657: Teachers make all other professions possible

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I teach. I don’t talk about it much. When I was a new teacher, there was craftsmanship. It was an art. Computers took all of that away.

The policies under which I now work are absolutely NOT helping to produce productive, mature, responsible human beings. I am not proud to be part of the current process. I do not believe being able to retake a test is helping students prepare to take tests. I do not believe it is helping to require a teacher to put 50 points of academic credit in the grade book for NOTHING – no student effort expended whatsoever, other than breathing (not an academic activity last time I checked), not even including non-attendance as a factor – NO – I am told to award academic credit for NOTHING. How is that helping make a responsible human, employee, citizen?

Yes, I am doing all that I can do (and still keep a job) to properly, carefully, and competently educate and guide my students, working diligently, helping them become better young humans. Still.

There is only so much I can do in an hour a day to offset what they have (and have not) learned at home, and from the media, and their peers. Teaching responsibility is often a fairly painful process, and that isn’t allowed in schools anymore. People make mistakes, often painful ones, that cost them time, or money, missed opportunities, points, and other things they want. It is not getting those things when a mistake is made, and learning from the pain of losing out on something you wanted, that helps teach responsibility – and it isn’t allowed anymore. The rule used to be “no pain, no gain.” Now the rule is “no pain, no pain.”

Now, all that occurs when a student makes a mistake is that a parent calls and complains. Then I am told that an exception will be made. Nobody is learning to be responsible in school anymore, AS IF they are miraculously just going to achieve that state when they walk across that stage at graduation. Yeah, right.

When I am old and feeble, and cannot care for myself any longer, just shoot me. It would be kinder. I do not want to depend on the youngsters we are producing in American schools today when  I am unable to care for myself. I have seen what they think is a good job. Worse, I have seen what they think is “good enough.” Nope. Just shoot me.


224: Causing Someone’s Death

Some mistakes cannot be fixed. That is one reason why most real grownups try very hard not to make them. Some mistakes are permanent. I made one of those. On the last day of school in 2004, I made what was supposed to be a normal journey: our morning commute to school with my daughter, and my husband’s son and daughter. We made it to the end of the road, where our small residential road joins the highway. There, I pulled out into the road in front of a black pickup truck.

I only know this from what others have told me, and what I have managed to figure out after the fact. The last thing I remember is opening the car’s door to look and see if there was any traffic coming. I did this because the window would not roll down, we had not yet had it fixed, and there was condensation on the glass. So I opened the door to be sure before I pulled out into the road. I never saw the truck. I tried.

The truck hit us in classic “t-bone” style, on the driver’s side, which explains why there is a big blank spot in my memory of the event. I was knocked OUT. My daughter said my eyes were open, but she said, “Mama, you were not there.” She called my husband, who was still at home, and he was the first to arrive; even before the paramedics or the police…or the life flight helicopters they called for us. My daughter, in the front passenger seat, was not injured other than a bump on the head – apparently my head and hers collided. My husband’s son, on the passenger side in the back seat, was very mildly injured, but was treated and released. I had a broken collarbone and some broken ribs, along with the big blank place in my memory. My husband’s nine-year-old daughter, who was sitting with her seatbelt on (all of us had them on) directly behind me, got the brunt of the blunt force trauma. That’s what they listed on her death certificate as her cause of death. They tried. The surgeries she underwent at Emory in Atlanta, where the life flight helicopter landed at the state’s finest trauma center, totaled a quarter of a million dollars in cost, and would have been worth every penny (and more) had they managed to save her. They could not.

I won’t go into the horrible details of her funeral home family visit, where her mother’s family (my husband’s ex) blamed me publicly for her death, as if I had intended that she perish, and had set out that morning to accomplish that feat; or the horrors of her funeral service, where they again did the same thing in front of my church family, even though I personally had paid for the entire service and all the other arrangements because they were all too generationally poverty-stricken to be able to afford to bury her.

That is something I will live with forever. I caused her death, even though I did not mean to do so. I pulled out in front of that truck, even though I looked, and did not see it. Even though I had no intentions of harming anyone, I am responsible. I was driving. No one can take that away, and it cannot be fixed.

221: Insolence

I teach school, grades pre-K (4 year olds) to 12th grade (17-19 year olds). I am no stranger to insolence. Yeah, I remember back in the dark ages when I was a teenager and knew everything worth knowing, and my teacher mom was an idiot, an old fuddy-duddy, she was plain uncool and just not with it. It still amazes me how much smarter she got in the few years it took me to reach the advanced age of 21.

Still, being confronted with teen-aged insolence still manages to raise the short hairs on the back of my neck. Anybody who has seen a snarling cat or dog who has THEIR fur ruffled and fluffed up with the adrenaline rush of fury knows full well the sensation of your own fur raising, prickling at the back of your neck. It is a glorious rush of feeling I now recognize and understand, and have learned to control (most of the time), so that I don’t actually kill people. What it does now is get my mental wheels turning, weighing options as to how best to address this child who has challenged me.

Most of my students will tell you that I am a very easy-going teacher, slow to anger, and willing to provide a second chance to correct a mistake. However, like when I was raising my own children (not the children of others I am raising five days a week in my classroom), I have learned that the motivation is the primary determinant of whether to offer a second chance, or whether to stomp them into the dirt instead.

People make mistakes. Mistakes are unintentional, and we learn from them. Mistakes are not things we punish people for, unless the mistake becomes a lazy habit, and there is no correction after multiple reminders. Most of the time, it can be clearly seen that the problem was a mistake. Sometimes, though…..

Sometimes, it is not a mistake. Sometimes the child flops his big, hairy toe over the line you have just drawn in the sand, and dares you to do something about it. When that happens, you must address it, and without hesitation or delay. There is a reason God made you bigger than your children. It is so that you as their parent can gain the upper hand of authority when they are small, and then gradually transfer to them adult freedoms and responsibilities as they age and it is appropriate to do so. When done properly, you have few problems as they grow larger and more autonomous.

When not done properly, you have my students – who raise the short hairs on the back of my neck.

98: Mistakes

I make mistakes. I am not a teacher who claims to always be right, and I make a point of thanking students who catch me in a mistake.

I also make mistakes in ‘real’ life. Yesterday, a friend posted on FB (yeah, it’s real life, in a way) that he had a list of things to do, with a shower being last on the list, and he commented that he might not make it to the shower. I agreed that this was fairly common, and said that a LOT of Moroccans in the grand taxis did the same. Now, that was a mistake. I was thinking of people, not Moroccans, but I typed Moroccans, because, usually, those are the people who fill up most of the seven spaces in an overcrowded grand taxi. Grand taxis put seven strangers in VERY close proximity, and you cannot help but notice smells. Does this give you the right to comment upon those smells? Of course not. Just because someone smells, you don’t know the rest of the story, and there may be perfectly good reasons for that situation, apart from they just chose not to bathe. Are Moroccans the only people who bathe a little less frequently than they should? Of course not. That’s a rather universal thing, and it happens to lots of people for various reasons, ME INCLUDED.

At any rate, the snit hit the fan. It appeared that the entire world thought that remark was incredibly, outrageously, boorish, calculated,  insensitive and rude. It was also true. A grand taxi full of seven Americans would also have noticeable smells. Plus, I am  not somebody who sets out to offend people, which, if you know me, you would already know. It was a poor choice of words, and I dare anybody out there to throw the first stone because of that, because it is a mistake that happens to everyone.   Nevertheless, a lot of people did choose to throw stones. I was sworn at (the F bomb), called uneducated, a poverty-striken, crass Southerner and a great many other things.

At first, I was confused, and honestly shocked, and I did not even realize what mistake I had made, because, as I said, I did not start out to offend anyone at all. But I apologized anyway. I could not apologize for making an incorrect statement, as I take the grand taxi at LEAST twice a day, and nasty smells are routinely part of the trip. But I did apologize for stating it in such a way that offended people – who obviously need to TAKE A SHOWER, and cool off. Not everybody who offends you meant to do so, people.

36: Making a difference

So. You have just passed another day. SO what? What contribution to mankind have you made, beyond the simple fact that you lived another day and did not kill anyone? What does your existence MATTER? Who cares? In a hundred years, who will know you ever existed? I think this is the number one reason people have children, to pass along a legacy, something of themselves, for posterity.

People who create do not have this problem – they leave behind them things they have created, objects of their own creativity that will outlast their own existence. Children also count in that category, don’t get me wrong, but children have this annoying tendency to go off in their own directions, which might not be the directions you would particularly like to have yourself remembered for. Hitler had parents, if you know what I mean. So did all the mass murderers, too. Not exactly the sort of legacy most people would like to be remembered for, unless you are a *real* sicko.

So, we reproduce to pass our genes into history. Sort of. Most of us reproduce because we were not too careful, if you know what I mean. That is why sometimes it is said that adopted children never have to worry about being wanted – they KNOW they were wanted and planned for. A lot of the rest of us just arrived. No, that does not mean you were not wanted just because you were born, even if you were a “mistake.” Even mistakes that were not exactly planned for are welcomed into the world by most of their parents (usually), because they actually do realize that the baby is the only truly innocent one in the whole situation.  My son was not exactly planned for, but he was welcomed and much-loved anyway. Now, if he would only get busy and graduate from college!

Anyway, I have left products of my creativity upon this Earth, besides my two children, I mean. I have created works in metal, sculptures, ceramic pieces (they really DO last forever!) paintings, works in fabric, jewelry, and lots of other media. Ceramic pieces are some of the oldest artifacts primitive man ever created, and I have created a lot of them! I hope that all of these various things will be used and appreciated long after I have departed this mortal coil. I have kept a dress that my grandmother made for me when I was a youngster, and I treasure it – perhaps my granddaughter will also appreciate it one day, if I ever have a granddaughter. I have also left lots of lesson plans during my teaching career, and given the way education works, the lesson plans are likely to outlive the ceramic pieces. I am not kidding.