I think it is safe to say that this has been the most shocking, unexpected week of my life. To say it's all been surreal would be an understatement.
Just over a week ago I was creating study guides for Oedipus at Colonus, packing lunches for school, and working in the classroom each day. This week, though, I've been the guest on television programs I usually WATCH on television, have given interviews to news agencies that I usually read or listen to, and have received hundreds upon hundreds of emails from people I've never met before, many of whom have been expressing support and encouragement. (Thanks for that, by the way!)
This situation has in all ways changed my life. I'm very routine-oriented. Change, as a rule, scares the beejesus out of me (I used to get mad at my parents if they decided to move the Christmas tree from centered in front of the window to the corner of the room.) So for this degree of change to come at me from all sides--so quickly and unexpectedly--it's been quite an adjustment. And it hasn't just affected me; my family has been going through it, too. Our appetites, health, ability to sleep, and stress levels have all been affected. On the second day, we were so concerned that I made an appointment with my OB to make sure my baby is ok in there; thankfully, she is.
Some negative blog posts have accused me of loving the media attention. Um, sorry to disappoint, but this is not the stuff that dreams are made of (at least, not my dreams; if it was, then I would have gone into news instead of teaching). I was actually on Regis and Kelly when I was 20--I had an ambush makeover. While it was still nerve wracking being on camera, it was exciting and fun and I got a really cute outfit and hairdo out of the deal. This news stuff, though, is very stressful, and is quite a process. (Interesting fact: it takes longer to apply the makeup then it does to do an interview.)
I've been to New York City 3 times in 3 days; today I went to Philadelphia for some satellite stuff. I've been on Justice with Judge Jeanine, Fox and Friends, CBS 3, 6 ABC, NBC 10, Good Morning America, CNN, WFMZ 69. I've talked on radio programs in Toronto, San Francisco, London (the BBC), and Philadelphia 1210. I've sat with reporters from the Intelligencer, the Inquirer, the NY Post, Time magazine, Reuters, and the Associated Press.
I went from being completely unknown to being a cartoon and an allusion; I've even been compared to Sue Sylvester of Glee (as a fan of Glee, I was amused by this comparison and was also heartened to see that she was rated as having the meaner insults by the online polls.)
I've been called "mean" and "unprofessional," but have also been called an "education icon" and a "hero." I even garnered a 97% approval rating on an MSNBC poll--wowsa!
These are not the sorts of things that happen to me on a regular basis. To put it in perspective, a normal day for me involves work, having dinner with my family, and watching General Hospital on my DVR each night. (As it were, I'm now 4 episodes behind as I haven't been able to watch this week since I've been so busy trying to put this blogging scandal into some context and start important conversations about our education system. These matters are obviously more important, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that this is the week that things with the Balkan were supposed to come to a head and Sonny and Brenda are supposed to be getting married, so it's an important week of the show, too!) So, for me, these past 7 days have been the farthest thing from normal.
What is remarkable, though, is that somewhere along the past few days, the focus has shifted a bit from the blog itself and onto the education debate. While I certainly never--not in a million years--thought I'd be so near the center of this conversation, I'm glad it's a conversation that's happening.
There is a lot that people don't realize about the state of education and the work of teachers.
First off, teachers are highly trained professionals, but are not always regarded as such. Ever hear that old (terrible!) gem, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" ? Yeah? Well, that's highly insulting and, if you think about it, completely absurd. To teach a concept, one needs to be an expert on it so one can break it into parts to make it more understandable and offer the support that's needed to help others grasp it, too. So really, those who CAN, teach! This negative attitude toward teachers is part of the base issue.
People--parents, students, administration, the general public, government officials--need to trust in their highly trained professional teachers. PA public school teachers (and I know this varies by state and, in some cases, by district if there's some emergency need of teachers) generally have the following training:
First, they need a bachelor's degree and must complete (and pay to complete, I might add) an unpaid internship for 4-6 months (the student teaching experience which is on-the-job training in the way of an apprenticeship). Then they earn their Level 1 Temporary certification. Then, they have 6 years to earn their Level 2 Permanent certification, which one achieves after actively working for that time, earning a Master's degree, and having 6 satisfactory observations within one's school. In addition, every 5 years, teachers need to complete additional training (Act 48) to stay current with their certification. That means that teachers are continually trained and educated throughout their time teaching, in an effort to keep them up to date with the latest educational research models and other relevant (and sometimes even irrelevant!) training.
And yet, with all of that specialized training, people second-guess and blame teachers for so many of the problems that exist in education today. Do we go to our doctors and lawyers and tell them how to do their jobs, and second-guess everything they do? Do we stand alongside chefs at restaurants and tell them we think the boulliabaisse looks like it needs some more saffron? No. We trust them to do what they've been trained to do. Of course it's ok to ask questions along the way so we can know why something is happening or understand the process--but at the end of the day, some trust needs to come into play, too. Let's let teachers do their jobs.
Second, there's often a misconception about the work that teachers do on the day-to-day. Some people think that teachers make up one lesson and teach it that way for 25 years. Teaching, though, is not a one-and-done situation. Not only do teachers have to create lessons, they need to modify them to meet the needs of different students with different abilities, aptitudes, learning styles, and the like. In my experience, I've had 3 sections of the same class. Even if I'm teaching the same material, the lesson always changes for each class. Sometimes it's drastic changes--parts are cut, emphasized more, approached differently, for instance--and sometimes it's subtle changes--more examples are provided, more time is allowed to complete a task, the product expectations are different--but there's always some change.
I think that part of the angst toward teachers stems from the fact that we've all had a bad teacher along the way. Yes, of course they exist. But people who are inept in their fields exist in all fields. One or two bad eggs along the way doesn't mean the whole lot of teachers are ineffectual. I also think part of the resentment comes from the summers-off end of things. Trust me when I say this: A. Teachers more than do the work of 12 months in the 10 official months they work, and B. Most teachers work through the summers preparing for the next school year (or even have second jobs in the summer to supplement their incomes.) With many jobs, when you punch out, you go home and the job is done until the next day at punch-in time. The job can be left at the job site. But with teaching, the job is almost never done. Many teachers bring home stacks of work each night and on weekends and over breaks and on vacations, and stay at work long after the sun has gone down. This work is unseen and unknown and, often, not even considered to exist. It becomes even more galling to be accused of being in a "coddled" profession when you know how hard you work but others think you're some lazy slacker. Most teachers aren't seeking an award or applause for this extra work, but would happily settle for some simple respect that they are professionals.
This considered lack of respect for teachers as professionals translates into power being given to students and their parents, and a lack of teacher support from those same people and administration.
I'll cover that topic in my next post.