If you’ve read my “About” section, you probably aren’t left with any concrete sense of what I’m going for here with this blog, but you’ve at least gleaned that whatever it is I’m trying to say will be said with levity and mirth.
For this reason, I will not use this blog as a forum for badmouthing people. Not much anyway, and if I do, all statements will be thoroughly disclaimed and apologized for, and will only be made if indeed relevant. Such is the statement that I’m about to make.
I attended a knitting circle tonight and expected to enjoy the company present there more than I truly did. No matter — they seemed to be enjoying themselves and I am glad for them. Several of the knitters present, however, were involved in education, either as teachers or policy shapers, and a discussion ensued about the dire state of the public schools in New York City.
When I overheard a couple discussing teaching, I tried to chime into the conversation but was either not heard or simply ignored. No matter: the more I listened to them, the more I realized that participation in the discussion would only wear me out. It amounted to the same sterile palaver that one always hears when teachers bitch: parents don’t know how to be good parents, students would rather play video games in class, the teacher factory organizations like Teach for America and Teaching Fellows aren’t actually helping the problem because the teachers they provide never stay more than two or three years (and ain’t I special for staying longer than that…). Believe me when I say that I understand the need to vent, because it’s not as though any of these statements are untrue. Teaching middle school is such a difficult challenge, so difficult, in fact, that we refer to it as “a calling.” It doesn’t make sense to us that we would choose of our own free will to take on the highly stressful challenge of teaching America’s most impoverished and deprived children to read and write and think, so it must be a calling. And it probably is, but for many it seems in retrospect that it must have been a wrong number call. Or maybe a prank.
But this doesn’t matter: we have chosen it, after all, and we can leave if we want, but in the meantime we have a job to do. The New York newspapers ran a story last week about how middle schools received failing grades as schools in the wake of the city’s push to improve elementary and high schools. As an insider, I can’t disagree with that statement. I, too, have bitched about the problems. I, too, have found comfort in apathy at times. But now I’m tired of all that. I don’t want to approach my schools problems with the attitude that everything is doomed, because even if it is (and I don’t believe it to be) that’s all the more reason to tackle the problems with a sense of humor. If you feel like you are fighting waves with a sword, simply put down your weapon and swim. You’ll either realize that you can’t fight water with a sword, and you’ll begin to ask why you’re fighting water in the first place.
And since it’s getting late and I’m beginning to write in trifling platitudes anyhow, I’ll end with this one, because I just heard a commercial on the radio for Mary Poppins. That irreverent nanny once sang, “To every job that must be done there is an element of fun: You find the fun and — Snap! — the job’s a game!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
So anyway, expect from me the reasons why teaching middle schoolers in the South Bronx is sometimes a lot of fun. I’ll do so in part to entertain you readers, but mostly to remind myself in the harder times that middle schoolers are actually kind of funny and teaching them is, well, kind of neat.