Kids these days aren’t the problem.

To everyone who sees that video of the cop flipping the student out of her desk and throwing her into the wall, and says, “see, the problem is that kids these days don’t respect authority,” I’d like to say one thing:

NO.

While unpacking the levels of wrong in the current discussion is a little like peeling the layers of an onion, this is something that absolutely must be discussed.

First, should the student in question have unfailingly obeyed her teacher’s authority?  To accurately answer that question, there are several things that must be addressed.  The first is if the teacher is an unquestionable authority in the child’s life.  I can remember, when I was fourteen, getting into an argument with a teacher so heated I was sent to the principal’s office.  There were many times I did so, in fact.  From pointing out that penguins don’t only live on ice to Indians not being treated with respect to dinosaur bones not being planted by God to challenge men’s faith, my career of disrupting class to call my teachers idiots spanned a 7 year period, and was only ended by my being taken out of school to teach myself.  Should I have simply respected my teachers authority, unquestioningly, when I felt I could prove that they were wrong?

You may, correctly, point out that there’s a difference between respecting a teacher as an authority on the class material and respecting their right to reinforce rules and expectations.  Yes, please, let’s talk about rules and expectations.  On the first day of my class on classroom management, we talked about how difficult it is to maintain discipline when 30 kids don’t want to learn what you’re teaching them.  That class, like many classes, focused not on how to punish students but on how to convince them that they want to learn.  Here’s a secret:  You can’t make other human beings always do what you want.  Other human beings can and will have different ideas of what they should do with their time, and a teacher who focuses on punishing bad behavior instead of teaching those willing to be taught fails both those who want to learn and those who don’t.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to punish the students who don’t want to learn, because increasingly schools are filled with reluctant students who don’t see the point of education. The problem with those students isn’t that they are disrespectful, it’s that they have so little hope.  A good teacher won’t waste anyone’s time punishing their disrespect.  A good teacher will address their lack of hope in order to win their cooperation.

So why are kids today hopeless?  Well, there are many reasons.  One is that the level of poverty in the country is growing.  A high school diploma no longer guarantees you the ability to keep food on the table and provide yourself with a decent life.  Another is growing inequality.  Oh, isn’t that the same thing as poverty?  No, it isn’t.  Because what we see is that the lines between the rich and the poor are growing, but so are the lines between white people and minorities.  So are the lines between native language speakers and language learners.  In some areas we don’t just fail kids once, but we fail them three or four times, because every line of difference between them and the usually white middle class teacher is another barbed wire barrier they have to climb over with bare hands, unassisted by the system that is all too happy to punish their lack of adherence to expectations with a little unwarranted jail time.

Let’s talk about this.  Lets talk about the kid who I saw fall asleep on his desk, because he works nights and takes care of his brother and sister when he gets home from school.  “Let him sleep,” his teacher told me, “I’ll give him extra credit work.”  I asked her if that wasn’t rewarding his lack of attention.  She said, “I call it justice.”  Let’s talk about the level 3 language learner being dragged out of classes for one on one teaching with someone unqualified to teach him because the school system couldn’t afford someone with the right credentials.  Lets talk about the 3 or 4 positions at that school being filled full time by substitutes because no one wants to work at the school with “gang problems”, so students are deprived of even the ability to develop an ongoing relationship with their teacher.  Lets talk about the kid who is on their phone during class because their cousin in Mexico had their house robbed that morning and is scared.  Lets talk about the girl who is distracted in class because her uncle is sexually abusing her.  Lets talk about the immigrant from some central american country who is scared every time the school resource cop walks by because in his country, cops are known to murder students and steal from them.  Lets talk about the African American girl who has, since kindergarten, worn the label of “thug” because she had poorer language skills than her peers because her parents were hardly ever in the home, so she communicated mostly with pinches and grunts.  And that label stuck with her to high school, until she believed that no amount of good behavior would ever shake the fact that teachers just hate her.

Lets talk about why kids don’t pay attention in class, and then lets talk about how absolutely senseless it is to punish a lack of attention as if it is a crime.

“But kids should respect their teachers,” people continue to say as if that is some sort of silver bullet against the woes of the world.

I’m going to say something very daring right now:  students shouldn’t respect their teachers just because the teacher stands in the front of the classroom.  If teachers want to be respected by their students, they need to understand and teach to the very real problems their students face.  They need to respect the injustices and inequalities their students bring into the classroom, and they need to counteract them.  They need to understand why their students suffer from a lack of sustained attention and design classroom instruction to work within that lack.  They need to know why some students need to act out and they need to build action into their lesson plans so that it isn’t disruptive to everyone else.  They need to understand that control of the classroom comes from a healthy sustained relationship between student and teacher, not hanging on the authority of a cop that they can call.

Because the second you call in the cops, you say, “I’m not in charge, this guy is.”

And more than that, teachers need to understand that blind adherence to authority isn’t healthy and shouldn’t be taught.  Blind adherence to authority is what leads people to be willing to administer a lethal electric shock to someone innocent just because they are told to.  This was studied because scientists wondered why seemingly decent German citizens would cooperate during the Holocaust.  What they found was that fear of challenging authority can and will cause people to violate their own morals.

What in the world would possess any reasonable person to think that instilling an unfailing fear of challenging authority into our children would be okay?  I don’t want my children to never question their teachers.  If anything, I want them to question everything and everyone that asks them to behave in a way they see as unnecessary or harmful.

“Kids these days are just acting out all over the place.”

Open your eyes.  Look at the world around you.  See what we are handing to our children: lack of opportunity, a failing economy, an education that is barely good enough to wipe their butts and flush down the toilet.  And you expect them to cooperate with that system?

So you take a girl who was just placed into foster care, who is traumatized and afraid, and when she is chatting with her friends as a way to cope instead of listening to the lesson, you demand her phone.  You demand her safety.  Then, when she refuses to comply, you call the cops in to slam her against the floor and wall, and you stand back with your arms crossed and say, “the problem is that kids these days need to comply.”

To everyone who agrees with that statement, I say this:  the problem is that adults these days don’t give a damn about the well-being of children.

“You work and go to school? Who takes care of your kids?”

So I’ve seen this blog post getting linked around Facebook, and I’ve mostly scrolled by it with a good-natured “harrumph”.  It’s Matt Walsh writing about how his wife is doing a bang-up job of raising his kids, what with the birthing life into being and instilling of morals and hygiene and societal values while staying at home and never having a career anymore.  Most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are stay-at-home moms, and I don’t want to disparage what they do.  But one friend of mine took exception to Walsh’s tone because it seemed really patronizing to the mothers who do work, and that made me think about a lot of things.

Let me start by saying that being a stay at home mom is hard, incredibly hard.  I did it for five years, and looking back I think it was more emotionally draining and difficult than parenting while working.  You never get to clock out of being a parent, especially when your kids are on top of you every second of the day and a good bit of the night.  It’s hard to deal with feeling unappreciated and unproductive.  It’s nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while from someone who affirms stay-at-home-mommyness as something of a sacred calling.  But being a working mother is a whole different type of hard, and while I can’t say the two are equal or unequal, what I can say is it takes a strong-ass woman to do either with any amount of grace.  Women who manage to actively raise their kids into productive members of society in today’s world deserve praise REGARDLESS of their employment status.

My family needed me to have an income, so I went to work.  Then, I went to school and work.  And it’s funny, because while my professional life post-stay-at-home-mommydom has gotten me many “god bless your heart” pouts and shoulder rubs and people with wide eyes saying, “how do you MANAGE?”; there’s a lot less of a sense of screw-everyone-else solidarity amongst working women than there was in the stay at home mom world.

I suppose there’s a feeling that we’re betraying someone, or something.

It doesn’t help when people, in feigned congratulations of my courage, say things like “so you go to school AND you work?  Who takes care of your kids?”

Um, I do.  And their dad.  We raise our children together, thanks for implying that I am somehow crippled as a mother because there are hours I am not home.  No, I can’t always pick them up from school or tuck them in to bed.  But I am present in their lives, the moon that pulls their tides, regardless of if I am available to them every second of the day (including bathroom breaks) or if I am only with them for two hours.  What matters is if the connection to them is actively nurtured.  What matters is when over dinner I ask them what the happiest and saddest moment of their day was.  What made you feel victorious?  What made you feel like you failed?  What will you work harder at tomorrow and what you do differently?  What can I do for you?  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Want to cuddle and read a book?  Need me to mend the sleeve of your dress?

I mean, I may have to boil a days worth of parenting into a few hours sometimes, but there are other days I’m home all day.  There are days where I give my essay project the middle finger and decide to make cupcakes with my daughter or play Minecraft with my son.  I still actively work at being a parent.  I do not shove that responsibility off on anyone else (except their father, who actively shares it).

Being a mother is hard.  Being a parent is hard.  It’s hard whether or not you work.  All of the reasons to stay at home, or to go to work, belong to the parent and not to society.  Stay at home moms need to ask themselves if they have the patience.  Can they go for a few years without even peeing alone or reading a book uninterrupted?  This is a serious question, because child abuse happens when they cannot.  Working moms have to ask themselves can they feel connected to their child if someone else is the one seeing the first steps, hearing the first word?  Can they marvel at their children without having to know every detail?  These are serious questions.  My dad got a lot of Monkeypants’s firsts.  That was really difficult for me.  But you know what?  I get her everydays, and her everydays do not suck.  They amaze me.

Mothers shouldn’t have to stay at home to be congratulated and praised.  Fathers should be praised, too.  You know why?  Because like Matt Walsh says we bring life into the world and we rear it… regardless of whether or not we have another job.  We worry about our children and we do our best to raise them well.  We give ourselves to them, we center our efforts around them… and, yeah, sometimes we make getting or keeping or furthering careers a priority because as a parent we have a responsibility to ourselves as well.  We have a responsibility to model how to be a good member of society, and sometimes that means learning how to be a doctor or a schoolteacher or a nurse or an accountant or what have you.  And sometimes for financial or spiritual or personal reasons that means staying at home.

Sure it does.

But whatever being a parent means, we shouldn’t all have to be competing with each other to prove that we are somehow good parents regardless of how we live our lives.  We’re good parents because of who we are to our children and who they are to us.

 

Call me Candidate Warrior.

So I had my orientation to the teacher preparation program yesterday.  I’d spent the last month in a bit of a fugue, wondering if I was making the right choice.  The program is rigorous, and because it’s designed for people who work part time already it’s mostly evenings and weekends.  I’ve had my heart in my throat over the fact that I’ll be seeing less of the kids, and knowing I’ll have days to myself to work on writing and my own things has been no comfort.  Yesterday morning I joked to The Husband that maybe I should drop out and just keep working in my job as a tutor until I’m really sure about what I want to do.  He answered with an eye roll.

Yeah, I can be worthy of eye rolling.

So last night I walked into the teacher prep orientation and looked at all the faces of my peers shining with anticipation and I wondered if that was really what I wanted.  Was it?  At one point we had to share about what inspired us to become teachers.  “My eighth grade teacher always looked out for us,” one girl said.  “I really love being with kids,” said another one.  “I really enjoy math,” said another.   There I was, pointedly staying silent.  I wasn’t here because someone inspired me to want to take care of kids.  I was here because working as a tutor had shown me that people come into college with only a conversational grasp of language, and it dumbfounds me.  I want to be in a position to lobby for better standards for how language is taught and evaluated.  I want to start a national conversation about the role that language plays in poverty and economic success.  Maybe I don’t belong in a classroom.  This is not for me.  Everyone else here is so passionate about taking care of kids and here I am, just so angry that our system is broken.  Then we had to write a short statement about our goals and share it with a small group.  There were people sharing about creating a loving and safe environment and other ones about modeling good behavior, and then me with my screed about Bridges Out Of Poverty and how what home a child is born into shouldn’t be the major determining factor in what kind of language they are able to use as an adult; the language of negotiation is reserved for the upper classes and poor kids grow up only knowing the language of survival and intimacy, and we are failing them, and I want to see if it’s possible to tweak the programs we HAVE to teach to involve opportunities for kids to master the kind of language they need to better their position in society.

So I was chewing on my lip as we moved into the final portion of the orientation, where we talked about the rubrics and standards for temperament, character and behavior.  I’m so glad I hadn’t walked out before then, because suddenly everything changed.  As we discussed the framework for the education department’s philosophy we were handed a chart.  It’s one of those Venn diagrams, and the middle facet, the one that all of the other areas of professionalism overlapped in, was dedication to social justice.  One of my peers asked why that was there and I felt this sudden warmth in my heart, because I knew.  Because it was why I was so angry, why I changed my major in the first place.  And the instructor said words I’d said earlier that evening, even though he couldn’t have known it, he said, “what home a child is born into shouldn’t determine what opportunities they have in life.  Our role as teachers has to be making sure that everyone has the same chance, the same education, and the same ability to benefit society.”

I nearly screamed “AMEN.”

Then we talked about what kind of person you need to be to survive a career in education.  Sure, patience and compassion and consistency, which had been so exhaustively discussed, were on the list.  But it went beyond that.  Are your responses appropriate to the situation at hand?  Are you dedicated to self-reflection and self-improvement?  Do you seek out professional support and collaboration and realize you are incapable of individual success without others?  Do you seek out diverse opinions and examine all situations with multiple viewpoints in mind?

Suddenly the cry in my soul, asking what had I done and why, started to subside.  I found myself saying, “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

He said that we need to be ready to fight.  “Teachers are held to the highest standard in society. We have to fight every day to exceed expectations and face every criticism with a smile and open heart. We guard the future.”  When your students see you in the grocery store, they are watching.  Their parents know if you’re in a neighborhood bar and how much you drink.  What you eat, what you wear, what you do, all of those things will be under a microscope.  In the world of social media you have to be careful of how and why you have a bad day, because people are watching.  It’s not for everyone, he said, so don’t be embarrassed if you want to change your major.  But it’s about what we’re fighting for, he said.  If we want a better society we have to be that better person for the kids who are entrusted into our care, and our first and most constant thought has to be why we choose to do what we do.

Yes, yes, yes.

We have to ask ourselves, he said, if we are strong enough.  “Are you strong enough?”

I was taking notes (of course), so I wrote in the margins, “perhaps I forgot to mention, I am a warrior.”

I am a warrior.  I can do this.  I can become a teacher.  I can become politically active.  I can write a doctorate thesis on uses of language in the home and television and on and on and on.  I can do this.  I WILL do this.  Because I’m not Teacher Candidate Lindsey.  No, I’m Teacher Candidate Warrior, and I have a mission.  Do I know why I care so much?  Why I’m crying as I’m writing this?  Why I threw psychology under the bus like last year’s fashion even though it was a lifelong passion?

Yesterday morning I may have said that I was confused, but I’m not now.

This profession ISN’T for everyone.  It’s for the people who have the strength, drive, and passion to never forget why we do what we do.  And we don’t do it because we’re softhearted and naive and rosy-eyed and just want to spend the day with kids (although there is that, too), it’s because we’re freaking warriors.  We have to be, because society doesn’t value education.

So we have to fight, and fight, and fight- in a world that thinks we don’t deserve to be paid, that we are failing as literary rates fall, that pans the profession on the evening news without a second thought, where kids come into the class more concerned with their kill rate on video games than reading a decent book, and where half of them are more distracted by thoughts of getting through the day than ever giving a second thought to their future.

A future that teachers have to fight for.

Because it’s not our fault that kids are failing.  It’s our society as a whole that has failed.

But teachers take responsibility for it anyway, don’t they?

We’re warriors, and that’s what warriors do.  They take up the sword and fight on.

Honors Badge on a Real Diploma! (Or, how I’ve spent the last two years of my life.)

If you had told me three years ago that I would start crying real tears of joy when I got a diploma for a moderately useless two year degree from a community college, I would have probably laughed in your face.  No, really.  For one, if I ever wanted to go back to college I would have been going for a four year degree in something that could help people, like social work or psychology.  And I didn’t want to go to some community college where half of the freshman drop out after one quarter (or two weeks into the first quarter).  I wanted to go to a Proper University and get a Proper Degree.

So how did I end up locking myself in my bathroom to cry upon receiving the meager title of Associate in Arts heading to an English Major with a teaching certificate?  I mean, this isn’t my life, right guys?  This isn’t the life I moved across the country to live.

But, it’s better.  Because it is real.

Originally when I moved to the Valley it was with these grandiose dreams of getting a psychology degree.  My first job after setting foot here was working for a non-profit mental health organization.  I wanted to get my doctorate.  I wanted to run the place.  But not having many options open to me, I had to enroll in the only school that I could make work with my job and my newly minted separation from my husband (also unexpected).  I went to Yakima Valley Community College because it was inexpensive, close to home, and admitted everyone.  At the time I felt like I was just making the best of bad circumstances, but it wasn’t really what I wanted.

How silly I can sometimes be!

The instructors I dealt with were some of the smartest and most hardworking people I ever dealt with.  And the work itself was both harder and easier than I anticipated.  To be honest, I worked my butt off.  I stayed up nights late.  I did homework ALL THE TIME.  Supper is boiling on the stove?  Homework.  In the bath?  Doing the reading.  Working on an essay?  Expect me to dialogue stuff to myself while driving in an attempt to figure it out.  For the first year of my school career I worked 36 hours every weekend.  I got out of class at 11 on Friday and was at work by noon.  I worked until midnight, picked up the baby from her grandparents, went home, and tried to sleep.  I was up at six to be out of the house by seven so I could drop the baby off and be at work at 8, often working until 5 or midnight.  And the same the next day.  Looking back, I wonder when I did my homework.  (Oh, wait, always.)  And how did I stay sane?

I don’t know.  I wouldn’t accept failure from myself so I tried to do better than my best, always.  Other students would explain why they couldn’t spend more than four hours on an essay.  I told myself I wouldn’t be that person.  I would sacrifice whatever I had to in the short term as long as it wasn’t the kids.  The kids got my full attention during dinner.  I helped them with their homework and read to them for a half hour every night.

And I worked, and I worked.  Somewhere in there my husband and I reconciled, and I wish I could say that made everything easier.  It made it possible for me to only work part time, and it made the crazy reading schoolwork in the bathtub let up some.

But it didn’t make things EASY, just easiER.

If getting a degree and making something out of your life were simple, everyone would do it.  It’s not.

I feel so ridiculous.  I want to just walk around town shoving my diploma in everyone’s face and pointing at the Honor’s badge and saying, “I DID THIS.  ME.  ME WITH MY HITTING ROCK BOTTOM AND FAILING AT EVERYTHING.  THIS IS ME.”

I’m going to embrace the crazy, though.  I’m going to be as proud of that silly little bit of paper as if it were a degree from Harvard or Yale, because I had to work for it.  I suppose only I will ever know how much I went through to earn that ridiculous little gold emblem with the honor’s cap, but, hey.

I do know.

And if I’d told myself two years ago that it wasn’t worth it, I’d still be cleaning toilets for fifty cents above minimum wage, and mouthing off to anyone who would listen how one day I’d make something of myself.

Guess what, I made something of myself already.  And it may not be the fantasy, but I’ll settle for the reality.

A reality you earn with sweat and tears and sheer grit is better than a pipe dream anyway.  And did you see my diploma?  It has a shiny gold honor’s badge.  I did that!  Me!

Gay Teacher- a vague memory

For lesbiansaidwhat.

My brother’s third grade teacher was gay. We lived in a small rural town, and the elementary only had about 200 students- total. It was a mixture of regular “folks”, Mennonites and Amish. At first there was whisperings about why a forty year old man who was attractive and educated was single. Then the rumors started. Someone saw him in the city with another man. A group of students (mixed boys and girls) in his house saw a postcard in his sock drawer of a naked man. Boys in the classroom started to complain that he was hitting on them. I don’t know if this was true or not- but we were all pretty young and imaginations went wild.

Then it came out that he had HIV. The shit hit the fan in a pretty major way, and he was fired. The PTA would say to this day that it had nothing to do with the fact that he was in a homosexual relationship or that he had HIV, it had to do with him amassing sick days and they were afraid he’d bleed them dry if it wasn’t quickly settled and he went away. Maybe that is what they truly believe- that their actions were honest.

All I know is that on the playground boys played “beat the gay” mock games and threatened to kill the teacher if he ever came back to town, and no one stopped them. They said horrible things, the teachers turned the other way.

It’s really a shame. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He was quite, he was clean, he kept to himself. He was really passionate about English and would loan books out to the kids, and talk about them when we were done reading. I suppose some of the parents thought that he did it to get alone with the kids. They must have been afraid he would hurt us.

He can’t have ever behaved in a bad way, though. If he had, there’s no way they would have just sent him out of town.