Writer’s Workshop: Teaching? Uhhh…

My mother was a teacher. She taught in the public schools of Chicago for 37 years. I once told her that I was thinking of becoming a teacher, and she told me that, if I did, she’d disown me.

Mom loved kids, and loved teaching. She believed that if a kid could read, he could learn anything. When a kid came into her class unable to read, she’d tell them that they had to read a book a week and turn in a book report every Monday morning. A guy I met at Northwestern, who was to go on to become a doctor, was one of those kids. I found out by accident: I was on the phone and his name came up in my conversation. When I hung up, Mom said, “I think I taught him.” I asked him about it, and he told me how Mom had worked with him and made him read. I found out at her funeral that there was a girl who couldn’t see the board, and whose family couldn’t afford glasses for her, so Mom paid for them.

So, how could this woman, who gave birth to me and my brothers and raised us to be the men we are today, threaten me with being cut out of her will if I were to follow in her footsteps and teach? Easy: as much as she loved kids and loved teaching, she hated being a teacher. It wasn’t what went on in the classroom that she hated (although she had her days), it was what went on outside it: dealing with (some of) the other teachers, a crazy principal, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Education, the US Department of Education, parents who really didn’t care what went on as long as the kids were out of the house when Judge Judy, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, and The View were on, the seedy underside of the neighborhood (drugs, gangs, crime, etc.), dealing with the drive to and from her school in the city and our house in the suburbs, and all the other aggravations that went along with being a public schoolteacher in an inner-city school. She wanted to spare me the aggravation she had somehow learned to deal with all those years.

So, in answer to the prompt “If you had to be a school teacher, what age and/or subject would you choose to teach and why,” the answer is I’d fight tooth and nail against it.

To return to the prompt we had last week, about where I saw education in a hundred years, all I can say is that I hope we stop making kids dumb…

27 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Teaching? Uhhh…

  1. Your Mother taught at the Gowdy school nicknamed “The Rowdy Gowdy.” She had a million stories. I always love the snowball story. A few kids started throwing snowballs at each other one winter day. This prompted a meeting of teachers and administrators. It was decided that the kids energies could be channelled by giving them something to through snowballs at instead of each other. It was decided to draw a target on a large, bare wall of the building so the kids could throw at at something. Didn’t happen! Instead of a few kids throwing snowballs at each other, now the whole school was motivated to make snowballs, and after throwing a few at the target they began throwing them at each other creating a full scale snowball riot! The target was immediately taken down. My short written paragraph is a poor substitute for Bunny’s talent for telling this story.

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    1. Of all the stories Mom told about her days at Goudy, that’s one I don’t remember her telling, but I can just see it happening. My guess is that it was Dr. McDonald, her principal for many years and who Mom always said was “nuttier than a fruitcake,” that came up with that idea…

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  2. I’m with your mom. I taught tenth grade English for about two minutes. The principal–and the rest of the administrators–were horrible. Rules had not been enforced in such a long time that the students seemed to think rules did not exist. They were shocked when I wouldn’t let them play on their cell phones in class. In spite of that, I had students who desperately wanted to learn and who vied to be my favorites. I wish I’d had the chance to actually teach them something.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. The ones that wanted to learn so badly were the ones who were getting something out of the material. Among the others, you had some who had given up because the material was too advanced for them and others who were bored because the material wasn’t advanced enough. Since they were 15 and 16 years old, they were in 10th grade, because that’s the way it works.

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  3. Hi John – I had great teachers … but I certainly wasn’t able to utilise my full potential … but there were other influences at work. Now I often get asked if I was/am a teacher … I guess it’s the common sense, practicality apparent … now I’d love to learn more … I do teach myself via the blog. But the systems and bureaucracy are just debilitating … kudos to your mother she sounds a lovely person … cheers Hilary

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    1. Blogging is a great way to learn things. But you knew that.

      I’m afraid that eventually the politics and bureaucracy behind public education in the US is going to destroy it. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing…

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  4. Really, I think this is true of many jobs. It’s not the job itself that’s the problem, it’s the aggravating that come with it from the outside: bureaucracy, customers, parents, politics, whatever. I used to be a Florist. People always think of that as a “fun”job. The flower arranging by itself IS fun, but it’s the other stuff: the nasty, cranky swearing unreasonable customers, the long hours standing, the heavy work hauling buckets water in and out for the flowers to stand in that had to be changed daily, fingers bloodied by thorns, management issues—all the other stuff that made it not so fun.

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  5. First, your mom truly loved her job and the children and believed in what she was doing. Her faith, dedication and belief in the kids is why so many still think of her..many than you will ever know. Considering all the red tape and politics plus the area, I can see why she hated that part and wouldn’t have wanted you to be a teacher. My friend is a professor and he can’t stand the red tape because it is more politics than actually teaching

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    1. She was the sole source of money coming in from 1967-1974, and she took that very seriously. After she remarried and especially after Pat was born, she spoke frequently about getting out, but she never did; it was a case of “better the devil you know,” I think. In retrospect, it was the right thing, because she was widowed again in ’92. The only time I ever heard her talk seriously about quitting was when they were going to transfer her to a school much further from where she lived, because someone at some level of government decided they needed to. For a while, the union would go out on what became an annual strike, which didn’t benefit her in the least. Every time I suggested she find a new job, though, she insisted that she couldn’t find a job that paid as well. She was a brilliant woman who could have written her own ticket just about anywhere else, but she didn’t want to change.

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  6. You’re mom sounds like a wonderful person and teacher. And I hear what she’s saying. I thought I might want to teach in a school and took a job last year at a “good” high school. I lasted one semester. Loved the kids, but not the rest of it!

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    1. Mom was wonderful. Very generous. She was very good friends with another teacher with whom she had worked her entire career. One day she got a call that he had died in a movie theater and they found her number in his wallet. He had no family, so she arranged his funeral and picked up the tab.

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  7. So funny, I once told a favorite teacher of mine that I wanted to teach and he discouraged me as well! He was all, “maybe look into computers…technology!” and I was all “what could I ever do in that!?” Joke’s on me! 😉

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    1. There’s an idyllic image of the teacher leading her charges to grand vistas of higher knowledge, but it’s nothing like that at all. The older teachers know that.

      Turns out, I was a teacher of sorts (a software trainer) and my mother couldn’t have been happier. It wasn’t that she didn’t want me to teach, she just didn’t want me to be a schoolteacher.

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  8. You couldn’t pay me to teach. God bless the ones who can and do, though! Those are sometimes the only positive role models a child will come across.

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  9. I never had the desire to be a teacher – way too much to deal with and teachers don’t get the praise they deserve. Now, teachers have to put up with terrorists – that is just wrong.

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  10. It’s so true. I love teaching. Lots of people love teaching. Lots of people are good at teaching. It’s an art. But to spend my life doing it in the school system, as a proper job, I cannot. It’s so much admin now. Ridiculous amounts of admin and heinous bureaucracy and unreasonable expectations in terms of testing and meetings. I got my teaching license with a bunch of people who also got theirs. Now, now, 20-some years later, I have TWO teacher friends. TWO. We admire the two who stayed with it, we respect them immensely, but when they tell the stories, not of kids, not of teaching, but of the expectations and the brutal politics, we feel completely justified in our choice to leave the field. It is a crime.
    That video was excellent. (apart from the sales pitch there in the center, but that’s the gig, lol) Thanks for sharing.

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