"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Good Things (and they DO exist)

I read a very dispiriting comment in The Philadelphia Public School Notebook
today. It was from a teacher (I have no idea how new or experienced) who feels completely worn out, undervalued, and disrespected at her job in a Philadelphia public school. It made me quite sad for several reasons: It brings home the point that the teaching profession is under fire like never before, it makes me wonder if we can attract and keep good teachers to this very challenging and rewarding profession, and it forces me to consider if teachers themselves (me included) have contributed to to the negative narrative by talking too much about the sometimes exhausting and frustrating aspects of our jobs. There is no doubt that we in Philadelphia (as well as many other areas of the country) have epic challenges before us, and there are times when we wonder why we do what we do and how much longer we will be able to do it. However, there are many wonderful and rewarding things about teaching--not the least of which is the connections we are able to make with students. If you are lucky enough to work in a good school--and by good I do not mean the best test scores, the richest neighborhood, or the newest building--I mean a place with a sense of purpose and community--you can play a meaningful role in the lives of many children. Of course, we are not as important as parents in a child's life, but we do spend a great deal of time with them. Although it is the big things that make news, it is the little things that make our job worth it every day. So, in no particular order, I am listing some things that have made me smile lately (school things):

*The fact that my corrective reading students (as not-fun as it can be) vie for their turn to read out loud.

*A student stopping by my room at the end of the day to apologize (unasked) for earlier bad behavior in class.

*A girl excitedly telling me between classes that she was asked to interview at one of her chosen high schools.

*A student new to our school and resistant to my small group reading class opening up during a writing assignment about one of his favorite places to go.

*Our former students (now in high school) who come back to see us several times a year just to say hello and touch base.

*Colleagues who help me, build me up, let me blow off steam, and make me laugh every day.

*Second graders who like to say hi to me and think it is a big deal to know the 7th and 8th grade teacher (because I teach their sibs).

*Routinely having children (yes, kids raised in this day and age) who open doors for us, offer to carry our bags and boxes, and are otherwise helpful.

*Having a student smile widely and say "Really?!", when I tell him he can take home the book he was reading from my classroom library.

*The fact that, no matter what the district and the reform "experts" throw at us, I truly believe we are making a positive difference in the lives of children every day.

I am not really a Pollyanna or cheerleader, but I believe in what we do. My school is just a regular Philadelphia public school (not magnet), our kids and staff are not perfect, but there is goodness and curiosity in them, and we are a community. Dozens of schools like this exist all over this city. We need to try to think of the good things that we experience every day, and even though we are tired and put upon, try to reach out to colleagues who are losing heart.