I normally talk to young adults about math and other academics, but recently, because we’re winding up the school year, subjects have expanded to Fetty Wap and flicking wrists. The currency for “young and cool” changes over time, almost as quickly as we age.
Yet, on this day, the subject turned to teachers. They went on to gossip about their favorite and least favorite teachers in the building. For a moment, I told them, “Please don’t talk about me” because, despite what my readers believe, I really don’t like talking about myself in person. They shared their views on how difficult teaching must be like, but also that teaching needs to be done by people who care. One in particular almost went into tears sharing her frustrations about one particular educator. Of course, because it was in confidence, I wasn’t going to mention it to him, but suffice it to say, it humbled me somewhat.
Was I that teacher to someone else? Have I done enough reflection so, should other conversations like this happen, I can be on the right side of these young people’s litmus test?
Just then, a teacher said, “I suggested we get rid of him but [the administrators] weren’t trying to hear it, but at least you’re set. Teaching has good job security and the kids respect you here.”
“So let me ask you a question. Do you think that’s what teaching is about?”
“I really don’t know, and I’m probably not a good representative to talk about teachers, but that’s kinda what I see.”
For a minute, I’m reminded of the already herculean task of accommodating dozens of minds at a time around a subject that works in multiple brainwaves, some concrete, some abstract. With all the levels we already work in, we also have to partner with our peers, our administrations, and our students’ parents to make sure we’re meeting our students’ needs. An already hefty task, if not for the multiple mandates set upon us from folks in larger grey offices with big titles, a few more set upon us by general society, and the secret codes some of us live by to keep us in the classroom.
I’m not interested in busting cages. I’m more interested in why we create cages for teachers to begin with, even some of the ones we’ve created ourselves.
“What you might have found out about teachers like me is that job security isn’t amongst one of my concerns. I couldn’t care less. I want to teach you, and you have to know this …”
I blew a gasp, but not before the student knew what I was getting at. My intention wasn’t to play defense. With summer school fast approaching, I had enough parents and students wondering why I failed them, even as I begged them for their works all year. But of course it’s my fault because that’s the cage I created for myself. The woulda / shoulda / couldas never let my didn’ts let loose of me. I already reflect on the tension between me as teacher and me as activist. I already listen too much, too early, too often and think I’m listening too little, too late, too insignificantly, and / or don’t express it well enough.
The rage on my face isn’t simply systemic. It’s knowing that, without a handful of us speaking up about what we do, our jobs can be boiled down to a few talking points that sell books for everyone but us.
I listened to the students for a few more minutes before making my way out, hoping to bottle up the magic and raw wisdom these young adults had to share with me. I walked down the hallway thinking about how I might write this piece to you, but not before I noticed him follow me down the hall. When I noticed him follow, he scurried away.
Maybe he knows more about me and the rest of us than we do.