“I HEAR OF TEACHERS CRYING ON THEIR KITCHEN FLOORS”

This was an article that caught my eye earlier today. If you are interested you can read if you so desire at the following link. https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/%E2%80%98i-hear-teachers-crying-their-kitchen-floor-because-stress%E2%80%99

Being a retired teacher it would be natural that this headline might catch my eye. I can say that during my forty plus years teaching I never cried on my kitchen floor due to stress…I would be more likely to pass out on my kitchen floor from stress. Hey, Jack Daniels would be a great reliever of stress if it wasn’t for the health and emotional issues of alcohol addiction…and those blinding headaches.

What have we done to our teachers? It would be natural to think that this was some poor first year teacher who really wasn’t cut out to teach. It would be reasonable to think this but that wasn’t the case. We were all first year teachers at one time and I assure you many times during my first year, and during the next forty, I wondered if I was cut out to teach or to coach. When I stepped into my first class, I was a blank slate. A clean canvas, blanker and cleaner than the freshly erased and washed chalk boards located in my classroom. I wasn’t much better the second year when a relative of mine congratulated me for “graduating” from teaching junior high school to teaching senior high school. No I didn’t attempt to explain it to her.

I am going to discount my six weeks of student teaching and my first year of actual teaching because I learned little until my second year of teaching. That year I learned that young teachers get the classes that older, more seasoned teachers are glad they don’t get. For about ten years that seemed to be pretty unfair…then I started getting the good classes and it seemed infinitely fairer. I was fortunate to have had a lot of help becoming a better teacher. Great mentors and great people. I remember walking into Nita Leatherwood’s class at the beginning of my free period early my second year. Just so you non-teachers know – THERE IS NOTHING FREE about a free period. It is actually known as a planning period, though because of department meetings, teaching team meetings, conferences or a dozen other meetings, it is actually a time in which teachers get to do little planning. If you are lucky you have time to grab a cup of coffee and a quick trip by the “facilities.” I really believe that my bladder issues occurred because…anyway, I digress.

As I walked in to Ms. Leatherwood’s classroom, I found myself amazed at how well-behaved her class was. My classes resembled cats on amphetamines until I was able to calm them down. That usually took about fifteen minutes longer than the class itself. I tried to use the technique of boredom to put them to sleep but that didn’t work either. Her class was talking quietly and she was joining in. Books and notebooks were open and displayed on their desks, pencils poised at the ready. You could almost hear them thinking, “What are you waiting for? Teach Meeeeeeee!” More amazing, she was smiling to, wait…she was even laughing at something one of her students had said.
Sometime early in my first year, a coach or teaching peer advised “Don’t even think about smiling until after Christmas and then only do it infrequently!” This led to a developing philosophy called the “Vince Lombardi/Attila the Hun” school of instruction…and coaching. Not much fun for my students or for me. Ms. Leatherwood gave me what would become the first step of my teaching philosophy staircase when I asked about her classroom management and how it related to smiling. “You do realize this is an upper level chemistry class and not the barrel of monkeys you teach. It’s taken me twenty years to get a reputation…and classes like this. They came in this way on their own.” I didn’t believe her but then she asked me, “Are you teaching who you are?” My confused look convinced her to continue, “You have to teach within your own personality, not someone else’s’.” It took a while but I did get that one down. Later that same year Jay Lunceford, our head coach, punched me on the shoulder and said, “Quit yelling so much!” Before I could ask why, he added to my philosophy by explaining, “If you yell all of the time how do they know you are pissed off? Besides, you are going to give yourself a headache…and everyone else.” Between the two of them I put the “Lombardi the Hun” philosophy of education to bed…for good.

I’m not sure you get to teach “who you are” in today’s educational landscape and if I were in a position to be a mentoring teacher, I’m not sure I would have the time to tend to anything other than my own “beeswax.” I am also unsure that I would be able coach and teach if I were starting out today. It’s all about the bottom line…the gospel according to TEST SCORES and how to improve them. My last year of teaching was spent trying to figure out how to teach to a test that was kept under lock and key in the deepest recesses of a locked vault, heavily guarded, eight million lightyears away in a parallel universe. Get it. You are attempting to play a game you have never seen and have no instruction in and the only rules are to make sure you are kept in the dark. Although you have meetings several times weekly to try and figure it all out, the people who you are meeting have no more of a clue than you do. I have never seen teacher moral at a lower level than that last year. Thankfully “No Child Left Behind” is being left behind. Unfortunately, I don’t know what is going to replace it and sometimes a known evil is better than an unknown one. Common Core?

That second year of teaching, my first at Mauldin, the guidance department did me no favors when they put together my sixth period class, the last period of the day each and every day. The Class from Hell? No it was the Vampire Killer Clown Class from Hell. I went to my principal quizzing her about what I should do. They couldn’t read a Dick and Jane book or do basic math and had an attention span the size of an amoeba’s penis. I know, amoebas do not have that particular accoutrement and my class had no attention span. I had one child that could not write his name. How could I teach him science? You know what she said? “That’s where you start.” “Your lesson plans should reflect teaching him to write his name.” Not sure you would get that advice today and if a teacher can get that done and raise test scores, that teacher is an exception and not the rule. By the way, Earnest finished the year able to write his first, middle and last name and I felt like a master teacher.

According to Jim Henson of Muppet fame, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” I hope he is right and I hope these new teachers are remembered for more than crying on kitchen floors and teaching to a test. Good luck my former compadres, known and unknown.

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