Live and Let Die

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

On Saturday morning, I was flipping channels, trying to take my mind off last week when I saw the Shrek series come on. I’d already watched them, but, for some reason, I couldn’t stop watching the larger gingerbread man try to beat back a cauldron of warm milk while pulling down a castle drawbridge. By Shrek 3, we see the king, revealed as a frog in Shrek 2, on his deathpad, passing on the torch to Shrek and his now-wife Fiona. The camera pans across the Land of Far, Far Away to the scene of the funeral, when we hear Paul McCartney and the Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” with frogs doing the vocals as a Ye Olde Foot Locker box glides down a fountain. It’s hilarious and somber at once.

But then I listened to the lyrics, and it got me thinking about schools, and specifically how intentions and reality often clash.

When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live

Imagine this scenario, one that’s typical of many I’ve heard and seen in the last decade:

You go into teaching believing the hoopla of the mission work, the gilded bells and dulcet harping of the greatest, most important profession in the world. They tell you not to hold onto your ideas too tightly. The students will let you down. The adults will betray you. The job itself will weigh you down. Your sleeping habits will come off schedule. Your diet and thus your health will fluctuate.

Yet, if you make it out that first year, these negative elements of your job have less of an effect on you as you grow into your life as a teacher. After a few more years, you’ve gotten some expertise and feel confident enough in your knowledge as a teacher that you’d like to share that expertise with others. You have a certain way in which you work in your classroom that sets you apart from other teachers, perhaps makes you remarkable enough to get noticed by others outside your school building.

You go through a few litmus tests and, all of a sudden, you’re dubbed a teacher leader. This feels great, and, even though you may not get paid extra except in after-school hours, you still feel emboldened because teaching can be so isolated that, once given the option to work with others, you jump right into the position without missing a beat. You’re so proud of yourself, adding another notch onto your pallid résumé because it feels right.

Then something goes wrong. Horrible wrong. Then another horrible thing happens. And another. These horrible things keep happening. The inevitability of horrible things being blown out of proportion, but actually happening has finally come to fruition. You start looking around, waiting for someone to tell you you’re not the only one feeling this weight. 95% of the students behave well, you’ve caught up on almost all your paperwork, and your administrators all seem to like the job you’re doing and have felt you to your own devices.

But for the last year or so, you’ve felt something just wasn’t quite right. The teacher who usually has a pulse on these things won’t speak. The other teacher can’t be bothered. As a matter of fact, most of the staff tell you they’re working harder than ever, but you’re not as quick to step into that school building as you once were. You start to get more reflective, analyzing your relationships with everyone in the school building, everyone else with each other, and everyone else with the students. You start to see the disconnect. You despise it. You obsess over it. You want better, but you’re rolling boulders much larger than your fatigued muscles can handle.

But if this ever-changing world in which we’re living
Makes you give in and cry …

You start to tell yourself you believe your own hype. You pull back. Far back. Your students still matter and not that much else. You realize that the community you sought to lead was never there to begin with.

You’ve gone through levels of consciousness unfamiliar to those who haven’t sought to analyze the systems around them. In stages: happiness, elevation, frustration, deflation. Then a rebirth, where it’s no longer about pointing the finger at someone else, yourself, or the system, but all three at once without a blink. But some folks never get to this rebirth. They’ll stay frustrated because that’s how this system works.

But what does it matter to you? When you get a job to do, you got to do it well.

photo c/o