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Teaching: The” new” Waiting Tables?

Sat, Feb. 24, 2005 10:23 am

Last night, I was out with Danielle, Patrick and Lynn. One of them asked me how my job was going and if it was still as difficult as I had imagined it.

Embedded within in that question is a not so secret, rather overt accusation: “You must be either desperate for work or just plain retarded to choose to teach.” I know that people (esp. my friends) don’t intend to come off this way. But I am pretty intuitive and observant of humans and the way they interact. This inquiry into my daily life as the adult who corals and tries to educate 75 8th grade girls is more of an intense wondering of WHY would anyone want to coral and try to educate 75 8th grade girls? Or “you must have just given up on life and any artistic goals since you ended up here.”

I love to share stories of my schizophrenic students and their random attitudes and eye rolling. Often when I have finished one, Lynn responds with: “You’re doing the Lord’s work.” That remark is usually accompanied with a distinct look. A look that asks, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why do you go there every day?”

I am in my classroom now getting organized. I am on my way to the bookstore to pick up a teaching supplement for The Giver. Later on, I will be at a coffee shop grading papers. Each time I am asked in that accusatory manner, “How is teaching working out for you?” I think about why this profession is now viewed with such dare I say, superior sympathy. Once, the teachers of this country were the CEO’s of corporations. The profession, although, not relatively sought after, was viewed with some sort of honor and respect. There were people in the community who thought you had “Arrived” if you had completed college, then a Master’s program and were earning a teacher’s salary.

The world has opened up so much to women and people of color in the last few decades. While this is not to say that black women can just walk into Time Warner after completing an M.B.A. program and be granted a corner office, we do have more options. And many of us have taken those options. Leaving hundreds upon thousands of kids to fend for themselves.

And when I go out with my artistic, well-educated friends with cool NYC jobs that allow them four day weekends, there sometimes arrive in our conversations…moments. Brief pauses when we discuss requisite work drama. Pauses that are filled with questions most of them are respectful enough not to ask. “Why have you regressed? Why have you gone into something that is now left for those who are not good enough/smart enough/ ambitious enough to do anything else?”

I wonder if I am asking myself that, too, sometimes. When 8-2 refuses to listen to me and just keeps right on talking. When I am grading a writing assignment and I am not completely sure why Maria deserves a C instead of a B. When I have to sit in union meetings and be told that I will have to beg the mayor for a cost of living raise. I wonder about these things as I make the conscious choice to not leave 75 girls who look like me idle. To not force them to fend for themselves and find a way to prepare for a world that still does not really know what to do with them. A world that would be much more comfortable if they just made peace with sitting silently in the background.

“Why have I regressed,” sometimes crosses my mind as I work and work to the point of exhaustion and watch how much my work is questioned or taken as heart-warming missionary work to be admired by others, but definitely not CHOSEN by others.

Was the profession always viewed as the easy way out? If it was, I can think of no better perfect example of comic irony. The hardest job on earth being considered the easy way out? Perfect!



  • 1 NYC Educator
    · Sep 27, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Well, cheer up.

    With the improvements of the new contract, the “Roadmap to a Sixth Teaching Period,” you’ll be successful beyond your wildest dreams.

    First of all, rather than planning lessons or helping kids, you’ll have the deep satisfaction of refereeing food fights. Or perhaps you’ll spend the period in one of Chancellor Klein’s luzurious student bathrooms.

    Then, you’ll spend 30 minutes on “small group instruction” since your classes, under this brilliant contract, will still be the largest in the state. And don’t forget the inevitable extra ten minutes coming in the NEXT contract, which will give you six FULL periods teaching the largest classes in the state.

    Bask in the reflection of two summer days, being indoctrinated in the mysterious and arcane plans of Chancellor Klein as you sit in a hot auditorium and listen to his overpaid sycophantic flunkies telling you what a great job he does and how you should stop screwing it up.

    And best of all, you’ll enjoy the deep satisfaction of knowing you’re STILL the lowest paid teacher in the area.

    Thanks, UFT!!!

  • 2 jesse
    · Sep 27, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Nice story Creative Teacher. I get the same thing from some of my friends without children. Once they’ve had kids they respect what you do a heck of alot more.

    NYC Educator, I’m not sure this is the right place to complain about the PERB report and the contract negotiations.

  • 3 mvplab
    · Sep 27, 2005 at 11:19 pm


    I left private industry 30 years ago to teach. Even though my teaching salary was less than 50 per cent of what I was making, I’ve never regretted the decision and toughed out the “that’s nice” remarks from friends and relatives. Even now, I’m still happy doing what I love.

    True, I’m a little tired and cranky at times, like NYC Educator, and I understand that. The system does try to grind you into the ground. But kid’s can be the best inspiration for creativity and the best motivator to keep you going.

    So if you love the subject you teach, kids will inspire you to teach it better.

    Let us know how things are going as the year progresses. Even NYC Educator, who is a little cranky tonight, will be a source of help and inspiration.

    What subject are you teaching?

  • 4 gary chattman
    · Sep 29, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Again: check out the salaries of all UFT officials, including the President. If and when there is a new contract, perhaps all teachers could be put on a parity with her salary…

  • 5 cornymathteacher
    · Oct 2, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    Perhaps your friends need a wake-up call. Bring them to school for a visit and let them roll up their sleeves and try engaging 8-2.