teach your children well

Not too long ago, a student I have taught for three out his almost-four-year high school career said to me, “Ms. Lavelle, didn’t you have higher aspirations than becoming a teacher?”

I put down the papers I had been collecting and looked at him.  I couldn’t find the words.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t answer the question.  It was that I couldn’t believe he had asked it.  It was clear to me that he thought of me as a disappointment, as someone who had, somehow, fallen short.

It’s true:  I never intended to be a high school teacher, perhaps because I saw how tirelessly my mother had worked.  And, in certain social circles, when I’m asked what I do, I respond with, “I’m just a teacher.”  Because somehow, in our great history, we decided that teaching is a profession that doesn’t warrant the same respect as other professions.  I think the motto goes something like this:  He who can, does.  He who can’t, teaches.   (Really, George Bernard Shaw?  Really?  From this moment on, I’m swearing off Pygmalion.)

Sure, I could blame politicans and legislators, NCLB and high-stakes testing.  But the root of the problem hits much closer to home, whether we care to admit it or not.  I mean, my own father winced (not quite cringed) when I mentioned that I was considering the idea of becoming a teacher.  And if we’re not willing to teach our children to respect the profession, then we shouldn’t expect things to change any time soon.

We wait in an examination room with an ailing toddler.  In walks a woman dressed in a white coat or scrubs, wearing a stethoscope around her neck.  We believe she’s a doctor.  Or we get rear-ended on Highway 98, and a man shows up wearing a blue uniform with shiney boots and a gun on his hip; we assume he’s a police officer.

But when a woman stands with a textbook at the front of her classroom (that she, most likely, decorated entirely with her own money), we need more evidence.  We need to be convinced.  This seems strange, considering that most young pupils love their teachers, most young pupils fully trust their teachers.  They haven’t yet learned to be cynical.

In August of this year, I attended Parent Night at my daughter’s elementary school.  We sat in miniature desks as the teacher introduced herself and explained her expectations for the year.  I squirmed in my seat as she addressed a barrage of raised hands, as she was pushed into describing (defending) her teaching practices.  I chewed on my fingernails, wishing I could jump in front of her to deflect the bullets, to tell these all-knowing parents they had no idea how good they had it.  I wanted to remind them that it was pushing nine o’clock at night, and she had been there since shortly after six that morning. (A teacher friend once told me, “Teaching is the only profession where, when you work overtime, you actually get paid less.”)

They didn’t smile back at her when she smiled; the corners of their mouths forced themselves downward.  Their brows furrowed with skepticism.  This woman that stood before her Smartboard looked like a teacher, but was she one?  A real one?

I’ve had similar experiences at our Back to School night during the first week of classes each year.  More than once, I’ve stood at that podium, undergoing a kind of  interrogation concerning my mixed-abilty sophomore class:  How do you propose you’re going to teach honors and regular simultaneously?  (Ha!  As if I had anything to with scheduling.)  Or, concerning my Advanced Placement class:  What has been your passing rate on the AP Exam since you’ve taught here? And how many years have you taught AP? 

And, more than once, other parents have felt the need to come to my defense.  One even got up out of her seat, saying, “Ms. Lavelle has taught all three of my kids; she knows what she’s doing.”

But that’s not my point.  My point is this:  I understand that there are bad teachers, just like there are bad doctors, bad cops and bad directors of the CIA.  And, of course, if your child has been mistreated, that situation should certainly be addressed. But we’re not all bad.  We’re not all out to get you (or your kids).  Please don’t sit in a parent conference and verbally abuse and berate us when you’ve been willing only to hear one side of the story.

Because, truly, there’s only so much we can do.  Education is not only a teacher’s job; it’s a parent’s job, too.  Did you know that we assign reading and your kids don’t do it?  (You should have known it was assigned because we posted it on Edline.)  And the zero they received on that quiz (which you knew of because we post EVERY grade for EVERY assignment on Edline) was because they hadn’t read?  If you asked them first, they might have told you that.  But instead, you emailed me.  You assumed that I had done something wrong.

Did you know that, during homeroom, they copy each other’s homework and call it “teamwork?” That they call it “sharing?”

Did you know that while I’m teaching, they have their phones out on their desks, and they’re busy tweeting?  (They’re not on Facebook anymore because you are.  You might want to think about following them on Twitter.)  And then they ask me to explain, again, what I’ve already explained.  Twice.

Did you know that, even though they’ve disrupted my class, I’ve written them glowing college recommendations?  That I’ve spent my evenings revising multiple drafts of their college essays?

I never disrespected a teacher because my mother was one.  And I’m almost certain that my daughter will never disrespect a teacher because I’m one.  I just hope she doesn’t want to become one. Not because it’s not a high aspiration (it is), but because I don’t want her to work that hard only to be abused by the very people she’s working for.

Parents and teachers should be on the same side.  We should want the same thing.  Why is the divide so deep and so wide?


twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go

This was my yesterday:

3:00am — Teddy wakes up, due either to the recent time change or the molars that haven’t quite burst through his gums (but they have created blood blisters of a lovely purple hue, so that’s something).  He is bottled and changed and goes back to sleep.

3:33am — The cat wakes me up because he’s hungry (he’s always hungry) and there’s no cat food so he gets two slices of turkey in his bowl.  This is his third life.

4:00am — Alarm goes off.  Snooze.

4:09am — Alarm goes off again, for real this time.  I get up, ice my coffee and write 577 words for NaNoWriMo, mostly about boiled peanuts and a town that’s burning down.

5:49am — I iron. I shower.  With an audience:  Mommy, are you done yet?  At least she hands me my towel when I open the door.

6:55am — I drop the two youngest kids off at daycare.  I wave to the crossing guard outside my daughter’s school.  We’ve never actually spoken, but I’d like for his name to be Stan.

7:45-8:42am — Homeroom/Period 1.  Creative Writing.  We discuss villanelles and attempt to write them. Them:  Wait — all of the A’s have to RHYME?   Me: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

8:45-9:33am — Period 2.  Honors English II.  We write our own Analects for surviving high school, Confucius-style.

9:36-10:24am — Period 3.  Sometimes this is my planning period.  Sometimes it’s the period I try to comfort a seventeen-year-old boy who is haunted, tormented, by memories of his father’s death.  I know too well what his eyes look like when he cries, and that makes my heart hurt.  For him.

10:43 — 11:30am — Period 4.  AP English Literature. We analyze The Second Coming.  We beat it to a pulp, until that rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem.

11:34am — 12:21pm — Period 5.  Honors English IV.  We pretend to be Macbeth, and reflect on our own bloodthirsty madness.  Them, accompanied by their synchronized fists pounding on their desks: MacBETH! MacBETH! MacBETH! BeWAAAAARRRRE MacDUFF! 

12:21– 12:46pm — Lunch Bunch. Yes, every day I eat lunch with a number of teenage boys.  They burp a lot.  Among other things.

12:50 — 1:37pm — Sixth Period. English IV.  Oh, Good Lord.  They drive me crazy.  But they make me laugh, too.  It’s quite a predicament, really.

1:41 — 2:28pm — Seventh Period.  I cover sophomore geometry for another teacher who has an appointment.  In the last few minutes of class, a girl has a seizure at the front of the classroom.  I kneel on the floor, not really knowing what I’m supposed to do.  I stroke her hair and wait for her eyelids to stop fluttering.

2:30 — 4:00pm — After school.  I grade three sets of vocab quizzes while a student makes up a test.  I eat a sandwich that a student left for me.  It came with its own container of honey-mustard dipping sauce.

4:30pm — I pick up my children from daycare.  We rock out to One More Night on the ride home.

5:00-6:00pm —  Dinner. Me:  Sit down. Her:  But–  Me: Sit down.  The Other Her: But–  Me: Sit down!  Who walks around while they’re eating dinner?  I walk around while I’m eating dinner.

6:15pm — I notice my husband sitting across the room from me.  We wave.

6:30-8:45pm — Bath #1. Bottle. Crib.  First-grade homework.  Accelerated Reader.  Twice.  Or three times.  Bath #2.  Two bedtime stories.  Bed.  I try to sneak away when I think the littler one is asleep, but the eyes open.  I’m caught.  Her: Why aren’t you rubbing my back?

8:45pm and Beyond! — I pull the least-wrinkled school uniform from the sky-high pile on top of the dryer (the ones on top of the dryer are clean; the ones on top of the washer are not).  The PTO wants to know if I’m coming to the Board meeting Tuesday night.  I’d like a beer, but then, I’d also like a bed.

It sounds a lot like today, actually.  

*Thank you to my writer-friend, Olivia O’Bryon, for encouraging a post like this.

i guess this is growing up

The other day, I took a picture of my son’s baby face just because I wanted to remember it that way, just because I knew that it would change.  And then it changed.

And the same thing is happening to my daughters.  When did this one’s torso stretch itself so thin? When did her bones grow angular?  When did that one’s legs out-lengthen her pants?

Though it sometimes stops me for a minute, I think I’m ready for this.  Do I have a choice?

There are times when I miss them being babies; and then the youngest decides, one evening, to cough so hard he vomits his noodles all over himself and his crib.  Bewildered by a fever and a second nightime bath, he rests his head on my shoulder, letting me rock him to sleep.  He gives me a moment to remember rocking him to sleep, to remember rocking all of them to sleep.  And so I don’t miss it anymore.

And even though my oldest can define the word tenement and enjoys discussing algebra at the dinner table, she still yells “Mommy!” and bursts through the playground gate, jumping into my arms, when I pick her up from school.  I struggle with her fifty-three pounds, but walk a few steps, letting her hang.  I can’t imagine she’ll do this much longer. But she still does it now.

And the middle one. Oh, the middle one.  She knows she’s not a baby because her brother is, and she’s dying for homework like her sister, but know’s she’s not there yet, either. She makes me wait in the foyer while she walks into school “all by my own self,” but still asks me to sit by her bed and rub her back until she falls asleep each night.

The first time I read that Love You Forever book, I was a little creeped out by the illustrated image of the tiny mother cradling an adult son in her lap.  But now I get it, I think.  I stood outside church one time, swaying with my too-big son, hoping to get him to sleep long enough to last through the homily, and an older gentleman walked by.  He leaned in close to me (so as not to wake the almost-sleeping giant) and said, “Don’t let your arms get tired.  Mine’s thirty and I’m still holding him.”

And last weekend, I watched as a just-twenty-year-old stood in the kitchen, her mother pulling pieces of her daughter’s hair into a braid.  And even though she had to stoop a few inches, the child hasn’t yet outgrown her mom.

We give them enough slack to almost let them go, but they stay tethered to their spools.  Like little kites.