EPILOGUE: RANDOM SNIPPETS

 

I recommend that a teacher belong to the local teachers' union (or association). Yes, membership is expensive, and I understand that in many cases unions in the US have earned themselves a public relations black eye. Nonetheless, if you ever find yourself in some sort of fix, the union could well be your best (only) friend.  And the public schools provide much opportunity for a teacher to become tangled up in litigation. Bluntly, I considered schools to be minefields. An accusing finger pointed in your direction, and I mean merely an accusation, could cause you considerable trouble, trouble that might be well beyond your ability to handle on your own. It's likely that the first thing a lawyer does when in trouble is hire another lawyer who's expert in that area of trouble. Union provided lawyers should be able to provide you with specialized and seasoned expertise, if you need it, regarding education law. I understand there's truth in the argument that teachers' unions shield poor teachers, teachers who should be run out of the profession. This is an ugly fact of life that I don't like. Nevertheless, a good and innocent teacher in need of a shield might only find one in the form of the union. Currently, I just don't see an effective alternative for teacher advocacy.

Kids love to try to put a teacher on the spot, to make a teacher squirm, so to speak. Of course, sex is a topic that can give a person, teacher or not, that fidgety feeling resulting from a rush of awkward self-consciousness.  A teacher in a classroom full of teenagers who are full of themselves might find him or herself feeling red-faced in a moment made awkward by the subject of sex. To be sure, if you intend to teach high school biology, the subject of sex is inevitable, and it's equally inevitable that some wise cracking kid will have the effrontery to attempt to spin the discussion to his (or her) own end. A young man, Trevor, who too briefly worked teaching biology at SHS, related to me and some other teachers over lunch one day a classical response (his) to such an instance of teen boldness. It's hard to say how the episode became part of the conversation that lunch period, but somehow Trevor saw fit to tell us that one of his male students earlier in the morning had attempted to put Trevor on the spot as he was giving a lecture dealing with human reproduction. Obviously intending to embarrass Trevor, the kid loudly blurted out something akin to, "Hey, Mr. Sands, how do you do it?" The kids, of course, in large measure started to laugh and giggle at their comrade's question, just as the clown had hoped his audience would do. Trevor diffused the situation very deftly by replying with something close to, "Probably the same way your parents do it," and suggested that the kid ask his parents for the details. The class immediately regained their focus.

If ever you begin to note that some teacher always seems to be bending the ear of the principal (or even some assistant principal), it's safe to assume that that teacher (and perhaps the administrator) has an agenda. If such a teacher happens to be a member of your department, be especially wary. Recall what I said above concerning department politics [, i.e., that teaching assignments often drive department politics]. Teachers were among some of the most scheming colleagues I have ever known in all the jobs I have ever worked.

I once heard of a former colleague's boast that he never put together a lesson plan in his teaching career. It was an assistant principal who related this boast to me. In so doing, the AP quipped, "And it shows, too." Every day that I walked into the classroom, I had a very definitive lesson plan, and I strongly advise that any self-respecting (and student-respecting) teacher do likewise.

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When I was studying to be a teacher, I had to take a course called The Foundations of Education. A tenet of that course (perhaps the tenet) was that the triumvirate consisting of church, school and home was of paramount importance in a kid's development. I didn't disagree with this contention, generally. I did disagree, however, with treating the three sources of influence equally. By and large, the influence of a kid's home life is far more forceful than the influences of church or school, or even church and school. Had my father badmouthed church and school when I was a child, my attitude about the two would have most likely been dramatically different than it was or, for that matter, currently is. To be sure, some kids overcome horrendous home lives on their way to becoming stellar members of society, perhaps, ironically, as prominent clergy or academicians. Nevertheless, my experiences through years of teaching routinely confirmed my inclination to most heavily weight the influence of a kid's life at home in shaping his or her attitudes. In short, even the best of teaching has little chance to offset the effects on a kid of the worst of parenting.

My experiences with public school administrators, most particularly principals and assistant principals, often left me feeling less than impressed with them. As a group, I thought them unfit to lead. They were sure good at spewing a district's party line, but I could understand this, to an extent: they had to protect their jobs. Furthermore, I appreciated that an administrator had to be politically, legally and socially practical. Nevertheless, I rarely got the sense that the people employed as my immediate superiors were truly concerned with the professional welfare of their teachers. I can't recall many times of thinking, "I can really get behind this guy (or woman)," from feeling inspired or a desire to be allegiant. I think I would have run through walls for an administrator who said, "I know your job's tough, and I'm in your corner." Alas, the walls were safe.

Knowing what I know now, would I again consider teaching as a career?

No.

Knowing what I know now, will I teach again?

Possibly – if the situation were ridiculously perfect and/or if I were hurting big time for money in a desperate job market.

Do I miss teaching?

The short answer: No.

The long version: What I miss from time to time is the great feeling of excitement that I had during the first part of my tenure at SHS. I loved coming on board to replace a legendary chemistry instructor and doing so with considerable success, making the program mine, having my face become the face of chemistry instruction in my school.  Around my sixth or seventh year, however, the educational culture at SHS science that my predecessor, many of the earlier members of the department and I (collectively, the old, department regime) had worked so hard to establish and preserve began to deteriorate. All of the politicking, pandering and posturing, inside and outside the department, simply constituted too much corrosiveness for just one remaining person from the old regime, me, to fend off.  In regards to trying to maintain the integrity of not only chemistry instruction at SHS, but also science instruction, generally, I felt like a one-man painting crew responsible for fighting the endless attack of rust against the Golden Gate Bridge. The quality of the school's students had noticeably deteriorated by the last third of my tenure, too. Everything being what it was, I would eventually decide that I'd be better off if I were to quit worrying about fighting forces that were too strong for me to singularly handle. Instead, I decided to focus on just surviving until I turned fifty-eight, my target age for not only leaving SHS, but also public education altogether. I might have made it, too, had cancer not become part of my personal lexicon. The truth is, though, that I could barely stand going to work over my last three or four years at SHS because my job had become so terribly unlike it was in the beginning. In terms of contrasting imagery, my teaching assignment at SHS went from being an invigorating swim in hospitable waters along an idyllic ocean beach to being a desperate struggle to stay afloat in a malevolent storm surge transforming the coastline into a watery hell.

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