in defense of public education (pandemic version)

 I will be the first to admit it. I avoid media coverage of public education, even though I am a public school teacher. I don\’t just avoid the bad news (school shootings, teachers with bottles of booze in their desk drawer, teachers accused of sexual harassment.) I avoid the good stuff too. ( teachers-as-heroes hype, various teachers of the year, teachers who spend all of their time/money/energy/mental health on their students.) I avoid all of it. Because it is all inaccurate and incomplete when I look at my own  work. It is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Cue Adam Sandler singing his woes in \”The Wedding Singer\” : \”Cause it all was bullshit…\” Classic scene of personal expression that frequently pops into my head when I am reflecting about teacher myths in general. Which is pretty often.

My job is hard.  Every teacher in my building,  in my district has a hard, hard job. No question. But we are not heroes, please. That kind of label makes us feel the unbelievable pressure to come every day  to work, do all the things, have no feelings about the things, go home, come back the next day and do  all the things again. And again. And again. I understand that teaching is not the only hard job in the world. I am full of gratitude and appreciation for the other hard jobs. First responders, nurses, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, mail carriers. I recognize their jobs as hard too. But  today I am talking about my hard job. 

This next part will be where I list the ways in which my job is hard.

Not enough time, resources, money, support to do the creative junk I want to do.

Long hours, ridiculous amount of meetings outside of contract hours.


Kids coming to school with nothing in the tank, depleted by home situations, lack of medication, lack of sleep and  non-existent parent oversight.

Unsupportive parents who blame everything on me, and insist their children are faultless.

Outdated, boring curriculum that is approved because it was once \”research-based\”. 

Covid protocols. Enough said.

Lack of substitute teachers,  substitute paraprofessionals,  substitute custodians and other support staff.

Expectations: from myself, my admin, my gen ed teachers, my parents, my educational specialist, my school psychologist…the list goes on.

 Yes, it does feel gratifying to see it all in one spot like that. I think anyone could write a list like that about their job and come to the same conclusion. I wonder, though, is everyone under the kind of public scrutiny and waffling judgement of the masses? Are they on the cover of People one week and being vilified on Twitter the next? This is what I take issue with.

I worked for many years (11) in the private school sector. In some ways it was better; in other ways it was worse. I made a lot less money.  I felt the staff/family dysfunction more acutely because of the size and organization of the school. I ran into the shifting whims of the board who represented the parents more than they stood for the staff. I often felt slighted, ignored, unappreciated. But I also had a a lot of freedom. And I had a killer boss. The oversight was minimal and so I could kind of go my own way. That was nice. But this teaching job was hard too. 

Now that I teach in the public school (finishing my third year) I feel a sense of protectiveness about it all. I find myself defending some of the very things I criticized from a distance in the years before. I notice that I get super cranky when I actually do read some of the stories about (and sometimes written by, shame on you) teachers. First, we are the unsung heroes of the world. Next, we are lazy, greedy and whiny. Geez, talk about whiplash. If I feel one way, all I have to do is Google the opposite viewpoint to check myself. There is no lack of opinion, that is for damn sure.

But the reality settles us down somewhere in the middle. We are doing hard things, and teaching students to face and do hard things every day. Sometimes we do it creatively and joyfully, with a plaintive soundtrack in the background. Sometimes we do it while gritting our teeth and relying on review worksheets. Both are teaching. One is not  necessarily better than the other, when taken in balance. 

I don\’t want to be a bitter, exhausted, should-have-retired-last-year teacher. On the other hand, I do not want to be a teacher who forces herself to live in unreality and feels like shit every time her classroom and teaching doesn\’t look like Pinterest come to life. This is destructive and actually contributes to teachers burning out faster. So let\’s not do that. Let\’s lift the foot off the gas, relieve the insane and ridiculous pressure on those folks schlepping in the trenches. Yes, sometimes it is schlepping and those are  indeed trenches. Filled with dirty water and God knows what. And yes,  we do choose to be there. Just like the other people with really, really hard jobs.

 So here is my brilliant suggestion: Let\’s neither glorify nor demonize teachers. Let\’s allow them to be the imperfect, messy, intense, organized, creative, seat-of-their-pants, non-conforming, wild and wonderful, people that they truly are. Isn\’t that what anyone, in any job, really wants anyway?

Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.