because the purpose of this post is not to shit on this guy and you’re just going to have to believe me that I’m quoting this accurately.  The article is mostly Good Teacher Boilerplate until I got to this part, about 2/3 of the way through:

Like his students, (name redacted) appears to have a bottomless well of energy.

He and his wife, (Mrs. redacted), have three children, ages 4, 2 and 1.

Besides full-time teaching, (redacted) works 10 to 25 hours per week at a home improvement store and is studying for a master’s degree at IU South Bend. He was head football coach for 11 years for the team at St. Matthew’s School in South Bend.

My first thought was that it’s ridiculous that we pay our teachers so Goddamn poorly that  this guy, like most working teachers in the area, has to have a second job.  Without an MA and with five years of experience he’s probably not even making 35K a year, and if he is, it’s barely.  And that’s too low.  It’s insane that a job that requires a college degree and insists on continuing education after that pays so poorly, particularly one that’s so critical to the functioning of society at large.

And then I thought about it a little more.  Dude’s a full-time teacher.  That’s, bare minimum, 8-4 five days a week.  He’s not in a low-grading classroom where he can just pass/fail everyone, and for me grading and lesson planning was at least another eight hours a week– ie, most of Saturday or most of Sunday or longer hours every day during the week– and I was excellent at crafting assignments that took as little time as possible to grade.  No Teacher of the Year is working 40-hour weeks.  It’s impossible.

And he’s supposedly laying another one to three eight-hour shifts on top of that, plus a bare minimum three hours a week in an MA classroom assuming he’s only taking one class and doesn’t spend a single second reading or studying, plus travel time to all the above, plus he has three children all under five years old?

And now part of me is going “Jesus, this poor guy,” and the rest of me is pretty goddamn sure somebody somewhere is lying, because there literally aren’t enough hours in the week for anyone to pull this schedule off.  The reporter apparently didn’t care enough to add it up and figure out that this guy is claiming eleven-hour work days every single day ever while also somehow raising three very fucking small kids.

I seriously can’t figure out which is worse: that this could actually be his schedule, in which case he’s going to burn out and hit a wall very, very soon, and it’s not going to be pretty for anyone involved when he does, or if a guy who is already Teacher of the Year still feels the need to lie about his schedule and the reporter just shrugged and wrote it down.    That’s how pervasive the teacher-as-martyr idea is; he or she looked at all that and boiled it down to “bottomless energy” and not “on the road to flaming out and divorce at 30.”

 

RIP, Mrs. Gates

image-29403_20180310.jpgxI got a text from my mother just now, while I was eating dinner, that my second grade teacher had passed away, at the admirably ripe old age of 92.  Mrs. Gates is one of the several teachers that my book Searching for Malumba is dedicated to, one of only two from my elementary/primary school years.

I had found myself wondering about her many times over the years.  My second-grade recollection of her was that she was one of my older teachers, but that could have meant she was 40; kids are terrible at pegging how old adults are, right?  As it turns out, she was nearly 60 when I had her, so she was probably nearing retirement at the time.  I remember her as being probably the best example I ever had of the “strict but fair” teacher, which was something I always tried to emulate in my own career.

The funny thing is that when I try to unearth specific memories of what she was like as a teacher, I can only come up with one or two of them, and the clearest memory probably counts as educational malpractice, to the point where I almost feel disrespectful for talking about it.   Mrs. Gates was always big on cleanliness– keeping the room clean, and in particular, keeping our desks clean.  She’d actually inspect them from time to time– I have no idea how frequently; this could have been a daily or weekly thing for all I remember, or it could have been more frequently than that.

I am still in touch with literally no one who was in my second grade class, but I can think of perhaps four or five kids who are no more than a quick Facebook search away.  And I guarantee each of them remembers the day Mrs. Gates got tired of Jonathan W. (I remember his full name, but why let him Google this?) having a sloppy desk for like the nine hundredth time in a row and in a fit of frustration dumped it out on the classroom floor in front of everyone.  Objectively, with thirty-some-odd years of hindsight, this was probably a terribly humiliating thing for Jonathan and was not the proper way for her to have handled the situation.  certainly can’t imagine dumping a kid’s desk out on the floor in front of the whole class.  And yet, I think for most of us, it made us more fond of her– and make no mistake, strict as she was, the kids in that class loved Mrs. Gates.  Because this lady wasn’t taking any shit, and chances are most of our moms would have done the same damn thing in similar circumstances.  I stayed friends with Jonathan until he moved away, I think in middle school sometime, and that story was still getting told at slumber parties years later.

For whatever it’s worth, I suspect he’d probably still laugh at the story.  I dunno; maybe I shouldn’t have told it.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Gates.  I hope wherever you are, all the desks are pristine.

The last SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA post for a minute

IMG_2872First, two small announcements, one of which Twitter got yesterday:  the final cover price from Amazon will be $15.95, which is all of 30 cents above the minimum they’d let me charge for the book.  It’s a bit higher than I wanted, but the book’s pushing 500 pages and over 115,000 words, so at least you’re getting some material for the money.  Ebook cost will be my typical $4.95.

Second: while CreateSpace still doesn’t do pre-orders, barring some sort of shipping-related disaster, the print edition will be available day and date with the ebook edition on October 27th.   Right now they’re telling me I’ll get my proof next Wednesday, which should be plenty of time for me to find and fix any errors and have the book ready for release.

Finally, a request: if anybody wants to help me out with publicity– interviews, guest posts, anything like that– get in touch with me, either by leaving a comment or by emailing me.  I’ve got a thing or two lined up but more is always great.

And now I’ll shut up about my stupid little book for a few days.  I promise.  🙂

A question

Who was the best teacher you ever had?  Tell me about him or her in comments.  Define “teacher” as widely as you like, from preschool to your Ph.D advisor.