Monday, May 26, 2014

My journey to here...

Opening up the home-school vs. public school debate is like opening up a can of worms. It can get ugly very, very quickly. Home-schoolers are prone to think that their way is the only right way. Public-schoolers think home-schoolers are weird, and probably slightly off their rocker.

As someone who was home-schooled the whole way through K-12, and has taught public school for the past three years, I'd like to think I have a good picture of both sides of the coin. Are home-schoolers right in their thinking? I don't think so. Are public-schoolers right in their thinking? I don't think so on this one either.

My parents were teachers. My parents are teachers. They both taught conversational English in Japan for several years. When I was a baby, and my parents moved back to the States, my dad decided that teaching would be the best job option for him. He got his state teaching license and taught 5th grade for five years. My parents, because of this job decided that the best thing for them and their family would be to home-school their children. As teachers they wanted to have a hand in their children's education.

It wasn't always easy, teaching 5 different grade levels, but my mom managed. My sister and I were several grades apart, but did basically the same history class at the same time. There were online classes that happened once a week to help my mom with the subjects she wasn't as familiar with (read: college biology major trying to teach good essay writing skills). Each subject was carefully planned by my mother with my father's support. We'd occasionally spend days at work with Dad, school work in hand so we could do extra-curricular activities without my mom having to run to multiple places during the day. I learned how to get along with people who were either younger than me or far older than me. I learned how to enjoy reading. I learned how to play well with others, and that, when the time came, I really very much liked being alone. Because of being home-schooled, I was able to focus my attentions on things like violin lessons, drama lessons, and social activities. My sister was able to do music lessons and sports.

When I went to college, I went knowing what I wanted. I was going to be a music major so that when I became a mommy I could stay at home with my kids and teach them at home. I didn't really see any other way. However, my college had a different say in things. They told me that in order to complete my music education degree I was going to have to spend a semester in a public school teaching children how to play their instruments in a large group. I found this pointless. At one point I went to a teacher who I knew would listen and told her that the class I was having to take from her seemed like a big waste of my time. I enjoyed the class some times, but it wasn't what I had in mind. While she understood and suggested that maybe I needed to go a change my major to performance, I couldn't tell her that I felt God's call to be a teacher. I knew that while the class was a waste of time, it would be a bigger waste of time trying to change my major and taking the wrong classes altogether.

During my final semester at college, I got the opportunity to student teach with one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met. She was constantly on the go. She inspired her students, she challenged herself, she laughed when she accidentally smashed the top of a cake against her car trying to shut the car door with the same hand that held the cake. It was under her tutelage that I realized that I could make this teaching-in-the-public-schools thing work. I could teach a large class of students. I could care for more than one student at a time, and to my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely.

The next school year found me a subbing job that then landed me a half-time orchestra position at a local high school. It was exciting, the students needed me because the orchestra program was a diamond in the rough, and I came home from school every day excited about what was happening in the classroom. Times were tough, I had a tiny box of a classroom (really a double office that they had cleaned out and let me have), no white board, tiny classes, and had to create most of my material off the bat, but I enjoyed myself.

The next year I had even more students, which meant I was now full-time, I had most of the materials already created, and I was nominated by my administration for the county's first-year teacher-of-the-year award. After my Assistant Principal wrote a letter of recommendation, I wrote a two page essay detailing how my orchestra class helped prepare my students for the real world. I created a professional teaching portfolio, and then endured an interview, and then conducted (no pun intended) class through three observations. I won. I have a plaque to prove it. My county decided I was the best first-year high school teacher. It felt good to know that they thought that I was good at my job.

This year, however, has been the hardest year of my life. Last year was pretty good, but this year, has been hard, hard, hard. The rules are changing constantly, which, for someone who likes having the right answers, is extremely difficult. Our legislators seem to have decided that teaching is a worthless job. I'm weary of having to hold my tongue when people ask me how my job's going so I don't sound like (what my husband calls) a "crotchety old teacher." Drama is rampant and I don't handle drama well. Stress has taken over the lives of myself and every teacher I know. My students are tired all the time and struggling with illnesses left and right because as high-schoolers, with all the testing they are being asked to do, they are extremely stressed. They have college next, and most of my students desire to have good grades for college. The public school system is a bureaucratic mess. Teachers are currently being paid on one of the lowest pay scales in the nation (note: I'm writing this a day after Gov. McCrory announced a 14% pay raise over two years for teachers with 5 years and under experience, which is the wrong place to start the pay raises). I am sorry for my more experienced, older teacher friends feeling like the system has it in for them. They have given years of their working lives to teaching, and with all the legislative changes and the pay raise being offered to beginning teachers, they feel as if they are being picked off one by one because they are too expensive to keep around; they are the least valued with the most experience. I'm worried that I will continue to feel extremely tired of all the drama, the bureaucratic mess, and the idiocy coming from a legislature and government who pretend to know all about education but in reality know absolutely nothing. (Being a student at one time does not give you the expertise to know what it's like being a teacher. Only teaching can teach you that. Let teachers have a voice in the education realm and learning will sky-rocket.)

My classes are still wonderful. My administration supports me as much as they can, but this year, I have felt the pull to leave the public school classroom. Mostly, it's been a very good year when it comes to teaching, as I feel like I have grown in my own self-awareness, in my professional development. My students are still very respectful. They are growing in their discipline far beyond what I could have imagined for them two and a half years ago. I'm not tired of teaching. I'm tired and fed to the teeth with everything else that the public school system has asked me to do. I'm tired of being told that I'm not trusted as a teacher to know what is best for my students. I'm actually being told that next year the state wants to implement standardized testing for the arts as well. Really? You can't measure learning in the arts with standardized testing.

I have multiple beginning strings students, who even though they all started at the same time, all have different abilities. They had different abilities on day one! One of them was a senior who came in, knowing guitar and having taught himself some music theory. Another is a freshman whose only exposure to music besides the radio, was his brother who was in my class. He wanted to hang out with his brother and his brother's best friend, so he decided to pick up music. These two students both started music with me at the same time, but my senior is so far ahead of my freshman, it makes it look like my senior could have started a year ahead of the freshman. But they're both learning and are both far more advanced than they were at the beginning of the school year.

I'm tired of people thinking that the spark for the desire for further education can be measured. Learning is not about data, but about whether or not a student wants to continue expanding their horizons through knowledge! All good teachers know this. Good parents know this too. Good learning should spark the desire for more learning. It's gotten to the point that I want to teach more than just orchestra in my orchestra class because I want to fuel my student's desire for further education. I want to pick up a good classic book and read to them. I want to open doors through research. I want to do something that matters. I cannot do this while confined to one subject in the public school system as it is right now.

Which is why, at the end of this school year, I will not be returning to the public school system.

Instead, I will be setting up a private violin/viola studio at home, and when I have children, I will teach them at home (thank God my public-school-teacher husband is willing to let me do this) and I will teach them to love learning, not just through music, but through all subjects. Learning will be exciting because it expands their horizons, not just their skill set. And I will be able to teach without having to deal with anyone but students and parents who have even a minimal desire to learn. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to grow and further their desire to learn.

Will I decide that maybe public school would be okay for one of my children? Maybe. But currently the jury is out on that as I don't have any children. I do know what decision is best for me, however, and this is my decision. No more bureaucracy, no more rules changing in the middle of the year, no more answering to people who have no idea what they're doing.


P.S. I realize this post was written some time ago. I merely waited for the correct time to post this. Now seems to be that time. If this post has gotten you wondering what you can do to help beleaguered teachers, call or email your legislators and let them know that there is a problem.

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