The frustrating aspect about blogging--one that I did not anticipate--was deciding what I would write about. I want to do a follow-up on my daughter's math test disaster but the conversation with her teacher deflated that bubble. My baby actually gets math. She's even in the top math group in her class (and I have no idea how that happened). Apparently, she's pretty good at the subject and she seems to be an awesome reader and writer, too. The teacher, being all proactive, just wanted to conference with me to make sure Nayeli stays on track. So my three-part series inspired by my baby's math test has simply fizzled and I'm left with topics heading in other directions. Like:
Lately, I've been reviewing my decision to become a teacher. I don't know if it was a decision, really. It was more of an accidental undertaking that I fell into because I needed a paying job that required little skills. Interestingly, that turned out to be teaching. I was (mostly) fresh out of graduate school, traumatized after a horrible experience at University of Florida, and sort of looking for work. Honestly, I didn't seriously seek a teaching position until a principal called me for a phone interview. Surprisingly, I wasn't offered that position because he had the nerve to want a more experienced teacher (those were the days). That got me thinking, though. What if I actually searched for a teaching position? What if I actually became a teacher?
I think this is one of those moments when I could have done with some angelic intervention, you know. I mean, God spent the whole Bible sending down angels to keep believers from making horrific mistakes. Why couldn't He have sent me an angel to--oh, I don't know--warn me about the teaching profession? Don't get me wrong, of course. There are many, many days when I love the teaching profession. I'm about to enter into five of them during spring break. But there are times when I have to question my choice.
For instance, teaching is the one profession where people from many other professions believe that being a student qualifies them to speak on teaching. If that sort of thinking governed all walks of life, then imagine the chaos that what would be happening in operating rooms and courtrooms. Being a student does NOT a teacher make. This factor alone makes me want to leave the teaching profession. If anyone can teach, then why did I need degrees and professional development and student loans to get me my own classroom?
These insults, though, only add to the frustrations that I face every single day. In my classroom, I teach students to hold meaningful discussions, to listen to each other, to express themselves through poetry or rap or video, to collaborate on projects, to create PowerPoints or Prezis, and to present information to their classmates. Because, according to my state education department, this is what I am supposed to teach them. And then in June, they take a three-hour exam that tests their ability to read and write. Read and write. I am supposed to teach them to fly so that they can be tested on their ability to crawl? Is it no wonder I have reached the end of my teaching rope?
Honestly, though, I have to also acknowledge that the struggle in the classroom is real. I love when I have a student that enters class eager to learn. There is no greater feeling for an educator than when a student excels. But then you get those few students that, quite simply, have decided to stop you from teaching. Their mission in life is to disrupt the teaching process from the beginning of the period to the end. That could involve all manner of disruptions: outbursts, talking to other students, disobeying class and school rules, taking out their cell phones, complaining about you (the teacher), complaining about the class, having more outbursts. These students are not many. They are often less than five but their disruptions can cloud your entire day.
Usually, these students can be found in the same class because, of course, the programmer at your school has this wonderful knack of placing these students in the same classes. All. Day. Long. Some teachers prefer these students in large doses--all in one class so you can get them over with. Some teachers prefer that the love be spread out. I'm often torn on this idea. Either way, one tough student can make you flee the teaching profession.
For me, narrowing what I can teach in the classroom isn't a deal breaker because I will always teach in ways that allow me to engage the greatest number of students. I can even live with the disrespect that our profession is so often subjected to although it drives me absolutely crazy. I don't even think it's the disruptive students that have brought me to this crossroads in my life. But my reasons are a topic for another day.
So today I get an email from my daughter's teacher who is extremely concerned because my child received a 48 out of 100 on her math test. My heart, I promise you, dropped clear out of my chest. I didn't enter into a full-blown panic but there was a panic somewhere on the edge of my consciousness. A 48?! My child is in a gifted program so, automatically, I'm freaking out that she's not keeping up. So I'm thinking: are the other children keeping up? What if she's the only one failing?! Oh my God! What am I going to do?!
That "Oh my God!" of course was all about me and came from full acknowledgement of my aversion to math. What if, like me, my daughter was math deficient? I had received counseling in college just so I could earn my six required credits in mathematics. (The counseling department called it a Math Confidence [Anxiety] Group). So I arranged the phone conference with her teacher, requested that she send the test home, and wondered exactly how I was about to help my child.
With intense dread and a decent amount of fear, I took out my daughter's test as soon as we got home and lost my freakin' mind. I can't tell you what I saw on that paper. I can only tell you that it was like nothing I had seen before. All my life, even when mathematics became an absolute nightmare, I understood what addition and subtraction was. I even, in my traumatized childhood mind, got multiplication and division. I learned multiplication tables like a dutiful child and practiced my fractions in spite of my constant confusion. I actually adapted to word problems fairly easily since, although I hated the problem part I did love the words.
This math that she was doing, however, was some Common Core being that I didn't fully understand. I shouldn't have been surprised, though. The math packet that she was assigned during mid-winter break took me the whole week to figure out and some part of me still thinks that I got it wrong. One question on a test that she took earlier this year and got wrong, I simply gave up on. I had been defeated by grade school math years ago and it was defeating me yet again. More importantly, if I struggled with my daughter's math homework, how could I possibly assist her?
As an educator, I get having the same standards across state lines. I even get having higher standards so that students can do more rigorous work. I get all these educational pushes but what I don't get is that my child is already crying and saying that she isn't good in math. I at least developed a healthy distaste of math in 8th grade starting with Algebra I. Isn't my darling child too young to already dislike any school subject?
Well, tomorrow morning, I'm having the phone conference with her teacher which I am dreading as well. I'll have to remind her that it sometimes takes me a second and even a third reading before I understand my daughter's work. Maybe she'll be somewhat understanding. In the meantime, I'll have to start looking for a tutor well-versed in Common Core math because if I'm struggling with my daughter's math homework when she's in first grade, second grade is already a wrap.
Years ago, I read Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" and it made me think about legacies in a different light. Walker talks about our ancestors, our mothers who bore inside of them the need to create art that they were never taught, trained, or expected to create. These are black women who may have been driven with an intense need that could never be nourished and I began imagining how heartbreaking life must have been for them.
I can't recall a time in my life when I was not determined to write. I wrote as an elementary aged child and I continued to write through my secondary years. I would write poetry and stories and even novels that were painstakingly inked out by hand. I needed to write because there was some beast deep inside me that wanted to be fed. The earliest piece that I remember was a poem that I wrote when I was nine in response to my father's sudden death. I'm quite sure I wrote before then, but that poem was put on the cover of my father's obituary. That, in many ways, marked a beginning for me as a writer.
Most importantly--even more than my desire to write--was that I was given the tools to write. Not only was I given the chance to be educated, but my mother's choice in schools for my siblings and I offered me an excellent educational foundation. I, the budding writer, was given the tools that I would need for the craft of writing. And that knowledge helped me to understand the depth of Walker's peek into the lives of our ancestors.
I found myself imagining the number of slave women who, like me, had been gifted with the desire to write. They must have heard the voices of characters and seen places so vivid that they began to believe they had visited those places before. They must have felt the desire to write a story--to bring a body, a thought, a personality into being but know that they never could. How many slave women had dreamed of words or heard music in their sleep? How many had felt the urge to capture nature on canvas but knew that their artistry would never find a means of expression?
I have always known that laws robbed slave women (and men) of their chance at education but how many were driven to madness because they could never and would never be able to create? I had not thought of that at all until I read Alice Walker's essay and realized that denying slaves an education traveled well beyond denying them the chance to read or write.
Did my mother's parents, who did not finish high school, dream of artistry too? What did they lose to the systemic miseducation and lack of education that devastated black communities? I know that there were Charles Chesnutts, Anna Julia Coopers, Langston Hugheses and Zora Neale Hurstons but what of all the other writers who lacked the tools they needed to flourish. What of all the writers who could never pick up a pen to write because they had never learned how?
I think of all the artistic genius that was lost to slavery and segregation and I fully understand how important it is to write or draw or sing or create--not just because we want to--but because we can.
There are way too many things for me to write about. I think that may be why it took me so long to start my blog.
For one, I have opinions about a number of topics. How does one choose which topics to discuss in a perfectly adult manner? I'm an educator so, of course, I find myself drawn to talking about work. But I don't really want to talk about work. I don't even want to go to work much less talk about it. It's the natural evolution of teaching, however. First, you start teaching and then you start venting about teaching and then you start venting about how much you vent about teaching. And then, next thing you know, your entire existence is consumed by teaching. You see where I am going with this.
And then you have to decide what, exactly, you're going to talk about when you start venting about teaching. Do you talk about the students? But that doesn't seem fair, does it? Your students come with issues that began long before they stepped into your classroom and will continue long after you've battled each other. So it's almost anti-education to complain about your students because, well, you lost your right to complain about your job once you became a teacher. Especially since the future of American society is entering into your classroom so that you might continue smiling after an absolutely wonderful day of teaching.
And now, three paragraphs in I have talked about--of all things--teaching.
I could, of course, discuss my wonderful, bossy six-year-old who is a miniature version of my current self. She's not me when I was a child. No, the universe could not fulfill the old parental curse. You know, the one where they tell you that you'll have a child just like you. I wouldn't have minded that. I was a scared, obedient, nerdy six-year-old. My daughter, on the other hand, is me RIGHT NOW. I have loads and loads I can say on that experience. Especially since she has taken the current me and morphed into some other alien being. I'd love to write about our battles, but I am as likely to lose as I am to win one which is quite embarrassing. But there are other really great things to write about, but then I risk becoming one of those parents, right?
So no to education-centered blogs? No to parent-centered blogs? No to finding my author-identity blogs? I mean, do I really want to write about how I am rediscovering the writer in me? That might prove interesting. There are two things that I am clinging to with quite a bit of energy. Words of wisdom from Stephen King and words of wisdom from Alice Walker. I think I'll save those words for another, later post. Cause why can't my blog be just about me, right? What I think about the world that I live in.
Sometimes that world is parental. Sometimes it's teacherish. Sometimes, it's pure writer-poet. I might even want to talk about the state of the world (i.e. Donald Trump and other insane American moments). Whatever I decide to write about, though, I refuse to narrow my focus because the world is just too entertaining, too...intriguing.
So for now, like Steve Biko, I write what I like.