I'm a teacher. Still feels strange to say that, but I have been for a couple of years. A public-school teacher, for the last two years teaching 10th-graders pre-AP English at an early-college high school. In the fall, I'll begin teaching 10th-grade English at our local arts magnet.
I love being teacher -- love it enough to hold my nose and weather the frozen salary and the endless job cuts and the ever-lower state funding levels and the nonstop (seriously, 57 days this year) testing and get to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every day. Love it enough to distribute my cell-phone number as part of my syllabus and take panicked phone calls and texts from kids before every major project and test and homework assignment until my drop-dead cut-off time of 9 p.m. for accepting calls.
Love it enough, then, that I'm always shocked when somebody tries to throw cold water all over this second career. Which a man I've known for years around the neighborhood just did.
Bumped into a guy from the next street over in a parking lot tonight. We exchanged polite pleasantries, talked about our kids, talked about our summer plans. I thought he knew that I was in the classroom these days. Apparently not.
When I mentioned casually that I was looking forward to the start of summer after I finish this week's Fish Camp session, he did a double-take. "You're teaching?! What happened to writing?!" Well, I do that too, sometimes, but writing just hasn't paid all that well since the slide of 2009. "But you're teaching?! Where?" I told him.
"But...why?! Why would you ever think teaching was a good idea?" What?! Sputter.
Well, I had been teaching part time the whole time I was mostly writing and running my PR business. After my wreck, when I had to cut my business back, I began thinking about flipping that paradigm and teaching full-time with writing as a fallback. "Wow. Well, good for you, I guess...But...why not a real school?"
A real school? My school is completely real. As real as it gets. "You know what I mean." I really, really don't. My students are all at or below the poverty line. All on free lunch. All come from one of the city's poorest sections. All are minority (well, all but two. Literally, two white students in my entire school.) Many are first-generation immigrants. All are the first or among the first in their families to attend college.
If they play their cards right, they earn an associate's degree at the same time they earn their high school diplomas. And I -- and every other teacher at my school -- have worked hard to try and help every one of them play their cards right. Not real? Unreal.
"But why not teach at a private school?" Why would that be better? "You'd have a different caliber of student. You wouldn't have to work so hard." I'm not sure what you mean by a different caliber of student, but I love my work. It can be tough at times, but that makes the achievements feel that much more -- well...achievementy and delicious.
"Well, good luck! I hope you last!" Well, I'm two years in and not at all thinking about leaving. What makes you think I wouldn't last?" Well, I know you. You're competitive. At some point, you're going to give in and go teach where the good kids are. Or the budget cuts will make the decision for you. Gotta run!"
And he walked off. Completely smug. Completely sure he was right. Completely oblivious to everything I said about my school. About my students. About public education.
Normally, I'd shake just shake it all off and put on my game face. But this guy's a Dem. He stumped for Obama and Frost and a ton of other local Dem candidates. He has COMPLETELY written off public education. And feels good about it. Seems to be OK with relegating minority and poor kids to a substandard education. Seems to believe that most thinking people will agree with him.
In Texas, I'm increasingly afraid he may be right.