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.

On the teachers’ lounge

teachersloungeshirtI reblogged a post the other day called Choosing Sad Over Cynical, and I’m glad I did; it’s a magnificent piece that makes a point that I think teachers really need to hear.  Cynicism is a choice, and while I’ll freely admit it’s a choice I’ve made gleefully at more than one point in my career it’s absolutely useful to remind myself that there are better things to do with my mental health.

That said, I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of days, and I’m going to take issue with one minor aspect of the post:

Way back when I was a newly minted Special Ed teacher, I remember listening to veteran teachers talk in that proverbial den of negativity, the faculty room. Any time I’d say something positive, some veteran teacher would say, “Oh, you’ll get over that soon. Wait a couple of years.” I’d notice how miserable these teachers were, how much they hated their jobs, the mean things they’d say about kids and parents.

It goes on from there, but you get the point.

First things first:  March Hare is absolutely right to describe your average teachers’ lounge as a “den of negativity.”  That description is both fair and accurate.  It also completely misses the point of the teachers’ lounge, and misses it in a way that’s hard to describe to people who aren’t teachers.

Yes, the teachers’ lounge is a den of negativity, and a place where people, usually teachers, are occasionally prone to say terrible, horrible things about the children who are in their charge.  But here’s the thing:  don’t worry about it.  What y’all need to realize– and I’m generalizing now because this post is far from the only post I’ve seen discussing teachers’ lounge “culture”– is that 1) my twenty-five minutes in the teachers’ lounge is literally the only 25 minutes of my day where I get to interact with adults when I’m not on the job.  Even if I have a co-teacher or paraprofessionals in my room, I don’t get to have “off-duty” conversations with those people while they’re in my classroom, and I’ll admit to being rather cold to people I shouldn’t have on the rare occasions where they tried to have a conversation unrelated to what was going on in the classroom.  That’s not the place.

The teachers’ lounge is the place.  During those 25 minutes I need to a) eat lunch, b) find a way to relax a little bit, and– and this is the important part– frequently I, and everyone else, need to c) find a way to blow off steam.  That’s a lot to do in 25 minutes, and I can build up a lot of damn steam in the first four hours of my day.

I’m sorry if it sounds terrible, and it probably does, but if calling Jimmy a stupid brain-dead motherfucker in the teachers’ lounge keeps me from treating Jimmy like a stupid brain-dead motherfucker in the classroom, I’m going to run my mouth about him– to people who know him, and who understand, mind you– in the teachers’ lounge, and I’m not going to feel too bad about it.

Wanna see something interesting, though?  Watch what happens if a sub tries to talk shit about our kids– or anybody else other than us who may happen to be in the teachers’ lounge at that time.  Every adult in the room will jump to the defense of a kid who we might have been perfectly happy to joke about the suspect parentage of five minutes ago.  Why?  He’s ours.  We can talk shit about our own kids.  Nobody else gets to.  Period.  And everybody in that room who hears me call Jimmy a stupid brain-dead motherfucker knows that I’m about to walk back into my classroom and work my ass off to teach the belligerent little shit some math.

Are there teachers who are complete burnouts, like she describes?  Absofuckinlutely.  I’ve come dangerously close to it at any number of points in my career– hell, the last two weeks have not been pretty; I really needed the last couple of days to go well and I’m glad they have, but I got home on Wednesday griping that I needed to find something else to do with my life, and not remotely for the first time.  But you identify a burnout by what they do in the classroom, not what they say in the teachers’ lounge.

We all sound like assholes in there.

On pedagogy… sorta

original-1Kind of pointlessly meandering about on the interwubs right now, looking for something interesting enough to talk about.  I used to be really, really good at this game; my previous long-term foray into blogging was basically all about looking around on the Internet until I found something that pissed me off and then ranting about it until I ran out of steam. Granted, it was the Bush years; I was easier to piss off back then, but that model really doesn’t work very well for me anymore.  I can’t remember the last time a blog post on this blog was a result of finding an article online, unless it was (as will be happening later this week, possibly as early as tomorrow) me finding a topic I wanted to emulate, rather than argue against.  What entertains me most about this is that just within the last week I’ve been referred to in comments as both “irascible” and, I believe, a “sadistic fucktard,” both by people who meant them affectionately– and that’s on the blog where, by comparison with previous work, I’m nice all the time.

I’m off from regular job tomorrow morning, because I have another probation assistance team meeting– that’s the thing where I’m working with (and, supposedly, helping) a teacher who has been placed on probation for one reason or another.  We’re drawing close to the end of the process at this point; it’s not supposed to run for longer than 100 days and can end at 40; this will be the 40-day meeting.  I don’t expect us to arrive at an answer (and by “an answer,” I mean “this probation process is terminated” or “you are terminated”) tomorrow, so there will be at least two more half-days out of my classroom in the next few weeks, one to observe again and one to have another summative meeting.  I don’t remember if I blogged about the last time I observed this teacher or not, but what’s frustrating about the whole process is that this person is teaching their(*) classes more or less exactly in the way the corporation wants– it’s just that don’t find that method terribly effective.

This puts me in a weird position.  In terms of teaching “by the book,” so to speak, this teacher is actually miles ahead of me– they’re doing things that I’m supposed to be doing in my room, but never do, because I either find them ineffective in general or have not personally ever been able to make them work.  But I’m still a more effective teacher.  I know this intuitively and I suspect that I could prove it if necessary; my numbers on the state assessments that are supposedly used to evaluate us are really, really good, and if their numbers match mine then they probably shouldn’t be on probation.

What makes it weird is giving advice on how the class should be run on an instructional level– I’m kinda forced to say “do it this way” when in fact I don’t do it that way, and in fact I kinda think doing it that way sucks sometimes, but when we’re in a position of having to rebuild this person’s pedagogy from the ground up, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to rock the boat too much.

The other weird thing was that at the last meeting everyone but me had seen a classroom that was in total chaos.  I didn’t see that, and that’s not just my lens for viewing instruction being calibrated differently from anyone else.  I’m confident that anyone who had walked into that room the first day I was there– and, frankly, the second day I was there as well– would see a classroom that was at the very least being managed adequately.  Classroom management isn’t everything, at least not under most circumstances, and it certainly isn’t teaching, but without classroom management you generally can’t teach effectively.  That’s sort of another problem with this process– we’re supposed to be evaluating teaching, not classroom management, but it’s tough to see through the weeds sometimes.  I just went through my own notes and deleted a bunch of stuff that I didn’t ultimately think was relevant to what we’re supposed to be looking for before sending it in to the committee chair– that’s not to say that it wasn’t important to making this person a better teacher, it’s just not exactly what I’m supposed to be looking for.

Gah.  Am I even making any sense here?  I’m powerfully ambivalent about this entire process, if that’s not obvious, and it makes it hard to write about.  We’ll see how tomorrow goes, I guess.

(* The last time I talked about this, I played the gender-neutral pronoun game throughout and it ended up hurting my brain; this time I’m just using plurals the whole way through.  Screw grammar.)