Why are we Doing this Thing Called Public Education?

A close friend of mine was confused. He wondered why teachers “post 1000 memes that make it seem like our job is stressful, underpaid, and makes us into alcoholics.” But when he talks to teachers, we say that we love teaching. He was right. We complain… a lot! But sometimes we need the outlet because while those of us who work in Public Education love the student we work with, we definitely face difficult challenges. My own experiences have sometimes been daunting:
–During my second year of teaching, my principal called me into the hall during a passing period and proceeded to scold me like a child for missing open house. But with good reason. I had class that night… for my graduate program… the same graduate program they pushed me to begin. And she did this… in front of the children and other teachers… completely undermining any authority I had established and reducing my perceived height much shorter than I already felt.  I eventually ended up leaving that school.
My own experiences have sometimes been daunting Click To Tweet
–After having distributed yearbooks, a parent called me and asked why “her baby” wasn’t in it. I brought up the list of students, per parent signature and federal law, that we could not publish in any school publication. Her child was on that list. It was like I killed Mark Wahlberg, Matthew McConaughey, Justin Timberlake, and all other available Hollywood heartthrobs. She just didn’t read what she signed.
–During state testing, which freshmen and sophomores have to test, the campus’ senior committee (of teachers) puts on a dodge ball tournament for the juniors and seniors. A group of juniors were not only being outright disrespectful, but some team members were caught leaving during the event. We set clear standards for behavior and let them know them. I, along with another teacher, made the decision to disqualify the team because of their behavior. The next day, we were dragged through the mud by the team for that decision. At some point, I was called a faggot.
–No discipline occurred from administration.
–I’ve been called a faggot, a queer, any other gay-related derogatory word, and cussed out by not only the students, but also their parents.
–One of the most hurtful things occurred from another teacher. A counselor asked me to begin a gay-straight alliance. I was hesitant, but I agreed. My principal, concerned that our conservative campus and community would be hesitant to it, was on board, but asked me to speak to each department about the plan. In a languages other than English department meeting, a Spanish teacher shared his hesitance, saying that I was going to “teach the students how to have gay sex and talk about gay things and that wasn’t going to be right.” That wasn’t the plan… at all!  I was just trying to do something good for a marginalized group of students.
If only we could publish all of the “what the hell” things that happen in our schools. People would be surprised. It’s not just about being underpaid and undervalued. It’s about being straight-up disrespected by students, their parents, administration, at times the central office, and even the community.  And now, we now have a President and a Secretary of Education that have frequently vilified public education. We are the enemy now.
So, why are we doing this thing called public education?
Let me tell you a story: There’s this one kid. (We all have that one kid!) College wasn’t an option for him. And he knew it, so he didn’t even try to apply. But after being pushed… and pushed… and pushed, he eventually applied. A couple of months later, he ran into my classroom. “Cabrera, I got accepted!” We yelled. We cheered. We laughed. We celebrated.
“Who have you told,” I asked him. “Just you as of now,” he said. He was so excited that the impossible is now a reality, that he wanted to share it first with… his teacher.
Yes, we are severally underpaid, culturally undervalued and under-appreciated, and our job really sucks at times. We have the right to complain every once and a while.  However, it’s the stories like the one above that keep us going, that in itself, outweigh a large amount of the bad. Let’s start telling those stories.

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