One year ago I entered the doors of education as a bright teacher with high hopes of being able to reach and teach every student that entered my classroom. Some days I’m still that educator. Other days I question whether or not I’m actually making a difference. On those days I go home, crack open of Aldi’s wine and read reflection assignments that I had my kids write about my class. I binge watch 13 Reasons Why. Lean on Me. Dangerous Minds. There are also times that I vent to my non-teacher friends and reserve the hard hitter items for my notebooks. For the first time in my life, I feel that I’m working in my purpose. I have the job that creates all the other jobs. Nurturing the future. Planting seeds of wisdom. All the cliche catch phrases associated with being a teacher. But regardless of how critical my role is, how much I pour into my kids, the moral of the story is that the education system itself is failing our kids.
But you already knew that.
So I’m not sure if I told you. I currently teach Principles of Business and Finance and Entrepreneurship I at the high school level. Last year I taught Essentials of College Math, Math 2 and Advanced Functions and Modeling. Do I have a degree in math? Nope. Am I good at it? Yep. They needed a teacher. I needed a job.
My first semester was spent learning the ropes. High school has changed so much since 2004 when I was a freshman. It didn’t take me long to learn about the various bell schedules, faculty meetings and fire and tornado drill protocols. What I wasn’t prepared for were weekly professional learning team meetings, twenty five minute lunches (or skipped lunches) and not actually having planning periods some days. There was and still is so much more to learn and I’m finding out new information everyday.
Teaching math was difficult. Not because the concepts were difficult (as they are the same as when I was in high school). It wasn’t because I didn’t have the resources or support to teach it. It was because many of my kids didn’t understand basic math. It didn’t take me long to realize this and the moment that I did, I decided to have an open conversation with them. I learned that many of my kids sat in classrooms with long term subs instead of teachers during their freshman and sophomore years. My school has an extremely high turnover rate in the math department. EXTREMELY HIGH. Blame has shifted equally between student behavior, ridiculous testing expectations and poor leadership in administration. Teachers enter the classroom prepared but aren’t always supported. Students enter the classroom unfocused and undisciplined. Administration sweeps it all under the rug in desperate attempts to keep an ideal image. It’s a clusterfuck. Nevertheless, those of us that desire to still make a difference, stay. And we teach. And we cry on planning periods. And we request Total Wine gift cards for Christmas.
Many of my students have told me that my class has been the ONLY math class that has had a teacher for the entire semester and the only one that they have learned anything in. This was the first time that a teacher didn’t make them feel bad for not knowing certain concepts. The first math teacher that treated them like they were capable of learning. The first math teacher that cared. The first math teacher that pushed them.
My methods of teaching allowed students to not only learn but allowed them to fill i the gaps. If they needed help with addition (when I asked them to attempt to not use calculators), I helped them. To my knowledge, no one felt embarrassed. They all understood that somewhere along the way, education had failed them.
Many of my students also admitted that they experienced severe testing anxiety. I mean, they only have finals for almost every class. On top of the PreACT. On top of the ACT. On top of the PSAT. On top of the SAT. On top of the ASVAB. In addition to the curriculum, I found myself researching and suggesting strategies for testing anxiety. There’s so much pressure to perform high without suggesting strategies outside of “get a full night’s rest and eat a good breakfast” before these standardized tests.
Speaking of standardized testing, I failed the high school math Praxis. Gladly. In all of my years, I’ve never solved math without a formula sheet. Whether it was one developed myself, or one provided by a teacher. Guess who was expected to already know/remember EVERY formula for every level of math at the high school level? I knew as soon as I hit the submit button that I had failed. I wasn’t able to recognize anything I had studied until question 26. There was nothing more that I could have done to prepare me for it. NOT A DAMN THING. And that is how I ended up teaching business classes this year.
Again I’ll remind you that I don’t have a background in education. My bachelors degree is in psychology. My masters is in business administration with a concentration in project management. NOT education.
The problem that I began recognizing is that many of my colleagues received degrees in education. They received the foundational blocks. The classroom strategies. The degree assured them that they would make quality teacher. The students prove them otherwise. All of that shit went out the window the first time a student challenged a strategy that they were taught.
In my .5 seconds of being an educator, I can tell you that there are plenty of people leading schools (administration) and classrooms (teachers) that have NO BUSINESS BEING IN ANYBODY’S CLASSROOM. They are full of biases. Stereotypes. Racism. It’s real in the field.
I have and will continue to teach my kids that when people (more specifically their seemingly adult teachers) don’t have power in their personal lives, they’ll seek to gain it outside of their home (the classroom). They take my wisdom at face value. They observe. Then we talk about it. These are such healthy and teachable moments.
These aren’t the conversations that fall in line with the state provided curriculum. They aren’t listed in my lesson plans (when I remember to do them). These moments are organic. Oftentimes we go from discussing technological factors that affect a business to an ethics cases in which an employee is discriminated against for wearing their natural hair. I’ve got stories for days. Everytime I share a story about my “corporate days”, they often comment “ain’t no fuckin way.” And they’re right. Those were my exact thoughts while I was in the moment. Why didn’t I speak up? My kids teach me so much about freedom and freely expressing myself everyday. I have a few students that are interested in working in corporate America. And they don’t plan on taking any bullshit from anyone. Their motivation is the dream of the six figure salary. I never tell them that it isn’t possible because it is I do ask them to consider work/life balance and their physical and mental health needs. For those interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, I kindly remind them that it’s NOT about bragging rights and just making money. It requires a ton of sacrifice.
Ms. Royster’s classes are lit. On god. No cap. Per my students.
What they don’t see.
Teaching has spiraled my anxiety and depression in and out of control. It’s forced me to confront past trauma not only for myself but to help me better assist my students. I often tell me students to take note of the advice that I give them. That way, they won’t have as much to unpack in their late twenties.
The stories that my students have shared have been incredible. They have been inspirational. They’ve been terrifying. They’ve been depressing.
The skin I’ve had to develop is thicker than leather. It’s a necessary evil to be a teacher.
I’m always encouraged NOT to take work home. But I do. I worry about my kids the moment that I see their bookbags leave my classroom door. I worry about their interactions with other teachers. With their parents and especially the police. I find myself sharing many of the funny stories about my kids. Confusing folks when I say “my kids” instead of “my students.” And always receiving “thank you for what you do, I couldn’t do it” praises from strangers.
I do it because I want to. The money damn sure isn’t there. And honestly I’d take the joy of my job over the 65k I was making in corporate anyday. The joy. But the 65k would be nice as well. Teaching allows me to work in my purpose. All day. Everyday. I’ll be in education for a while. Advocating for your kids (my kids). Their kids. My future kids and their future kids. I look forward to encouraging them. Pushing them to continue to keep their heads and hearts high. Reminding them that their minds are not only a terrible thing to waste but a true ticket that can take them anywhere they want to go.
But again, the education system as a whole is failing. Because kids aren’t allowed to fail. This is why they take it so personally when they fail at anything outside of the classroom. Everyone, even those undeserving receive participation points and trophies. The kids are beyond entitled. The expectations are lower than the sidewalk on the street so that everyone can reach them. It’s saddening. I can’t give a student less than a 50 in my class whether they deserve it or not. I can write a kid up and it’ll take a month before they receive consequences for their actions.
Many teachers aren’t supported. Not only are we fighting and fighting for our kids, we are fighting and fighting for parents, we are also fighting our very own administrations. I think that Joe Clark set the bar too high. I thought I’d be able to vent my frustrations about things that bother me and how I’m eager to serve my students in a bigger capacity. This wasn’t the school for that. The sympathy is non-existent. The lack of support began reminding me of the shitty management that I had in corporate America. The classic passive aggressiveness. And so, as with all things in my life now, the universe decided that it was time to spread my wings elsewhere. I wasn’t looking for a new position. At the time, I was fighting for a reimbursement for a broken car window (which is another story for another day at the bar), I still went to work for my kids. An opportunity came my way and I gladly accepted. Per the journey of my life, the assignment at my current school has come to an end. My new position as a Business Information Technology teacher at the middle school level will begin after Thanksgiving break.
I have mixed emotions. My experience has been bittersweet. I’ve had a mixed bunch. More good apples than bad. I had one fight in my classroom. One of the fighters cleaned up my room after the fight. Both boys apologized for disturbing the peace in my classroom! THE PEACE YALL!!! During the first semester and a half, I only wrote one kid up. He said that he walked out of the class just to see if I would because I was so nice. After I wrote him up once, I never had another issue out of him again.
I’ve got more street cred than I’ve got street sense.
This chapter of my life/career has been the most challenging yet rewarding but I wouldn’t change it for a thing I’m excited for what year 2 brings. Stay tuned.