Monday, July 12, 2010

On motivation.

I'm in a weird spot with my job. Rather, I've been walking a path that's led me to a weird spot. I'm not happy being a teacher.

I'm not. Don't freak out on me.

Seriously, don't.

I'm really not. I don't want to go back to work. I don't like it. It's not what I thought it would be.* It’s SO hard. It's draining. I think most of the policies of the system are a joke. I don't feel like I work in an environment conducive to actual success as much as success on paper, or perceived success. Purported success. Reported success. Success in pie charts. Numbers and percentages making flavorless berry-shaded pies of empty celebration or brow-furrowed disappointment... telling us nothing about how a kid feels or if they're supported at home. Nothing about whether or not he'll be in college or jail in five years. Nothing about whether or not she sees beauty in a well-crafted kenning. (Shout out to my Beo-nerds.) Nothing about what they'll be in the world. Why does nobody seem to notice that we're NEVER going to reach 100% on the magical fairytale invented scale of standardized testing? That every gain is next year's loss? That every loss is next year's ten point gain? It's neverending, and exhausting.

*Yes, I know you can't really make that complaint after 9 years, but I'm still doing it. Maybe I need to start saying it's not what I hope it can be. Same diff.

Want to know a secret? I'm interested in who, but not in what I teach anymore.

In my own classes, I'm bored. I've been absorbing student apathy through osmosis. (Oh crap, not osmosis--that's water--what's the other one for gas but it's like the same thing? I can never remember it.) I don't even want to listen to me. The thought of having to slog through Hamlet again to the tune of seventy annoyed looks just seems like waterboarding. I live for curiosity and I haven't seen much in a while from my blessed pupils. It's not that I don't love Hamlet, it's that I don't like teaching it to people that (as I heard Angie Harmon say this morning on The View, when asked if she wanted anymore children) would rather "light [their] hair on fire and then put it out with an ice pick." It's like working really hard on a gift for someone you love and then having them throw it in the trash.

I do work hard. I do love it. I do love them, though I'd like not to admit it. But it feels like they take a giant crap on most of what I cover, miming their way through class and promptly ignoring everything I say. They could give a rip about Hamlet.

Same goes for Romeo and Juliet. The Stranger. The Sun Also Rises. Animal Dreams. My beloved Animal Dreams. *sigh*

There are some things about my job that change at an iceberg-melting pace. The novels we teach? That's one of them. I love discovering new things to read. I love reading new things. I love talking about the new things I read. Yet I spend every year for talking about a handful of novels I've been reading since high school. It's just so repetitive. I love to talk about writing, specifically how to write. Unfortunately, it seems like nobody's been interested in listening for a few years and I'm losing a battle to the clandestine AP Statistics homework completed at the expense of my instructional hours.

I'm just... bored. Everything about teaching from the first day of school to the annoyed parent emails to the poorly-followed directions is just so cyclical. I'm bored and I'm not interested in playing the uphill battle game anymore. I'm not interested in even listening to myself talk anymore because it seems like it's to no avail.

I realize this is an annoyingly First World kind of problem. "I hate my stable, well-paying job." It goes right along with "my iPhone broke" and "Whole Foods ran out of red quinoa." But c'est la vie de PDawg. I got 99 problems and... forget it.

I got my AP scores from this year and they were DISMAL. Of course I know that responsibility is not on my shoulders alone--and I can't make anyone care that doesn't--but it seemed like it was such a joke to most of them this year. I knew when I walked out of the testing room that most of them didn't WANT it. When I took that test, I WANTED it. Bad. I got my 5 because I craved it so badly. How do I get them there?

I heard this somewhere the other day: I can't make you a great writer, but I can make you a better one. (At least I think it was said about writing. Might have been said about something entirely different, but it works.) So true. There are times when I wish I didn't have to accept the limitations that some students bring to my class, but they are a reality. I know that's earth-shattering for those of you who still believe every student is a shining, precious snowflake of infinite potential, but we all have our limits. It's the better part of the equation I'm interested in. Greatness can't be taught. But how to be better can, for sure.

I'm just fed up. I'm tired of being the hardest working one in the room. I'm bored at work.

I'd been thinking about this post all morning, thinking about how disinterested I am in what I do... and the conference I'm attending shed some new light on it. I'm at the AVID Summer Institute this week, learning about strategies to provide access to curriculum and support for college readiness for all students. A speaker at the opening ceremony--himself a member of the first AVID class, graduating 30 years ago--really inspired me. He talked about how one teacher caring about him, seeing potential in him, gave him the motivation to do better. He talked about how much more he was capable of than what was expected of him. He talked about choosing opportunity over what his heart wanted.

He made me realize I need to pull my head out of my behind. He made me remember that I can make a difference, even though I very seldom see the end product. He made me think about how I can make this next year better.

And so begins the annual mid-July excitement about the year to come. The wooden-spike-under-fingernail-esque schoolwide PMS-style shenanigans of May and June have started to fade in my memory, and I'm ready to take on another year, hopefully a little wiser.

If I don't like what I'm teaching, I only have myself to speak to about it. Similarly if I don't like how I do it. I'm not going to overhaul everything, but I am feeling a bit re-energized. I know this week is going to be good motivation for doing what I know how to do, and good learning for doing it better. My job isn't meaningless. It might feel like the faces in the crowd don't give two craps, but it's worth it for the ones who do. Maybe the difference I'm meant to make isn't with the apathetic top level, anyway.

I spent the day scribbling ideas for this fall in a spiral notebook in the ink of a very crisp black pen. Like, crack of an autumn leaf under your foot, crisp.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.

Tomorrow: Just for fun, and just because I still like books... summer book review. :)


  1. P-Dawg-
    I'm so sorry that you feel that way. I can't imagine the time and energy that you put into teaching. I am not a teacher but I was a student and I know that teachers like you make all of the difference. I remember so many times as a student feeling like I was the only one that cared but my teachers made all of the difference. You are doing an amazing thing and I know that you make a difference.

  2. diffusion through air
    osmosis though water

  3. I know how you feel about work. I absolutely can't stand my job and think about quitting every single day. However, in your case, you do provide a great service. You made me love Barbara Kingsolver and I absolutely love Shakespeare. You definitely made a difference in my life! I am not a good writer by any means (not because of you!) but you definitely furthered my love of reading!

  4. I've got so much to say about this post, but too little time to leave a comment. I'll be back tonight or tomorrow morning. I'm sorry you're grappling with this. I am too. (In Reporter Land, that is.) If it makes you feel a little bit better, I admire your career and especially your honesty. You always keep it real.