Flashback to my second year of teaching. In the first few days of the school year I attempted to keep a teaching diary of sorts. Perhaps I knew it was about to be a hellish year. Perhaps I knew I'd need written records. Perhaps I still had hope.
F is pregnant. R had a baby. Who knows what is actually going on with V. Disowned by his parents, homeless, and a pregnant ex-girlfriend. Is it really true? A certain special education teacher in all her tactfulness announced to half the cafeteria that A got held back. Thanks for making one student’s life better. I totally believe you when you say, “Don’t fuck with my students.” Obviously you only mean it when you don't have some kind of vendetta against them. That’s a different story. Why don’t you try being an advocate for the students not receiving their mandated services? Maybe you’re just too busy “dumbing it down” for them.
M came prepared to class and did his work and had a great day. They told me we should be worried about losing him this year, but my hopes are high. He’s gonna get his shit together this time. He has to.
Rumors flying D might be coming back. Failed all his RCTs again. Didn’t work hard enough. I only hope he learned. Don’t waste our time or yours, just work harder, study more. Expand your vocabulary. Read something. Read anything.
This school year has proven to be more difficult than expected and it’s only day two. Everything is disorganized. There is an air of miserable among teachers and students. The administration tries to hide all that is wrong, but they are unsuccessful. We all know the truth. Most upsetting to me is the blatant disregard for special education services. We are out of compliance. We are nowhere near being in compliance. An entire class of students is not receiving any special education services. They claim it’s an issue of funding, but how can that be? Special education is federally funded. Where is that money going? Why are two of the special education teachers teaching general education classes? Why am I teaching six classes? Where is the union in all this? What can we do to fight the people in charge of this fucked up education system?
I start by empowering my students and hopefully their parents catch on too. Call and complain, I am begging them telepathically. Do I dare file a grievance? And face the harsh consequences if I am found out by the higher ups. It’s risky business-- that is, being a teacher employed by the New York City Department of Education.
M may have had a breakthrough. He’s coming to school prepared, completing classwork, completing homework and most importantly ignoring distractions. I observed him briefly in Earth Science and he made me so proud. I couldn’t hold back a smile even as J made inappropriate comments and attempted unsuccessfully to distract others, I had to smirk because everyone else was ignoring him and focused on learning. It was a drop of hope that even without the support and resources teachers need to succeed, we might still be effective. I have one student and he’s going to be okay.
I just barely prevented a fight from breaking out in my 10th grade ICT class in which I still do not have an actual co-teacher in a class that is legally required to have two teachers. I never thought two boys could argue for so long about whether telling someone they had “nigga hair” was more offensive than telling someone they had “lesbian hair.”
It has gotten to the point where I can no longer teach. The students just talk constantly. It’s as though they are incapable of listening. They have no self-control.
I dread going back to school. If I didn’t have so much work to do and didn’t feel filled with guilt I would be looking for a new job. I am miserable. I need to do something beyond work so I can start to feel okay again.
I must keep reminding myself why I stayed at this school. To support my students. To support my friends and colleagues. Because I love my students. I care about my students. I am a teacher so I can be an advocate for my students. I can’t abandon my students when I know they need me. I stayed for my students. They are what matters most.
And then I stopped keeping a diary.
Five years later I find myself in a better environment, yet I still can't shake the feeling of misery. I love my school, my students, my colleagues. I love teaching. And yet, most days, I dread it. I want to blame someone. I want to blame the education system. I want to blame bureaucracy. I want to blame politics. I want to blame high-stakes testing. I want to blame institutional racism. I want to blame the system that creates poverty and all the social problems that are born from it. Because I know that I am meant to be a teacher. I know that I am a good teacher. But these systematic problems are slowly breaking me and slowly crushing my soul.
And I know I'm not alone.