True to my own advice, I am retiring before completely losing my educational fervor. Many professional colleagues have inspired my perseverance. Others have magnified my Sisyphean hopelessness. Despite working harder than ever, few support the vital library service I provide.
Sixteen years ago, I resigned from a Catholic school to work in the Buffalo Public Schools. Some Catholic school colleagues predicted my quick demise. I was warned that my integrity, dedication and fervor would be never be appreciated in a public school. However, I needed a better-paying job and the future of a pension. I hadn’t worried about either until my husband had a brain tumor removed.
One bitter colleague guaranteed that I would stop smiling at school after a couple of years in Buffalo. My smile is waning because of my inability to solve or even minimize the countless problems of needy children. Education is a low priority for poorly nourished, unmotivated or neglected children. Teachers try to make up for lack of parental support, but all it takes are a few days away from school and the child seems to forget all previous learning.
Basic respect from students is dwindling. Are children imitating their parents, siblings or media content? Four-year-olds refuse to follow simple directions, 5-year-olds push and grab despite repeated reminders and 10-year-olds throw books, kick lockers, rip papers and simply refuse ordinary requests from any authority figure. Fervent teachers patiently teach despite these distractions.
Recently, I asked a class of preschoolers what they did on the cold days off. Fourteen out of 16 students played video games or watched television. What did they play or watch? Zombie killing and “murder something. I forgot the name,” said one 4-year-old girl.
A special education teacher said a 10-year-old student with autism has been stripping his clothes off, making sexually suggestive gestures and shouting profanities. This child echoes words he hears and imitates what he sees. His mother admitted these behaviors were viewed on the child’s favorite video game, but she didn’t know how to take it away from him.
On one Friday, I reported a custodial aunt for punching the face of a beautiful, blue-eyed girl. Child Protective Services investigated. A few days later, the child and her sister were taken from the abusive aunt and given to another relative. The girls were transferred to their third school district in one year. I can’t stop worrying about them.
Contention and defeatism permeate the air. Running a successful school is analogous to directing a production. All players must know their roles, their significance to the production of educated students, and when and how to perform their roles to achieve success. Lack of directive continuity inevitably produces dramas, comedies and tragedies in many schools.
Several retirement counselors advised me to “stick it out to reach 20 years to get more money.” Teaching should not be a lousy play where one needs to “stick it out” until the show closes. Regardless of the venue, only educational fervor can sustain you during ever-changing bureaucratic idiosyncrasies and inadequate direction.
On a recent Saturday, I drove 10 miles to the Teacher’s Desk for free school supplies for my students. Despite a migraine, Molly, a dedicated new teacher, was doing the same. Molly has the educational fervor crucial to help children learn. Hopefully, a fervent, smiling understudy will continue my role. The show must go on!