When I first created this blog site, my intent was to give the public a glimpse of education from a “soldier’s” eyes. I liken the public school experience to that of members of our armed forces. We are sworn to protect and serve…our students. Yet, oftentimes wars are being created, battle lines drawn, conflict inflated by a handful of individuals – many of whom have no real ties to what happens in the line of duty. Sound familiar?
Luckily, my formative years of teaching were in a nurturing environment that gave its teachers roots to sustain themselves and wings to soar in their classrooms. I don’t remember being bogged down with assessment pressures, repetitive staff development, and micro-management from my administrators. What I do remember is being enveloped in leadership opportunities and school improvement planning that included input from everyone from the students, parents, faculty/staff and custodians.
Within the last five years, I’ve experienced what I attributed to being a “veteran” in the war – extreme fatigue and disillusionment. I’ve heard it said that if an educator can remain in the field past five years, their probability of longevity in the profession is high. After five years in the classroom, I transitioned to a position as a guidance counselor. Unlike Neal Boortz’s insulting description of us as “touchy feely” enablers, the past 10 years in this job has given me an opportunity to observe and interact on all levels of education. I still teach (classroom guidance and specific groups as needed). I also interact more frequently with parents than most of my teachers do. We’re often the first people that parents contact regarding their child. I am also an integral component of my school’s administrative team. Sometimes, I feel as though I am a Jill-of-all-trades because my day rarely runs according to a planned schedule. I am at the service of everyone in the school that needs me.
The phrase “never a dull moment” is most appropriate in a school setting. Some would think that the constant hustle and bustle would wear on an educator’s spirit. But it doesn’t. Ask even those who leave the field early on and they will tell you that it’s not the “school” itself. It’s not “the kids”. Regardless of the school setting, we see the same spirits reincarnated in different bodies year after year (both faculty and students). It wasn’t until I read Teach for America: The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders that I was able to pinpoint the source of my frustration and energy drain.
While the piece mainly spoke about the origins of the Teach for America program and how it quietly undermined those of us that pursued degrees specifically in education, it also highlighted what I feel is the source of my fatigue. The uprise of educational reform has caused many of us who were drawn to education by a genuine desire to impact the lives of students to feel like puppets. Our source of pride has been reduced to us being cast as extras acting out a stage play in which the politicians and ed reform media darlings get to have top billing.
Similar to young men and women who join the military after only studying military science in their ROTC classes, young men and women enter the field of education with no real clue about the driving force behind their occupation. During my first few “tours of duty”, I did a great job of focusing specifically on the task I was given – focusing on my students. But as I began to grow older, and started to look at the world beyond my classroom – I began to feel betrayed. This wasn’t what I signed up for. But like a lot of my peers, being a “soldier” is all I’ve ever known. Truthfully, it’s the only thing that I’ve ever genuinely loved to do. And so I continue – this time with the seasoned and unfiltered eye of a decorated veteran.
Sometimes, I wish that I could go back to the days when I closed the door of my classroom and was blissfully unaware of the powers that be. That is the only time that you will hear me admit as an educator that sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.