Yes really, 303 days and counting is the number I'm reflecting on today. We're here in Douglas Wyoming just 50 odd miles east of Casper. Ice storms were falling yesterday while hiking in Big Horn National Forest. The engine light came on yet again as our trusty steed Winny continues to rack up the miles. 303 days of playing music, writing, camping, searching, learning and hopefully growing as a family:) The intent of this trip/experiment initially was to find answers to questions regarding "Why is teaching within Special Education getting harder?" or maybe it's better to say "Why aren't we properly addressing the issues structurally that hinder students within SPED?". From that beginning it's unlocked even more questions such as "Why aren't we sustaining our teachers within SPED by giving them the tools and staff needed, thus reducing such a high turn over?", "Why do Districts and the Feds measure the effectiveness of additional funding into education simply by evaluating testing scores?", "Why do teachers get demonized when standing up/striking against State/Fed policies decisions which hinder students growth and teachers longevity?" and lastly "Why don't more people care about these issues?".
My naiveness when starting this project was grossly wrong. I actually thought we would have enough freedom and time to collect actual data from state to state reflecting what is working within Education or reforming the process. To add to that I also felt we'd be able to present that data to State Legislature in hopes of turning the tide if you will. The sad truth is I was wrong. BUT....ha ha....the value in this sudo 'quest-slash-year long tour-slash-family adventure' has been the simple and personal conversations we've had with teachers, parents, friends and fans.
I'm not one to feel that self gratification in life or the focus of self is the path that should be taken. Granted that may sound hypocritical to some, I realize that. Yet I think the career in teaching expresses that. There is a theme of selflessness in education but it becomes something more than 'service' for it can easily become a yoke. Not for all maybe but for those teachers like myself that feel the burden of our education system I'm learning that 'self' may just be the answer in fixing the personal struggle.
My wife Jenny, the better half mind you, has been encouraging from the start. She has a free spirit somewhat gypsy like always wanting to travel and explore. She truly is my best friend through thick and thin.
So when I begin conversations regarding returning to teaching, returning to a structured day, a week of routine, benefits (though poor but present), home consistently etc. she's quick to point out that more times than not I was unhappy while teaching. I would come home exhausted, venting about the challenges within the classroom, conflicts with fellow professionals, tasks demanded by TEA (TX Education Admin) and I would need to escape and decompress. Thus I was fairly withdrawn most weeks, too exhausted to jump on the trampoline with the boys or too numb to show any effort.
Now generally when she shares this I get defensive ha ha. "Who me the Teacher of the Year guy? No way I'm a bad ass blah blah blah..." I would say; most likely not wanting to admit the guilt of feeling unhappy while teaching.
So going back to the 'yoke' and 'selflessness' of teaching and adding the observation of 'guilt' it leaves me with some insight and yet even more question. I'm beginning to wonder if the answer in sustaining teachers is actually to have them care less. Yes, actually care less about their roles and impact as teachers. Care less about how their efforts and 10-11 hour days, weekends in the classroom, giving up family time etc. in order to cast off the yoke of education. Instead of the selfless teacher always encouraged to bend, bend, bend maybe we should become indifferent. Doesn't apathy replace guilt by no longer caring or is there another answer?
Of course while writing about indifference as a teacher it seems like an oxymoron. I mean seriously who in their right mind would go into a challenging classroom each day for nearly 190 days a year with an apathetic approach to students success? Well.....sadly I've seen that year after year. I've seen wonderful, loving teachers succumb to indifference because no one with leadership is changing the outcome. Thus we have our present education system limping along as is.
WOOOOOSH this is a negative one right? Yowzer where's the hope man?! Well there is hope and it goes back to something we've reflected on before. It's the personal kid, it's the personal family, it's the personal student which teachers know so well. They know their food allergies, their likes and dislikes, their home life, their favorite cartoon character, their strengths and weaknesses. The teachers that carry this yoke do so because they say "I WONT GIVE UP BECAUSE THAT KID, THAT BEAUTIFUL PERSONAL KID IS BETTER BECAUSE OF MY EFFORTS!!". That's the hope but how long can that last friends?
That's what we're betting on America. We're betting on these types of teachers to continue these acts of selflessness in order to have a successful plan of intervention within education. That's simply not enough and frankly it's not fair. It's not fair to the families of teachers, it's not fair to the students, it's not fair to the student's families and it's frankly unethical.
We squeeze everything we can possibly imagine out of these teachers yet we demonize them when they stand up to what's wrong in education. Detroit is a perfect example of this, as teachers take matters into their own hands with 'Sick-Out Strikes' to "highlight the poor conditions of dilapidated schools, including large class sizes, inconsistent heating and cooling systems, as well as mold and rodent-infested buildings (Detroit Free Press)", yet when they say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH they are targeted as "hurting the children" or as Republican State House Speaker Kevin Cotter was quoted "a cheap political stunt".
Going back to the 'self' of teaching, the mantra of "I AM BECAUSE WE ARE, WE ARE BECAUSE I AM" highlights the importance of caring for the 'self'. If we as teachers cannot step back and breath the WE of education is a failure. And when leadership is no longer there advocating for teachers then the 'self' must come first.
It's a dance really. The balance between caring and caring too much and the balance between effective legislature and our present situation of elected officials continually failing our school systems.
With just 60 odd days to go in this family experiment called "WHEN IT BREAKS" we too will have to make a choice in education. Return to the classroom or continue to advocate for something better while being self employed as a musician. There's no suspense there, no drama really rather it's a decision that ultimately comes down to what benefits our family more. And sadly every teacher in America has to make that choice whether or not they can AFFORD to teach, both emotionally and financially.
Cheers friends and see ya on the road sooner or later:)