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A heart so empty…

Post #200…whew!

I pasted what is written below into this post…and then stared at the delete key for a long time.  I hope that this post does not resonate with many people…but if it does…I hope that you know you are not alone.

I am in my right work…my dirty little secret is that I find it very painful.  I am not a teacher who wakes up everyday eager to get to school.  On many days its hurts.  I love my job.  I love my career. I hate my job.  I hate my career.  I love being who I am.  I hate being who I am.  I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. Everyday I can think of a million places I would rather be.  I have the perfect placement, with the perfect kids, yet I feel like I am always in the wrong place.  I am a part of an institution which seems bent on destroying many kids, yet I cannot even dream of leaving it.  I am apart of an institution that I want to influence and find a niche, but the institution does not want people like me in it. Every year another rule, policy, law is passed adding tests, standardization, data. The only thing getting more rigorous is my heart.  I am one person at home, another with my students, another with the parents, various other personalities depending on which colleagues I am with, and even have a couple online personalities. All I want to do is stick my head out and make a difference, but I fear…I am just scared. Scared of perceptions, scared of repercussions.  I am locked into a institution in which I have made to feel ashamed of what I am doing.  We are blatantly teaching to the test. We are blatantly standardizing the kids and their experience.  We are blatantly standardizing teachers.  This is progress.  This is the future…this is my future. Am I a victim?  I feel like a victim but I am a fighter…but I stay in my corner.
How do I survive?  I hide.  At meetings I don’t bring up exactly what I do. When questions about kids are brought up I play a role that keeps my passions hidden.  I never answer or speak up with what I believe…I hide.  I can’t be me outside of my four walls…they keep me safe…they keep us safe.  I have forgotten what I am hiding from…who I am hiding from. I don’t have to hide from the kids.  The kids get me.  I get them.  Does the teaching profession get me?  Do I get them?  The kids and I connect with an open honesty.  They tell me like it is…and I tell them.  I rock…we rock in the classroom.  We stand tall, we smile, we laugh, we cry. We get excited, we dream big, we are unstoppable.  We are not rigorous, we are not standardized, we are individuals who collectively do things that were previously thought to be impossible.  The other day we were talking about rebels.  Talked about the characteristics of rebels and how it was funny that the list on the board were all qualities that the world tells children not to have.  They discussed that our entire history book was full of rebels.  Almost all positive change comes from rebels.  I asked, “Who in the world would want to have a group of kids with these qualities in their classroom?”  They answered, “You would Mr. Bogush.”  I am developing rebels, but I am afraid to join the rebellion.
I am not proud of what I have become.  I get kids to see themselves for who they really are.  I only hope that I can wipe off years of systematic abuse in a single grade.  Kids write to me at the end of the year with words such as “I now know who I am.”  “I now know what kind of person I want to be.”  Why do I still not know that about myself?  I feel destined to hide outside of my heart.  I am passionate, but do not follow my passions.  A leader who does not lead.  A teacher, who cannot teach himself.  Seemingly fearless in taking risks, but full of fear when in a situation in which those risks might be shared.
After 20 years of teaching I have never had a belly so full, and a heart so empty.
MLK once said “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Tomorrow I take the first step in re-framing my work.  I have allowed myself to be pushed into a corner, made to feel like an outsider.  No one made me feel this way.  No one has that power…I accepted…I imposed all sorts of labels upon myself.  I walked into the corner myself…now it is time to walk out.

teacher burnout social studies teacher middle school why become a teacher should I become a teacher

38 comments

  1. Paul, you in no way hide. When you help grow children who know they are rebels, you have burst out of your closet, come out of the corner, and spread the seeds. I, too, feel as you do. In fact, I just today had an incredibly frustrating conversation with my principal who told me, in certain words, to follow the rules. I left her, went back to the room and had our first skype call of the year. No test prep, no literacy block, no writing workshop. Just chatting with fifth graders across the country. Guess what the kids will remember about today. And how wonderful to watch them learn to communicate online. I can’t wait to have them communicate with your rebels! Keep up the good fight, even if you do it quietly.

  2. Such a wonderful post. You have expressed so eloquently what I think quite a few of us are feeling. I have to keep telling myself, over and over, “it’s about the kids” and ignore as much of the nonsense as possible.

    Thank you for writing such a great post.

  3. Paul,

    I have been on a road somewhere near where you are, I think. Fortunately, I teach music and didn’t have to succumb to the idiocy of the testing craze. I do remember sitting in stunned silence when the elementary principal (at the time) say that we would be teaching to the test because ‘everyone else is doing it.’

    I have a few dear friends at school, but not that many. I try to surround myself with like-minded people who deeply care about kids. I feel very fortunate to have found my FableVision friends and I frequently credit them with ‘saving my life.’ More accurately, they saved my soul. I hope you are able to find similar people who will help you feel like you are on more solid ground.

    I know you are a phenomenal teacher, doing everything you can to make your kids be successful, and that truly is our greatest calling. I admire your honesty in this post, I always learn something reading your blog.

  4. Paul,
    Thanks for sharing. You personally are one of the bloggers that I look up to because of your heart. I know you care deeply for your students and that is the most important thing. We all have to fight the system in our own way and pace. I hope you find peace about your place and know that almost all of us struggle with this battle. Be encouraged that everything you do for kids is validation enough. Maybe we can never change the whole system, but more and more of us are making a dent in our own classrooms.

  5. Hey Paul,

    Many, many, many of the best teachers I know, teach with their doors closed. They do so for many reasons, but I suspect that one reason, is that they don’t feel their approaches to teaching are accepted by their peers.

    Teaching young people to know themselves, and to build relationships with others, may be among the most important skill never covered in a workshop.

    In sharing your experiences with an online audience, you are at least, teaching with the door open…

  6. Wow, what a great post. Thanks for writing it Paul. It expresses so many of the sentiments I feel – I think we all feel – about the way the system is destroying out kids souls. I loved the part about the rebels, and it’s so true. So damn true.

    Chris

  7. There is so much I want to say about this post, because it resonates so deeply with me, but if I wait till I get it right I will never write a comment.

    I will just take this opportunity to say hello and that I am glad I stumbled upon this post tonight. I think we have a lo in common and I look forward to helping you with support when you feel down, but more importantly offering you a had when you need it.

    It’s strange this sort of low level angst seems to be going around: Chris Lehman just wrote a similar post:

    http://practicaltheory.org/serendipity/index.php?/archives/1260-Finding-the-Strength-to-Write.html

    But I think you both, we all, know that we are on the right path, sometimes we just need to stop breathe and vent, regain our strength and move forward. We have no choice, it is in our blood. It is what we are here to do……Thanks for this post. I really loved this line:

    I am developing rebels, but I am afraid to join the rebellion.

    Maybe that is enough. Maybe it can look like this:

    http://www.jabizraisdana.com/blog/2010/09/i-want-the-world-to-know/

  8. Each time I think “I can just shut the door and they won’t bother me” I too live in the fear that they’ll catch me being creative, see my kids out of their neat rows and collaborating – – and write down “classroom is unruly”. So after spending some time talking to Chris Lehmann, I’ve decided to take his advice – pick those moments of awesomeness and make sure your administrator comes down that day – show that you CAN teach standards AND inspire kids.

    It’s the only way to win the battle.

  9. thanks for the post paul, one that i believe many of us will identify with. this art of quietly going about our business of good teaching: don’t consider it as not speaking out in fear, but a tactic of guerilla warfare! as chris champion added, share those moments of awesomeness, but not just with administrators. share them with teaching colleagues. they’ll come around to it soon.
    cheers

  10. Paul,
    I’m almost in tears reading this because it is truly how I feel right now. I don’t even know if it’s because of the testing or just because of the job itself. It’s so hard to empty yourself day after day. Keep the faith, friend. You are a teacher for a reason. I have to keep telling myself that!

  11. Paul, I have never met you, but you need to know that you made an impact on my life in this post. In a week where I was terribly disappointed by the tired pedagogy of the teachers of my children, reading your post reminded me of what great teachers do- they reflect on their practice and the impact they make on kids, and they make adjustments to their practice when necessary. So, thank you for reminding me that there are great, honest teachers out there who strive to evolve and challenge themselves as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

  12. Paul,
    Bravo! You speak for all the teachers who have struggled to do the right thing in a system that no longer trusts teachers. Like you, I was often filled with doubts about my teaching. I survived by becoming subversive and trying to stay focused on the learning. Thanks for having the courage to speak out.

  13. Paul,
    Last night at the open house of my son’s middle school I had the following experience:
    A teacher who upon hearing who I was started describing my son’s behavior in her class in front of students and parents entering the room. When later I said I was uncomfortable with that, her response was not, “I’m sorry”, but “Well at least I didn’t go negative!” She then described her grading policy where 50 percent is based on her subject matter and 50 percent is on student behavior. I didn’t have the heart to ask which “behavioral standards” were part of her art curriculum.
    Then, I met Mr. Haugen. My son has him for Language Arts. The opening line of his syllabus reads, “As you walk into my room thoughtfully, as I expect you will every day…” He spoke of his current unit on “The Art of Being Wrong”, and how the students were reading T.S. Elliot, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Kurt Vonnegut and Pablo Neruda.
    And then I had hope!
    Your post gives me hope too!

  14. Good news, bad news: Every human being on the face of the earth feel, has felt, or will feel as you do. We are all rebelling against status quo at some level in wanting to be and do what we can to make a difference but feeling powerless to do so. And as right and good as your Utopia seems to you it would seem like a dictatorship to someone else. The point is we do what we can, where we can, as well as we can for as long as we can. And without realizing it, though our little bit seems useless it is one droplet that makes a part of the rainbow of colors transforming every human life when they, too, look up wanting something more.

  15. I work in a building where my views on testing and teaching to the test are very well known. I think I am allowed to be outspoken because 1) I don’t teach content area classes anymore 2) I do interesting things with students the parents really appreciate and 3) My views are not overtly shared by the rest of the staff. I am not leading a testing rebellion.

    I feel that I have been marginalized because of my views by the other teachers. They say things like it would be great to not worry about the test but our school is judged by it. There is also a lot of fear about losing their jobs if their scores are not good enough (even though it has never happened in my building.)

    I guess my point is the other side of the tracks isn’t so easy either. I often think about what it would be like to work in a building or district that is populated with professionals that believe the way I do. We are living in black and white, Paul, waiting for the doors to open in technicolor as we step in to Oz.

  16. This post really resonated with me, and I can see by the comments that it resonates with others. I believe that every parent, policy-maker, school reformer, and rich corporate executive turned educational philanthropist should read your post. I love the “corner” analogy. I really think teachers should take a stand (and not in the corner). They should start speaking for themselves (and not just through the teachers’ unions) and take back the classroom! I’ve retweeted your blog, posted it on FB, and referred to it in my blog. Thank you for your honesty!

  17. Thank you for your post. I was up at 5:00 this morning writing on a similar topic. I just can’t figure out what is going on in education, when good teachers have to hide excellent teaching. I am quite outspoken in my building, but there are consequences to that. The fact of the matter is you are a making a difference where it counts. You are there for your kids. In the current climate in education, you are their only shot, and can only make a difference for them if you are in the classroom with them. It is important to stand up and to question, but sometimes doing it quietly is the more effective way. The problem is not in the way you are handling things. The problem is that hiding quality teaching has become necessary.

  18. Your post is wonderfully reflective. It saddens me that like so many other teachers you feel so defeated. I hope you continue to have the courage to “reframe” your work. Your kids deserve it. You have the right to love what you do and do what is right.

  19. Thank you for this wonderful post! It speaks to my heart and I had tears in my eyes throughout. My emotions run high and low but I know I am where I am meant to be. I am a teacher at heart. Kids love what I teach them (and I am sure it is not Biology.) When they take the first round of keystone exams this year, I fear for the results and what they mean. Do I teach to the test? Well, I cover the content but not in the organized lecture, worksheets, drill fashion. I am going to be in direct comparison to the other teacher who does those things. Some of the admin is already waiting to see how it turns out. I can only hope that reason returns and the tests are not the only measure used for students.

  20. Paul, I know it’s difficult while you’re “in the machine” to have a voice. But blogging is a great way to give a voice to those who have been silenced. I’ve included your blog on my own. I’m glad you’re in the classroom – right where you’re needed.

  21. Paul, I can’t improve on all the other comments here. I just want you to know your comments are resonating across the profession. Let’s hope we all can keep up the good fight. Thank you for what you do. Cheers!

  22. I walked away. Decided to start my own business, and now 4 years later look forward to working with co-op students because at the core I am a teacher and loved that part of me with all my being. I admire your strength, your commitment to stay.

  23. Since posting this, I have been busy painting my house…this is the first time I have been able to sit and fully digest all of the comments and emails generated by this post.
    Thank you everyone, I truly appreciate your thoughts.

  24. Paul,
    It is hard to say anything that has not already been said. However, it is clear you took a step out of the corner with this post. Saying what needs to be said and finding many others feeling the same mixed bags of emotions. I have often pondered what would happen if our schools were really set up for the benefit of students and willing to meet them where they are, not where we “think” they should be.

    We have much in common. We are all afraid, and as you stated “of what?” This reminded me of a business article I read a few months back. I think it speaks to many of your points and the frustrations many of us find in our home districts http://finance.yahoo.com/career-work/article/109519/5-ways-to-ensure-mediocrity-in-your-organization?mod=career-leadership

    Thank you Paul for speaking up, being counted and stating your passion. Lead on…

  25. Paul,
    Great post. You are not alone. As evidenced by the comments above mine (many from those I consider vital members of my Professional Learning Network), many forward thinking teachers feel the same way. As a Social Studies teacher, you know that many revolutions start with those in power trying to maintain the status quo, and those with new ideas struggling to have their voices heard. So it is with education. The tide is turning slowly, but you, my friend, are on the front lines. Keep up the good work!

  26. Paul, keep planting those grass seeds! I spoke with a colleague of mine the other day and she was concerned with how we can be expected to do what’s best for kids when seemingly everyday someone points at a set of number and statistics and tells us our scores aren’t quite good enough. My only advice to her – close your door and kick ass in your classroom – grass roots baby! Keep up the good work!

  27. A heart so honest and speaks what a lot of teachers feel in this difficult educational world we are living in. I felt as if you were writing through my own real life experiences. Thank you for having the courage to write it “out loud” and for being brave! I do agree with Wm Chamberlain … I am waiting for Oz myself someday. That is what keeps me going each day, and for the smiles on my students faces! Thank you for your post.

  28. As a student at the University of Maine taking my first technology based class titled Computers in the Classroom I am just now becoming aware of the problems we are facing as educators to make the very change that you are making in your classroom everyday. You are taking the steps that will make an impact on every student that walks into your classroom. As a student learning to be an educator I can tell you for a fact that you sound like the type of educator that I one day aspire to be.

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