I wake up in the morning excited for the school day, not just in the first week, but year-round. I get to be creative. I get to have autonomy. I get to watch students grow in their wisdom and in their character. I get to challenge presuppositions and have students challenge me (I’ve been using the hash tag #thingsmystudentstaughtme to list a few of these). I get to paint murals and film documentaries as the collective voice of each class grows stronger. I get an insane amount of free Takis and pick-up games of basketball and debates about the meaning of truth and language.
I get to make a difference, even when it feels like I’m not making a difference.
Don’t get me wrong. Teaching is difficult. Everything from the tiny, annoying discipline issues to the tragic stories that war against the soul to the painstaking moments when I come to terms with my own humanity. It’s a difficult job. However, it’s a good kind of difficult that comes from doing something that matters.
I love my job.
It’s hard to be demonized by ignorant “tax payers” (yes, I pay my taxes, too and yes, you wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for a teacher of some kind) and corporate reformers who somehow think that because I teach in a place of poverty, I am a worthless teacher. It’s hard to be told that, in working for so little, I will magically be motivated like a trick pony for a merit pay carrot. Yet, while I may snarl back a few times, I find little meaning in fighting a battle against those who refuse to listen.
After all, I love my job.
But the thing is that it’s hard to raise a family on forty grand a year (even after a master’s degree). It’s hard to know that my two sons and daughter do not receive health care. It’s hard to know that we cannot do YMCA sports, because it costs too much. It’s hard to know that somewhere in the next few years, my sons will be ostracized for hand-me-downs and cheap sneakers.
Teachers have it good. Their children, not so much.
And it’s hard to know that my students will spend nearly a third of the year taking meaningless tests when we could be learning instead. It’s hard to know that the schools in my district will close down if we don’t make a magical number that means nothing to a child who has spent the night at a different house for every day of the last month.
Teachers have it good. Their students, not so much.
So, if you see an Arizona educator (white guy, receding hairline, a slight belly) crying out for change, don’t assume it’s a disgruntled teacher. No, it’s a very grateful teacher who loves the profession enough to want to help save it and help transform it into something that’s even better for children.
That’s what I’m fighting for.
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John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink. He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and A Sustainable Start, a book for new teachers. He also wrote the reform-minded memoirs Teaching Unmasked: A Humble Alternative to Waiting For a Superhero and Sages and Lunatics. He has written two young adult novels Drawn Into Danger and A Wall for Zombies. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer