By January 22, 2017 Uncategorized 8 Comments

“What’s the matter, Ms. Jones? You look upset today.”

Ms. Jones took a deep breath and thought carefully about how she should respond to her student’s question, finally answering: “I’m fine, Ben. Thank you for asking. I just get a little tired sometimes. Nothing to worry about. Let’s get back to work.”

Yet, at the end of the day, after four more classes; after tutoring students during her lunch; after completing her hall duty; after attending a department meeting to review data from the first algebra benchmark test; after grading the last of 150 papers turned in by her students today and entering all of their scores into the computer; after assembling materials for a hands-on activity for tomorrow’s lesson; after preparing a week’s worth of school work for two suspended students; after writing a quiz for her geometry class; after answering two dozen emails from parents and students; after a contentious phone call with a parent to discuss why their child was struggling in class – during which Ms. Jones had to bite her tongue not to yell, “maybe he should come to class prepared, pay attention, work hard, and stop goofing off; after logging on to read the comments from her last formal evaluation (the one where her administrator suggested she needed work on “providing a variety of learning experiences” after spending precisely 27 minutes in her classroom); after wiping down her own desks, picking up paper off the floor, and placing the trash outside (an effect of last year’s budget cuts); after walking out of the building three hours after students were dismissed; after driving twenty minutes across town to pick up her two children from her mom’s; after helping them finish their homework; after preparing dinner and cleaning up the kitchen and finally tucking her children into bed; and after opening a notice from the electric company threatening to cut off her power for being a month behind in her payments …

… after ALL that, ten-year veteran high school algebra and geometry teacher Meredith Jones put her head down on the dining room table and sobbed.

Wiping her eyes, Meredith thought back to Ben’s question from eight hours earlier in the day. Ben was one her favorite students. It bothered her that he was able to see her frustration because she always tried to keep it in. At the same time, he was the only human being all day who took the time or interest to see inside her, to notice she was upset, and to ask how she was doing.

Meredith felt disillusioned and helpless. She actively wondered how much longer she could keep this up.

She remembered the story of Sisyphus she learned back in high school.

Sisyphus is the guy in Greek mythology that was sentenced by the gods to push a boulder up a hill for the rest of his life. Every time that he came near to reaching the summit, the gods would merely roll it back to the bottom so that he was never free from the work but never finished and he must always labor in the full knowledge of the futility of his work.

As an educator, do you ever feel like Sisyphus? Do you ever NOT feel like Sisyphus?

Are you tired of pushing the boulder uphill just to watch it roll back down the hill again and again?

Like Meredith, do you feel like you’re pushing alone?

When you review your pay stub and realize that you’re bringing home only $200 more a month than you did ten years ago?

When your class sizes increase incrementally year after year?

When you’re forced to attend meaningless “sit and git” professional development to meet state mandates?

When you’re told to follow scripted lesson plans designed to raise test scores with no regard for student engagement?

When parents yell at you because you made their child “feel bad” about not doing their homework or studying for a test?

When your principal fails to follow through on something he’s promised … again?

When you read the comments in the newspaper from politicians who claim you and your fellow teachers are failing our children?

When lawmakers implement senseless programs centered on test-based accountability which place the blame for low test scores solely on your shoulders?

When, year after year after year, you are promised a pay raise only to watch these promises later evaporate with announcements of more revenue failures, more budget cuts, and more hollow rhetoric?

When legislators propose new laws to increase teacher retirement age or cap medical benefits instead of addressing the root causes for low teacher pay in Oklahoma?

When out-of-state voucher wolves work with compliant Oklahoma lawmakers to try to siphon money away from public schools to support education scholarships for children to attend private school?

When your legislator gets angry with you for complaining about his seeming lack of respect for your profession and tells you to stop calling?

If we’re honest, on occasion we ALL feel like Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill that never seems to summit.

The reality is that the Sisyphus analogy really isn’t accurate for what we do. Because, despite all there is that pushes us down – and that’s a lot – we  are still moving boulders. And we have for over a hundred years.

When the history of the United States is written from the vantage of the middle of the 21st century, and the question asked is what was it that made the United States the preeminent nation in the world during the 20th century, the answer will be found in the 19th century.

It won’t be the telegraph, or the telephone, or the automobile, or even the computer that has made America great. Rather, it was the invention of the common school.

  • It was the public schools that gave America some mobility across social classes, providing a modicum of truth to the premise that we are the preeminent land of opportunity.
  • It was the public schools that changed our immigrants into patriotic Americans.
  • It was the public schools, along with public libraries, that gave Americans the skills and opportunities to develop the kinds of knowledge necessary for a democracy to function.
  • It is the public schools that serve most of our nations’ special education students, hoping to give them productive lives, and hoping to give their parents some relief from a tougher parenting role than most of us have had to face.
  • It is the public schools that primarily serve the English Language Learners who, in another generation, will constitute a large part of the work force that we depend upon.
  • It is the public schools that serve America’s neediest children and their families.
  • And it is the public schools, in the wealthier neighborhoods, that provide a large proportion of American students with a world-class education.

We continue to move boulders uphill today. But, even more important than the boulders are the millions of tiny pebbles we’re moving to a higher place, who will never roll back on us

Teaching well is one of the more difficult jobs in the world. It is immensely frustrating that the profession does not get the respect and support it deserves.

But, there is a release in the work of it, in the working of the muscles of selflessness and service, of giving.  Of pushing pebbles.

We all have hundreds of opportunities every day to feel hurt, or disrespected, or unappreciated.

We also have hundreds of opportunities to change lives, to move individual pebbles farther up the summit, to love, to breathe out wonder, to explore, to serve, to work out who we are meant to be all along and to experience beauty and satisfaction at every summit.

What we do is never futile, because, “if anything matters, everything matters.”

We don’t have to ignore or diminish our circumstance. We don’t even have to be okay with it. But we do have to keep up the hard work of pushing forward even if it is an inch at a time. We do have to get back to work.

The pebbles are counting on it.

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