Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Doldrums

All signs point to the arrival of the summer doldrums. You remember the doldrums. When you were a kid, that meant that summer was beginning to wind down. We are still in the middle of July, so it hardly seems like summer is over. But it all began with the first advertisements for a dreaded time: Back to school.

Saw the first commercial at least two weeks ago, for Ziploc bags or some type of container for back-to-school lunches. I was shocked and thought it must have aired as the result of some type of scheduling error. A TV tech pushed the wrong button or something.

But now other commercials are streaming in. Saw one tonight for Target in which an unseen female is pushing one of the infamous red plastic carts through the aisles while little kiddies deposit items inside. There are backpacks, clothing, tablets, pencils…all the goodies which parents must provide for school these days.

I don't have kids or grandkids, so I could care less about back-to-school. In fact, the last time I cared a hoot about returning to school was 1975, when I was teaching 5th grade. I really disliked teaching and had stuck it out for five years.

When school was out in May that year, like most other teachers (whether or not they will admit it), I was really tired. All I wanted was a little time away from the students and the demands put on everyone at the school. Teachers are truly underpaid and underappreciated, and that hasn't change over the decades. We used to put up with rude behavior and even had an assortment of seriously bad students, even at the 5th grade level and even in 1975.

The phrase "even then" is worth noting because already the input of parents -- whether well meaning or not -- was causing tension between the administration and the teachers. All the administration wanted was a year of smooth sailing from Fall to Spring. They didn't particularly care about the quality of teaching that occurred as long as no one made any waves.

The administrators in the large district where I taught were focused on one thing: their pensions. They just wanted to reach the magic number and retire. No doubt there were some exceptions to this statement, but I neither saw or heard about them at the time.

I recall one staff meeting when we were discussing classroom control. The principal wanted to share a tactic that he had found to be of real help when he was confronted with an unruly class. "Stand behind them," he smiled. "That way they can't see you coming." The man seemed quite pleased with himself for demonstrating his natural-born leadership skills.

By the time Spring had arrived, I was giving serious consideration to finding another career. Meanwhile, I was glad for some time off.

In early August, a friend and I were riding go-carts at a rental track and were taking out our aggressions on each other in the blazing sunshine. When my turn was over, I pulled my vehicle aside and climbed out. Suddenly it occurred to me that we would be returning to school in a few weeks. My heart sank at the prospect.

"I can't do it anymore," I told my friend, a fellow teacher.

"Do what?" he asked.

"Go back to school."

He laughed. "Oh, I know. I think that each year. But you know we will go."

I stood there in the bright desert sun and said slowly, "No. I'm not going back."

And that was it. I didn't return to teaching and except for a half dozen days since when I happened to substitute, have never returned to teach again.

I truly appreciate the great teachers from my own education. We all experienced teachers who stand out as inspiring, sincere and dedicated. But those days have long disappeared.

Teachers should not have to fight uphill for every improvement. They should have administrators who support and encourage them. They should have cooperative parents who say "bravo" when their kids improve, not ask "Why are you such a bad teacher?"

I can imagine right now there are teachers in every part of the country who dread seeing commercials reminding them that it's back-to-school time. Somewhere, there are teachers who have likely made up their own minds that they have had enough and may be going through the same thought process as I did.

For any teachers who might read this, I wish you good luck in your future endeavors. You gave far more than you received in those classrooms. You deserve more.

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