Sunday, April 22, 2012

How'd I Do Coach?

It's taken me a week to find the time to sit down and write. I think of my blogging time now as "my time." So many people own so much of my day...but this time is mine. It's such great therapy. I write part of a blog every day...then when one is done, it tells me, and I publish it. I wish there was a more organized way to do it - a common theme would even be good. But I honestly never know what's going to be written until I sit down. The fact that I know people are reading has kept me returning to this chair much longer than any other therapy I've ever tried. So thank you for reading. Your invisible presence gives me a reason to take a few rocks out of my pockets every day. I am to the point however, that even if you stopped reading, I would still write. I've found something that works for me. I think everyone should write a blog, even if you don't open it up to the public.

There might be too many ideas in this one - sorry and... too bad! I've had a week to think about what I want to say.

One year, back in the 80's, the public school teachers got a turkey for Christmas. The tax-payers balked: "You cannot give the teachers a turkey with tax-payer money!" The turkey went away forever. I felt at once, humiliated and demoralized. As if the monthly paycheck wasn't enough. Heck, we even got a turkey from our part-time job as janitors. Teachers don't come into the job for the turkey, though they seem to work for a few. Real teachers, I like to call them "DNA teachers," come into the profession for obviously different reasons. When you find them, hang on to them.
I was at State drama last week at Juab High School when a wonderful high school student, not from my school, came running up to me and said "I read your blog!" I nearly fell over. I have known that a few of my own students have stumbled across it, but they don't really acknowledge that they read it. Probably all those Octo-Mom stories were a revelation to them and now it's A.W.K.W.A.R.D. That's okay. It's because I know students are reading, though, that I do measure certain words and phrases before I publish them just like I do in class. Like right now I'm wondering if I will get fired for alluding that my boss is a "turkey." He's definitely not.

Since formal education began, teachers have always been required to keep themselves above the world's fray. Required to sacrifice for the children. I believe it's because the world knows what a huge influence we are on their kids. Right? No one would actually deny that, would they? There used to be real laws about a teacher's conduct in the community they were teaching. The following comes from New Hampshire (U.S.) 1915:

1. You will not marry during the term of your contract.

2. You are not to keep company with men.

3. You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless at a school function.

4. You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.

5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the chairman of the school board.

6. You may not ride in carriages or automobiles with any man except your father or brother.

7. You may not smoke cigarettes.

8. You may not dress in bright colors.

9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

10. You must wear at least 2 petticoats.

11. Your dresses may not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.

12. To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with hot soapy water once a week, clean the blackboards once a day and start the fire at 7AM to have the school warm by 8 AM when the scholars arrive.

We've come a long way in 97 years...or have we?

I married 18 years into Rule #1 and he has made my life so much easier. Still, whenever our students see us holding hands in the hall, they say "EWWWWW! P.D.A!" As for Rule #2, I wish someone would have taught me HOW to "keep company with men," because I may have married sooner than I did.

I LOVE rules #3, and #4 because if they still existed, I would have a life outside the stage door and I would not have spent so much money at Cold Stone.

If I didn't travel beyond the city limits, I would not be able to go to Las Vegas! (see Blog #?)

I wouldn't be married if Rule #6 existed in 2006. Thank you Honda and the great state of Arizona. (Blog #?)

If #7 were still a law, it would sure save a lot of teachers. I once took a group of kids to Scotland and there was another school staying in our dorm. We got to know them quite well. As a result of a lifetime of smoking, their coach had to stick his finger in the hole in his neck to talk to his kids and even then they had to lean in to hear him. (My kids would probably be grateful if I had that problem.)

#8 wouldn't matter to me, I'm a theatre person and my entire wardrobe is black.

#9 WOULD matter to me, because if I couldn't dye my hair, my kids would be able to guess my real age. As if panting my way to the top of the amphitheatre isn't hint enough.

#10 and #11. Let's talk about this. Let me digress a second. Girls were required to wear dresses to school in my district until I was in Third grade. Then one day, when I was hanging on a jungle gym bar at recess, (Lehi Elementary, 1973) a boy (who I still know but he would die if I told on him!) reached up and pulled my underwear down around my feet. Oh....yeah. I'm the reason that rule got changed. You're welcome women of America.

I'm appalled at how much teachers are "exposed" to these days. If we dressed like some of these kids do, we'd end on the front page of the paper. I'm so grateful I teach in a school that requires uniforms, but the college kids are so much WORSE. I have actually wondered, this spring at Dixie State, if there was a major in "special services performance." Oh, this is an entire blog waiting to happen.... my ire is up, I'd better stop now while I'm still employed.

When I taught at Lehi High I was well-known for my classroom dress policy. It was simple: "Say No to CRACK(s)." I never hesitate to enforce a dress policy when I am being exposed to something I would not show to the public myself. So I have said a lot of  "cover yourself, you looking for work?" and it solves the problem. Nowadays, all I'd have to do is whip out my phone and take a picture, email it instantly to her mom and say, "when can we meet?" The end.

#12 is pretty good. I'm still in charge of cleaning my auditorium, I just don't have to light a fire, though sometimes, that would be an easier way to get rid of it all.

Because I teach, I am expected by society to model good behavior 24/7. Not just when I'm in front of a group of kids. Certain careers of influence, are heavily scrutinized by the media. With teachers, the laws have mostly gone away, but the pedestal has not.

You rarely hear about the baker that was caught with his apron down, or an engineer, or a mortgage broker, butcher, candlestick maker... that doesn't make a good national headline... but it's still shocking to people when a teacher, cop, pastor or elected official will show their true colors and end up in jail or pregnant by some thirteen year-old (as well they should...end up in jail that is). I'm not saying "stop talking about teachers." Just that teachers make good headline fodder. Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been front page news in Walnut Grove if she was ever caught with her bloomers down. And so would I.

Laura Ingalls Wilder would NEVER have been bloomer-less.

Sometimes I am with my students 24/2 or 3 and when I get home I'm literally exhausted from keeping myself up on that pedestal. The porn comes out, the cigarettes, I start cursing like a sailor. No, just kidding... except for the cursing part. I've said it before and I will say it again: It is not small thing when a child is placed in your path in any capacity. I still remember a high school math teacher that moved me back to a remedial class, out loud...and that was 25 years ago.

My dad, who was a Spanish and History teacher for 35 years, always told me "they will not remember when the Civil War was, but they WILL remember how you made them feel about it and how you made them feel about themselves."

I know it to be true, because I was a student myself.

My point is...and I do have one...

Last weekend at the Utah State Drama Competition, we did pretty well. But it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game, right? I knew, from the amount of work that my kids were doing to polish their pieces, that we might have a chance at "taking state." My strategy is this: coach, lift, motivate them all. Then if you don't bring home a single individual trophy, the one that you will have is the Team Sweepstakes. THAT trophy is all that matters because it means that we ALL have ownership in it.

For 15 years we have been taking kids to the "State Drama FESTIVAL" where judges would give everyone the top rating (to avoid controversy), and there was no way to acknowledge the kids that had gone above and beyond. It really reinforced mediocrity. The problem was, the quality of work was shabby, the numbers of competitors dropped and I always had a kid or two that had special learning challenges and those kids would be the only ones without a medal. To be fair, the judges had no way of knowing how far these extra-awesome kids had come just to participate. It always killed me. Changing the festival format leveled the playing field a little. Everyone worked so much harder, everyone helped each other. The TEAM mentality was in full bloom.

I have several students, I won't name them here, but these kids started out life with massive challenges. The  theatre has given them power! In the competition format, there is an extra round called the "medals round." Each kid performs three times for three different judges, then the top 5 or 6 kids with the highest rankings, get to perform one more time to decide who is "best in the state." It's quite an honor.

We had Tuacahn kids in every medals round, but I could not attend them all at the same time so I chose to watch the round that had three Tuacahn entries in it, and one of them was a brilliant kid with many challenges. I have watched him since he was in Ninth grade when he could not/would not tell you his name. I started crying the minute I found out he had broken the top tier and I have not stopped since then. I've been crying about it for 9 days. Because...that's what it means to be a teacher.

During the round, each kid got up and performed. It was very tense. Three Tuacahn kids were competing against each other (out of 6) and it didn't matter to them. They were rejoicing together. You could tell that they were ready to fight for the team as a unit. I sat at the back in case a judge knew me and didn't like me.

They all had the best performance I had seen them give. I was SO GLAD that I wasn't judging. Each time, after their performance, they would go back to their seat, take a deep breath, and then turn around to find..........ME. Their eyebrows would raise in a "how'd I do coach?" kind of way and I could do nothing but give them each a thumbs up and shake my head in disbelief at their awesomeness. I'm glad I wasn't sitting close enough to hug them, because things would have gotten messy and ugly fast...but just that they LOOKED BACK.......AT ME. AH!!!! What an honor!

The gesture was so small, they didn't even know they were doing it, or how much it meant to me, but I'm crying again just thinking about it. They needed someone to reassure them that they had done alright. They didn't ask their friends first...they ask me! Made me feel like a mom, for a minute.

On the bus home my special challenged kid said to me, "I'm sorry I took Third Place." I said "WHAAAT?" "Well," he said "I took home Second Place at Region. I feel like I've let you down." I said "WHAAAT?" again, then spent an hour on the bus explaining to him why Third Place at State was so much better than Second Place at Regionals. How could a 3 ever be greater than a 2, I could see him struggle to work it out in his mind. He was so distressed! I just wanted to put my arms around him and say " turned around and looked for me. I will never forget how you made me I mattered to you." For the record, I would never have put my arms around him, because we aren't allowed to touch any kid anymore for any reason.

So when society expects you to act a certain way, expects you to be responsible for their tests scores, for their behavior, their success (or lack of it), and gives you $31,000 a year in return for your back-breaking work, (and your degrees, and your student loans) the little victories become the real "paycheck"....the medals rounds, the "3 is greater than 2" conversations...become the "hidden Christmas bonus," that you will never get.

We must treat all learning great and small as a personal victory. We will not always "win." We will (and I have) lose (lost) some (kids) along the way just like every professional. There are simply too many of them in each class...and that isn't a teacher's fault. I cringe at the thought of every kid I haven't been able to reach. But when you have 35 - 50 kids, six or seven times a day...Bah! Blessings on the elected official that can make that right.

Mini-soapbox...I'm over it.

I spent two days last week at State with the most amazing teachers across Utah. True coaches. They are some of societies greatest moral examples. They are societies greatest weapon, greatest gift, greatest asset. They LOVE what they do or they would not do it. These are teachers that prepare their students to fight a moral battle every day, that treat their classroom like a sanctuary, that treat their kids like gifts from a loving higher power. Treat those teachers like gold and you will have a future society that can react to the challenges that will surely beset them us all.

Teachers eat turkey at Christmas too, you know.