Monday, October 20, 2008

For my eldest

My oldest daughter Jessica is a first year elementary school teacher. She works in a rural, underfunded district a couple of counties away from her home. She loves her job, loves her students and calls me every afternoon during her one-hour commute to tell me about her day.

These conversations sometimes make me angry. They sometimes make me sad. But they always make me proud. We're homeschoolers, and Jessica began her academic life at our kitchen table learning to read from stories I wrote about the adventures of her doll, Cupcake. She was four then. 
I loved homeschooling, and we still homeschool her two younger siblings. 

But I could not do what she does. I couldn't teach the masses. I know I couldn't. I couldn't deal with the bureaucracy or the politics of teaching with her aplomb. I couldn't face parents I knew to be abusiv
e or neglectful without asking, "Now tell me again why it was you chose to breed?" I couldn't stare into the eyes of some of my students, knowing that I was probably the only person in their lives who even gave a damn, without breaking down. 

Jessica does this day after day. And despite the hardships and aggravations of her job,  she truly loves it. 

"Do what you love." That's what I've told all my kids. And she is.

So when I was looking for another audiobook to put on my iPod and came across this poem by educator/poet Taylor Mali I had to share it with Jessica. And with you. It's a wonderful message that should be heard by anyone who judges a teacher - or any other person's worth - by their paycheck.

Mali isn't just inspirational; he's damn funny, too. I came across this clip on proofreading vs. Spell Check over the weekend and couldn't stop laughing. 


Christopher said...

Mali’s just terrific. And I can understand why you’re so proud of your daughter. Teachers just don’t get enough credit. It seems like that’s said occasionally, and sometimes even said by prominent people (Lenny Bruce has a whole bit about how celebrities make obscene amounts of money while teachers make almost nothing).
I’ll be the first to say that I had some pretty lousy teachers in school, but I had some terrific teachers too. The good ones outweighed the bad ones, really, and, when I think of teachers, it’s really the good ones who stand out in my mind.
How long has she been teaching? In a few years, hopefully, she’ll have the experience of having some of her students come back to thank her. When I was a senior in college I visited my high school one day because one of my former teachers wanted me to talk to her class. I went back and visited some of the others, and it really meant a lot to them that I not only remembered them but appreciated them. What really amazed me, though, was that they remembered me. So many kids go through those classrooms, but you can tell the good teachers because they remember all their students.

Morgan said...

This is her first year. Jess has always been so meticulous and thorough in her approach to everything and she's a very attentive teacher.

I had some good teachers too and I've tried to look them up over the years to tell them how much they meant to me. But I had some bad ones, too. My first one - Mrs. Mobley - was cruel and insulting and awful. Students who had her later reported the same thing. I looked her up, too, and told her "You made my first year of school traumatic. You never should have been a teacher."

Teachers are like other professions. You've got your good and bad apples. But those good ones are golden.

And I just love Taylor Mali, although I can't watch that proofreading video too often. My sides start hurting from laughing, especially when he starts talking about the "clit" of the mouse.

thimscool said...

Great post.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Luke. :-)

Christopher said...

Morgan, do you know what became of Mrs. Mobley? I had a third grade math teacher who got fired. Next to her the schoolteacher from The Wall could have won a teacher of the year award. The sad thing, though, is she didn't get fired until the end of the year. A couple of other teachers should have reported her sooner, but they said they didn't because it as important for teachers to look out for each other. That made them all equally guilty.

Morgan said...

Mrs. Mobley ended up being tenured and ruining kids' first grade experiences until the day she retired which was the day I chose to go to her classroom as she was packing and tell her what a lousy teacher she'd been, and how twenty-some-odd years later I still remembered every little insult and put-down I suffered in her class.

She just stood there, looking shocked. After I did that I went next door to Mrs. Burleson's room. I had her in the second grade and she was as good a teacher as Mrs. Mobley was bad. I told her what I'd done and she hugged me and said, "I wanted to tell her that for YEARS."

And my thought was, "Why didn't you?" If I thought it would have made a difference I'd have come back sooner and done it myself.

laughingwolf said...

excellent, both clips :D

and grats to j for sticking it out in a [mostly] thankless job!

Christopher said...

I'm happy to hear Jessica's making it through her first year. I just hope she can stay in it. Some teachers get burned out and I'm not surprised.
When I read LouAnne Johnson's My Posse Don't Do Homework, that the film Dangerous Minds was based on, I was shocked to hear how teachers would sometimes undermine each other. Yeah, there will always be crappy teachers, but Johnson took on kids no one else wanted to teach, and when she succeeded she was accused by some of the other teachers of coddling her students. They couldn't accept that she was succeeding where they'd failed.

Morgan said...

Jess is going through that already. Not to be sexist, but I'm realistic about my gender and warned her that the toughest part of her job might be working with a bunch of catty, petty women.

She's one of three teachers in a "team" that's supposed to work together and share ideas, but one of them refuses to do so. Jess interned at a school where everyone worked together, so this is frustrating.