Enough of the teacher bashing: A public school teacher fights back

I am just a normal teacher. I’m not extraordinary. I’m not more caring than most. I’m just like countless other teachers in schools throughout the country. I care. And I’m damn good at what I do. Photo: Nancy Sathre-Vogel

BOISE, Idaho, November 19, 2011 —Today I read an article written by a fellow Communities writer about Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teacher’s Union president. I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever about Karen Lewis and honestly, I don’t care. What really rankled me was this:

The education system … is not about the kids. It is all about the teachers, especially the teachers who move into the bureaucratic profession. The inmates are running the asylum.”

Granted, this is a mild criticism of the schools. I’ve also read about the “developmentally inappropriate, mind-numbing, physically and emotionally neglectful, sedentary and joyless environment of public school.

And now I’ve reached my breaking point. The comments I read about Karen Lewis were fairly mild, as far as teacher-bashing comments go, but they were enough to push me over the edge.

Yes, this a rant – perhaps the biggest internet rant I’ve ever written – but it’s a heartfelt rant.

There were more comments than I care to count about how horrible the schools are and about how teachers don’t care about their students. According to many, teachers are in it for the money and couldn’t care less about the kids.

For many children, school is the best part of their day.

They’re wrong.

I am proud to say I’ve been a classroom teacher for 21 years. For 21 years I spent my days in a classroom helping and guiding my students as they attempted to make sense of the world around them. In many ways, those 21 years were wonderful; in other ways they were awful. A few years ago I opted to leave the classroom in order to “roadschool” my children, but we made that decision because of the lifestyle it afforded rather than discontent with the schools.

One thing I can say with certainty: for 21 years I did the best I possibly could for kids.

Opinions might vary about what’s best for kids, but, in general, we teachers are fairly united in knowing what our students need. We know our kids well. We generally spend more time with them than their own parents do. We know which kids have parental support and which don’t. We know which kids live with extreme economic challenges. We know which kids go home every night to find strangers in their home and which ones are likely to find drugs on the kitchen counter. We know what our kids are capable of and we know how to help them learn.

We teachers are good at what we do. Damn good, in fact.

Are the schools perfect? No, but we do the best we can given the constraints placed upon us. We take all kids regardless of where they come from and we do our best to get them all to some level of literacy. I think we do a good job of that.

I’ve heard the complaints. I’ve heard about teachers who only care about their paycheck and about going home early and about not doing anything at school. But in my 21 years in the schools, I’ve never, ever seen that.

Schools are far from the mind-numbing, sedentary places.

What I’ve seen over and over again are teachers who truly care about their kids. I’ve seen teachers go to bat to help their kids get into appropriate programs and get the services they need. I’ve seen teachers stay up til the wee hours of the morning, grading papers, writing lesson plans, and creating materials for the next day’s lessons.

In fact, I’ve been that teacher.

When you talk about how horrible our school system is I want to scream and shout. I want you to walk a mile in my shoes before you criticize me.

I want you to stay up every night until 2 or 3 in the morning making materials for the next day in order to take advantage of every moment of your students’ time, knowing you’ve only got so many hours with them.

I want you to go to school and face the 15-year-old girl who’s been given up for adoption because she was being abused by her mother’s boyfriend, and her mom had opted to terminate all contact with her daughter rather than leave the boyfriend.

I want you to help a six-year-old child as she frantically searches for her spoon, knowing if she doesn’t bring it home she’ll be beaten by her father.

Schools challenge kids to be the best they can.

I want you to coax a middle school child out from under the table where she’s hiding because everything is just too much and she’s scared to death to go home. And I want you to be the one who has to look at that child and say, “I know you’ve dealt with more abuse than I can even imagine, but you have a choice to make. You’ve been dealt your lot in life and you can choose to overcome and succeed in spite of it or choose to let it overwhelm and defeat you.” And I want you to say that while holding back tears because the last thing you can do in that situation is let that child know your heart is breaking.

Oh yeah, and I want you to be the teacher who spends countless hours with tears streaming down your cheeks as you watch your kids get hurt by things totally out of your control.

Are we teachers perfect? Absolutely not. Are we the best for every kid? No. Are we the best thing in many kids’ lives? You bet.

Thousands of kids from all over America come to school every morning and the best part of their day is the next six hours. They’ve got a teacher who loves them and a system that is fair and predictable. For many kids, school is the only place they feel safe and know what to expect.

I’m proud to say I’m a teacher. I’m proud of my years in the classroom and I’m proud of making a difference in kids’ lives. I’ve agonized over the kids I couldn’t reach, and rejoiced with those I could.

Being a teacher is hard work, but more rewarding than you can imagine.

I am just a normal teacher. I’m not extraordinary. I’m not more caring than most.

I’m just like countless other teachers in schools throughout the country. I care. And I’m damn good at what I do.

I want you to walk a mile in my shoes before you criticize me. Or spend a week in my classroom.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is just a mom who decided to take a bike ride. On the longest road in the world. Some people say she’s exceptionally brave. Others say she’s outrageously foolish. She doesn’t think she’s either. She’s just a mom who wanted an adventure and time with her kids. Her most recent adventure was cycling from Alaska to Argentina, a journey she documented at www.familyonbikes.org

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Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a modern-day nomad and vagabond who travels the world in search of beads and other treasures.

Her preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle, although she’s been known to travel in car, bus, plane, boat, donkey cart, elephant, and camel. She is now pedaling the length of the Americas because her eleven-year-old sons have decided they want to get the Guinness World Record as the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Highway.

Although there are times when she questions her sanity, she somehow keeps going, knowing that treasures await in countries far and wide. You can read about her and her travels at www.familyonbikes.org. Emails are always welcome.

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