Kids these days aren’t the problem.

To everyone who sees that video of the cop flipping the student out of her desk and throwing her into the wall, and says, “see, the problem is that kids these days don’t respect authority,” I’d like to say one thing:

NO.

While unpacking the levels of wrong in the current discussion is a little like peeling the layers of an onion, this is something that absolutely must be discussed.

First, should the student in question have unfailingly obeyed her teacher’s authority?  To accurately answer that question, there are several things that must be addressed.  The first is if the teacher is an unquestionable authority in the child’s life.  I can remember, when I was fourteen, getting into an argument with a teacher so heated I was sent to the principal’s office.  There were many times I did so, in fact.  From pointing out that penguins don’t only live on ice to Indians not being treated with respect to dinosaur bones not being planted by God to challenge men’s faith, my career of disrupting class to call my teachers idiots spanned a 7 year period, and was only ended by my being taken out of school to teach myself.  Should I have simply respected my teachers authority, unquestioningly, when I felt I could prove that they were wrong?

You may, correctly, point out that there’s a difference between respecting a teacher as an authority on the class material and respecting their right to reinforce rules and expectations.  Yes, please, let’s talk about rules and expectations.  On the first day of my class on classroom management, we talked about how difficult it is to maintain discipline when 30 kids don’t want to learn what you’re teaching them.  That class, like many classes, focused not on how to punish students but on how to convince them that they want to learn.  Here’s a secret:  You can’t make other human beings always do what you want.  Other human beings can and will have different ideas of what they should do with their time, and a teacher who focuses on punishing bad behavior instead of teaching those willing to be taught fails both those who want to learn and those who don’t.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to punish the students who don’t want to learn, because increasingly schools are filled with reluctant students who don’t see the point of education. The problem with those students isn’t that they are disrespectful, it’s that they have so little hope.  A good teacher won’t waste anyone’s time punishing their disrespect.  A good teacher will address their lack of hope in order to win their cooperation.

So why are kids today hopeless?  Well, there are many reasons.  One is that the level of poverty in the country is growing.  A high school diploma no longer guarantees you the ability to keep food on the table and provide yourself with a decent life.  Another is growing inequality.  Oh, isn’t that the same thing as poverty?  No, it isn’t.  Because what we see is that the lines between the rich and the poor are growing, but so are the lines between white people and minorities.  So are the lines between native language speakers and language learners.  In some areas we don’t just fail kids once, but we fail them three or four times, because every line of difference between them and the usually white middle class teacher is another barbed wire barrier they have to climb over with bare hands, unassisted by the system that is all too happy to punish their lack of adherence to expectations with a little unwarranted jail time.

Let’s talk about this.  Lets talk about the kid who I saw fall asleep on his desk, because he works nights and takes care of his brother and sister when he gets home from school.  “Let him sleep,” his teacher told me, “I’ll give him extra credit work.”  I asked her if that wasn’t rewarding his lack of attention.  She said, “I call it justice.”  Let’s talk about the level 3 language learner being dragged out of classes for one on one teaching with someone unqualified to teach him because the school system couldn’t afford someone with the right credentials.  Lets talk about the 3 or 4 positions at that school being filled full time by substitutes because no one wants to work at the school with “gang problems”, so students are deprived of even the ability to develop an ongoing relationship with their teacher.  Lets talk about the kid who is on their phone during class because their cousin in Mexico had their house robbed that morning and is scared.  Lets talk about the girl who is distracted in class because her uncle is sexually abusing her.  Lets talk about the immigrant from some central american country who is scared every time the school resource cop walks by because in his country, cops are known to murder students and steal from them.  Lets talk about the African American girl who has, since kindergarten, worn the label of “thug” because she had poorer language skills than her peers because her parents were hardly ever in the home, so she communicated mostly with pinches and grunts.  And that label stuck with her to high school, until she believed that no amount of good behavior would ever shake the fact that teachers just hate her.

Lets talk about why kids don’t pay attention in class, and then lets talk about how absolutely senseless it is to punish a lack of attention as if it is a crime.

“But kids should respect their teachers,” people continue to say as if that is some sort of silver bullet against the woes of the world.

I’m going to say something very daring right now:  students shouldn’t respect their teachers just because the teacher stands in the front of the classroom.  If teachers want to be respected by their students, they need to understand and teach to the very real problems their students face.  They need to respect the injustices and inequalities their students bring into the classroom, and they need to counteract them.  They need to understand why their students suffer from a lack of sustained attention and design classroom instruction to work within that lack.  They need to know why some students need to act out and they need to build action into their lesson plans so that it isn’t disruptive to everyone else.  They need to understand that control of the classroom comes from a healthy sustained relationship between student and teacher, not hanging on the authority of a cop that they can call.

Because the second you call in the cops, you say, “I’m not in charge, this guy is.”

And more than that, teachers need to understand that blind adherence to authority isn’t healthy and shouldn’t be taught.  Blind adherence to authority is what leads people to be willing to administer a lethal electric shock to someone innocent just because they are told to.  This was studied because scientists wondered why seemingly decent German citizens would cooperate during the Holocaust.  What they found was that fear of challenging authority can and will cause people to violate their own morals.

What in the world would possess any reasonable person to think that instilling an unfailing fear of challenging authority into our children would be okay?  I don’t want my children to never question their teachers.  If anything, I want them to question everything and everyone that asks them to behave in a way they see as unnecessary or harmful.

“Kids these days are just acting out all over the place.”

Open your eyes.  Look at the world around you.  See what we are handing to our children: lack of opportunity, a failing economy, an education that is barely good enough to wipe their butts and flush down the toilet.  And you expect them to cooperate with that system?

So you take a girl who was just placed into foster care, who is traumatized and afraid, and when she is chatting with her friends as a way to cope instead of listening to the lesson, you demand her phone.  You demand her safety.  Then, when she refuses to comply, you call the cops in to slam her against the floor and wall, and you stand back with your arms crossed and say, “the problem is that kids these days need to comply.”

To everyone who agrees with that statement, I say this:  the problem is that adults these days don’t give a damn about the well-being of children.

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Why school demographics make me break down in tears.

Right now I am trying, desperately trying, to finalize bullet points for a short presentation I’m giving Thursday on stress and the education system.  Instead of nicely polishing my documents and printing the flyers I’m handing out, I’m sitting here in tears.  Again.  This is not the first time this project has made me sort of lose it.  Thankfully I have waterproof mascara for the day of, because I’m pretty sure I’ll be losing it halfway through the presentation.

Here’s why.  First, you need to know about the ACE study done by Kaiser Permanente.  They were looking for a way to accurately predict the onset of certain chronic conditions that were high-cost to maintain, like diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of mental illnesses.  They did a survey that covered every aspect of people’s lives.  Work, diet, family life, childhood, education, etc, etc, etc.  What they found was a direct correlation between what they termed “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and people’s health later in life.  Your mother was a drug addict?  Here, have a nice depression and eating disorder!  Your dad beat your mom in front of you?  Would you like a spicy heart disease and obesity with that?  It seemed counter-intuitive, so they conducted more studies to see why there would be a connection like that.  It led to major breakthroughs in how stress affects brain chemistry.  While occasional stress may actually heighten brain function, boost immunity, and help people survive the upsets of life, long-term stress is like a poison that there is no antidote for.  It changes the way the brain functions, killing short-term memory, deadening emotions, and hampering immune function.  This is especially dangerous for young people whose brains are still developing.  Brain scans of a child who experienced abuse at home compared to that of a child raised in a stable environment are just chilling.

So when you look at chronic stress and the educational environment, there are a lot of things to consider.  One is that teachers are more likely to feel forced to have “interventions” (disciplinary action) for students who seem distracted, whose grades are falling, or who are in the system because they have a personal educational plan or there has been law enforcement involvement with their family.  Those students, perhaps ironically, are the ones who are least likely to benefit from disciplinary action.  Why?  Their amygdala is swollen, they have too much adrenaline and cortisol in their system, they are afraid of authority figures and they feel defeated by life.  Rather than stopping negative behaviors, making those students feel on edge is likely to just cause more.  Schools who replace disciplinary interventions with the “compassionate” alternative of simply asking why a student is looking at their phone or not completing work and if they are experiencing any kind of stress find they have far better outcomes.  Of course they would!  If the school environment becomes a combative or stress filled one because of constant discipline or failure or some kind of combination of the two, the student is more likely to fight or freeze than to actually become engaged.

The problem is that teachers are looking at the issue from the perspective of someone who isn’t under constant stress and thinking of how they would respond, not their students.

The school district I will end up working for, in all likelihood, has 75% Hispanic students and 85% of all students receiving free lunches, which means that 85% of the students are in poverty and 75% of students may come from a home where English is not the primary language.  Many of those students have parents who are in back-breaking work situations.  You have 12 year old kids who raise their younger siblings while their parents work.  Kids who have family who have been deported and they’ll never see again.  Kids whose parents are using or selling drugs.  Kids who find school to be incredibly stressful because they are still unable to understand all of what is going on.

When you look at how the schools are doing with meeting learning targets, the outlook is dismal.

Of course it is.

People like to say things like, “the United States gives everyone an opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Mmhm.  But think of what a student can make of themselves if they had a traumatic stress disorder by the time they were 3, if their language development was nipped in the bud and they have been behind the class from day 1, being pushed and pushed by a teacher desperate to make them succeed to save their own job.  Traumatized at home, traumatized at school, doomed for failure from the time of their birth.

Right now these issues are gaining awareness, but they are far from being addressed.

And I’m going to give a short talk on it for the final in my Critical Race Theory class, because I’m a sap. I’m a sap who’ll break down in tears.

We like to say we’re past all of this, that latinos and blacks and everybodies are all equal in our society, while we walk around blissfully unaware of the privileges some people have just because they were born into stable homes.

But in all reality?  We’re all cursed.  You know that ACE study, that was trying to figure out how insurance companies could save more money?  Most of the participants were white men in their 40s and 50s.

It’s a big boat, folks.  We need to start acting like we’re in it together.

Why don’t the poor just get jobs?

No matter what you are debating, when it comes to talking about socioeconomic status, inevitably there will be that one voice of someone saying,

“Well, isn’t it their fault they are poor?”

There are so many different perspectives that can answer that question, and for some reason today I feel like laying out some of them.

  1. Poverty plays a role in society; as long as society functions off of the same rules that govern it, poverty will continue.  This is the most straightforward, and perhaps the most harrowing answer to that question.  The honest truth is that there are a whole lot of jobs out there that require part time, seasonal, or unpredictably changing work hours.  Those jobs have to be filled by someone, and the likelihood that they would be filled by someone independently wealthy who simply happens to like picking strawberries, assembling children’s toys, flipping burgers or making farm equipment is really low.  So there are a number of systems in place to reinforce those jobs getting filled by people who honestly have no other choice, because society depends on them being there.  Our educational system self-selects for people who can get ahead and can’t, quietly reinforcing that.  Our legal system sets up safeguards to prevent some people getting on in society.  (Insuring there will always be work-release workers on those factory floors.)  There are tacit rules to each class that cannot be broken or communicated, insuring that someone born poor is fated to stay that way (with little exceptions, usually brokered by someone being willing to cross class lines, like a schoolteacher), and so on.  You can hardly blame the poor for filling the role in society which society has proscribed for them.  But, I have to admit, it certainly does make a fun pastime on Facebook and can boost your self-esteem, so if you really want to blame the poor there’s nothing stopping you other than the truth.
  2. The educational system selects some kids for failure.  It sucks, but it’s true.  Teacher’s expectations of children pay a huge role in how successful those children are, and it starts on day one.  There are so many different classroom behaviors that tacitly reinforce certain rules and expectations, and while a teacher may believe they are giving a child what that child needs what they may really be doing is reinforcing a standard that grooms that child to be good for nothing other than the service sector or failure.  Studies have shown that when a teacher is told that a child is poor performing, or is expected to perform poorly, that child inevitably does badly.  When a teacher is told a child is high performing that child performs well.  This principle is true regardless of the child’s history of performance, and is based solely off of the teacher’s opinion.  So what happens when a teacher knows a child comes from an impoverished family and the parents are illiterate?  The system selects the child for the same fate.  “Oh,” the counter-cry inevitably comes, “so I might feel bad for little kids, but once you are an adult…”  Yes, sure.  And I know many semi-illiterate adults who are in college trying to get ahead.  They’ll have to go to school for several more years than the kids who were selected for success, and they still have to deal with instructors low expectations because of that fact.  I’m all for addressing personal responsibility, but personal responsibility doesn’t absolve society of it’s obligations when society is actively damaging people.
  3. It can take several years to get out of poverty, and sometimes families are borderline for an entire generation.  Of course we all are familiar with the talking point that government aid should be capped, limited, and offered for only a short period of time.  But if a family could be borderline impoverished for the lifetime of the parent in order to provide for the opportunities of the child- and even then it may take the child a few years to be considered solidly middle class.  The idea that all a family needs is one parent working two jobs for a little while is unreasonable.  After all, cars break down.  People get chronic illnesses.  There are legal problems.  Houses burn down.  Families are forced to move.  The economic instability of the poor goes far deeper than just the amount of money coming in.  There is a culture there, how the money gets used, how poor communities work together, how emergencies are handled- and breaking out of poverty is addressing the entire culture.  The idea that help is only needed for a short amount of time is looking at the problem from an upper class point of view.  As in, “if I need money to get by, I can work more for a little while.”  That is disingenuous.  To address poverty, as someone impoverished what all would have to change for them to have a new economic status.  Trust me, it will blow your mind, because you have never had to think of everything that factors into the class you are in.  Why should you?  Yet, it is way more than what six months of benefits can provide.

Poverty is a fact in our society.  It is part of how our economy functions, and while some individuals may give the appearance of having chosen it, the fact that poverty exists is not due to the choice of any individual person.

Healthcare, Education, and Deep Sighs.

Last week I had a health scare, which may not have been the least bit scary if I had insurance.  As it was, I spent a week vomiting with the most painful diarrhea I’ve ever experienced, and I just waited it out.  I’m lucky, because the likely culprit is my family’s tendency towards food sensitivities, and not some kind of illness that would have required medication or hospitalization.  I stopped eating crackers and bread, started eating more bananas and yogurt, and have gone a whole day without my innards exploding.  Success!

As I was fighting with the sensation that Freddy Kreuger was trying to claw his way out of my bowels and wondering if I’d ever sleep through the night without crapping my pants again, I spent a lot of painfully wakeful hours in the bathroom ruminating over the things I was studying in school.  It was, to say the least, surreal.  My main topic of study, aside from linguistics, is cultural relations and race theory.  We’re reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, so in my mind I keep going back to the homeless shelter and thinking about my experiences there.  One of the main themes in my class journal is the way in which access to education creates systems of oppression.  “Wait,” the immediate response of classmates inevitably comes, “in the US everyone is guaranteed access to education!”

Access isn’t the same thing as success, I reply dryly.

Besides, you may have two roads- one clear of debris and potholes, guarded on both sides by a gate and gatekeeper who knows you by name.  The other is a dirt road which is washed out by rain half the time and prowled by wolves.  They may both grant you access to the city, but you really can’t fault the people who live at the end of the dirt lane for never moving beyond their immediate surroundings.  “Access” to education doesn’t mean that anyone is getting educated.

But that has nothing to do, really, with how sick I was last week.  The reason the two are inextricably tied together is the fact that my sickness started to really impact my education.  I was spending half of classes in the bathroom, I was distracted while reading, I was exhausted and out of sorts even when feeling “better”.  But I couldn’t go to the doctor, because I couldn’t pay for it.  If it was a food allergy that was starting to rear it’s ugly head there was no way I’d ever be able to pay for the bloodwork, colonoscopy, and other fancy tests to confirm it anyway.  Either I’d get better or I wouldn’t.

Yet in our society there are still swaths of people who look at students in my situation and tell them it’s their fault.  “WORK,” people will say, “SO YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”  As if picking up a second job wouldn’t have a pretty harrowing effect on my own health as well as the well-being of my children.  Hell, two short years ago I was working 40+ hours a week WHILE going to school full time, and my job didn’t even offer me benefits because I was technically “on call” even though all the hours I worked were scheduled- and I couldn’t afford to buy insurance because once groceries, rent, bills, and childcare were taken care of (my only expenses aside from school) I’d have $50 left at the end of any given month.

God help me the times the kids needed clothes, or I needed clothes, or anything went wrong.

At least the government covered the kid’s health care.

But I’m 30 now.  Time to start worrying about breast cancer and ovarian cancer and cervical cancer and heart disease.

What if any of those strike in the 2 years before I get my teaching certification?  What if they strike after I have my teaching certification and I can’t keep teaching?

Wonderful things to worry about while hugging a toilet seat at 3am, let me tell you.

And then for whatever reason, a rash of friends started whining about “Obamacare” on Facebook, and I felt my blood starting to boil.  The Affordable Care Act, for what it’s worth, will allow my whole family to have healthcare coverage.  It’ll mean the difference between being able to see a doctor after 24 hours of vomiting and holding out for a week to see if I get better.  (Anything more than a week is just too dangerous, even if it means going into debt I have no way to pay.)  I really don’t know if I have the words to know how to address it, but I feel like I have to try.

Not everyone has access to the kind of job that provides health care.  More and more, employers are hiring people as part-time or on call to avoid having to provide health care coverage.  Even jobs that traditionally gave benefits, like in the health care industry, are no longer dependable sources of coverage.  Soon, the only entry-level jobs that will offer coverage are ones that you have to have a high-powered degree to secure.

So for working class people, the idea of “get a job” to get coverage is a bit laughable.  My husband and I are both employed.  He easily works 50 hours a week, I work 15-20 and go to school full time.  We’re within 20% of the poverty line.  We budget, we pinch our pennies, but at the end of any given month what is left over is in the double digits, not enough to pay the $600 a month it would cost to get insurance through his job.  I consider myself fortunate to be able to go back to school and eventually have a job that will provide benefits for me, but in the meantime I’m on the orange-juice-and-crossed-fingers health care plan.

So let’s look at some of the lovely arguments I’ve seen for why the government shouldn’t provide health care to lower-income families like mine:

  1. It’s taking money from the rich and giving to the poor, and that’s communism/socialism.  There are many reasons why this argument is flawed.  This argument implies that nothing of merit is given back to the rich in return.  First, if my family has health care coverage we are less likely to be a bigger burden on the community in the long run.  We’ll get antibiotics before we have to go to the emergency room, for instance.  By doing that we’ll avoid racking up bills that we can’t pay, which means the costs currently incurred to pay for families like mine will be avoided.  The hospitals will be less overburdened, they’ll have to send less statements, they’ll have to employ less bill collectors and payment adjusters, and in the meanwhile working class people will miss less days of work, meaning they’ll be overall more productive and have more money to spend.  $$$, “Sweet!”, you should say, because that means a lower overall cost of providing health care which is more cost effective, doubled with a higher gross domestic profit which benefits all.  Hooray!  The second implication of this argument, and the one that I resent even more, is that families like mine somehow do not contribute to the overall well being of society.  We give charitably, we do our jobs well without complaining, we’re raising responsible kids who hope to have bright futures.  All of that is worth preserving, isn’t it?  The cost/benefit calculation shouldn’t start and end with “My money being spent on me > My money being spent on those jerks.”  It should take into account who people are capable of being when society better helps them meet their essential needs.  After all, we’ve already decided it is to society’s benefit that poor people with children be able to provide food for their kids, rather than those kids ending up in the system.   Health care is just as essential to a productive childhood as food.  Being healthcare unstable, or having parents who are healthcare unstable, is damaging to a child.  Trust me, it was not in my kid’s best interest that I spend a week puking up my guts and incapable of being able to devote my attentions to them.  It hurt my entire family.  Me having affordable access to healthcare will mean that my kids have the best possible parenting both in sickness and in health that I am capable of providing.  Having that means that they are better able to be successful in life and school and thus contribute to the economy when they are grown.  That’s good for me but also good for you- because an able worker is a funded consumer, and that should make sense to people who see $$$ as the bottom line.  We don’t want to raise a generation of kids who flunked out of school because they had to pick up the slack when their working poor parents with no healthcare got cancer- do we?
  2. I have to work for my healthcare, why does that asshole get it for free?  Trust me, buddy, If I could work for my healthcare I would.  I don’t have that option.  Not because I’m dumb, not because I’m irresponsible, not because I have no goals but because the career I have chosen requires me to be in school.  If I wasn’t in school, none of my employment options would offer health care.  I am one of so many of my peers left in the same boat- working diligently, saving pennies, trying to do the right thing but still creeping further and further behind as the rising cost of gas and wheat and milk and cheese and meat and school supplies and kids clothes and shoes and paper and everything else drags us further and further behind.  Oh, and the garbage bill and electric bill and water bill are all higher than they were two years ago, too, while paychecks are not rising.  Essentially, this argument says, “there is an entire class of people in our country who are not deserving of what I have because they aren’t as smart or privileged as me.”  Oh, buddy, trying saying to my face that I’m not as smart or deserving as you.  (I know I’m not as privileged, that’s cool, I don’t need to be.)  Not only are you saying that this entire class of people- really, the bottom half of “middle class” that is too poor to buy out of pocket insurance but not poor enough for government benefits, is not as valuable to our economy as everyone else.  If you really think that, I don’t know how to respond.  People who are sick, overworked, and worry don’t consume goods, and people who don’t consume goods don’t keep the economy going.  Giving the lower middle class a little relief ensures that they continue to consume- the only other option be that they improve their lot independently (impossible, as new jobs being created tend to be either lower in quality than current jobs being lost, or requiring licensure that means going back to school) or just give up and go on benefits- which means they will contribute to the economy even less.
  3. Everything Obama Does Must Be Bad.  (Or- MARK OF THE BEAST.)  If you disagree with everything Obama does because, well, you feel obligated to, why are you reading my blog? If you think that anything equating to socialized health care will lead to the mark of the beast, allow me to reassure you.  The Bible says that everyone (I.E, EVERYONE) will be forced to wear the mark of the beast to buy and sell.  It doesn’t say for healthcare.  So, there are two ways to look at this:  one is that healthcare isn’t buying and selling, so this isn’t the mark of the beast.  The other is to realize that the mark of the beast is a prophetic inevitability, so wondering about it is an exercise in fear mongering that God really would never encourage.  The spirit he gives us is not a spirit of fear.  Yet, if you want to be concerned about the Mark, here’s something to be more concerned about:  More and more, buying and selling is happening based off of unique identifiers or user IDs associated with the codes imbedded with mobile devices.  You can totally walk into your favorite coffee shop with presets in your phone that let them know what you want for breakfast, and then walk back out without any money changing hands!  It’s all automatic!  How long before your unique identifier is tattooed onto your hand or forehead?  Now, if you want to worry about the mark, worry about that.  Give me my health care, please.

Honestly, health care is an essential human right.  I believe that.  No one should ever have to face their body being damaged because they do not have the money to keep it in good health.  Without our bodies, we have nothing.  Yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who have to suffer unnecessary complications, face ridiculous health risks, or wallow in stressful uncertainty because they do not have the money to pay for health care.  Are those people really any less valuable to society than you?  If we want a society where everyone thrives, that has to be a society where no one faces an untreated chronic illness because they can’t afford a doctor, where kids never have to watch a parent unable to get basic care, where kids never drop out of high school or college to work because a parent is diagnosed with a chronic illness without healthcare and cannot provide for themself, and so on.  A healthy society is one where health care is available to all, so all are the most free they possibly can be to contribute and consume.

The Affordable Care Act is just the first of many more measures that need to be taken to be sure that America is a place where everyone is healthy and contributing.  This is necessary for the survival of our society, and I strongly believe that.  I hope this rambling explanation is in any way helpful in explaining my reasons.

Call me Candidate Warrior.

So I had my orientation to the teacher preparation program yesterday.  I’d spent the last month in a bit of a fugue, wondering if I was making the right choice.  The program is rigorous, and because it’s designed for people who work part time already it’s mostly evenings and weekends.  I’ve had my heart in my throat over the fact that I’ll be seeing less of the kids, and knowing I’ll have days to myself to work on writing and my own things has been no comfort.  Yesterday morning I joked to The Husband that maybe I should drop out and just keep working in my job as a tutor until I’m really sure about what I want to do.  He answered with an eye roll.

Yeah, I can be worthy of eye rolling.

So last night I walked into the teacher prep orientation and looked at all the faces of my peers shining with anticipation and I wondered if that was really what I wanted.  Was it?  At one point we had to share about what inspired us to become teachers.  “My eighth grade teacher always looked out for us,” one girl said.  “I really love being with kids,” said another one.  “I really enjoy math,” said another.   There I was, pointedly staying silent.  I wasn’t here because someone inspired me to want to take care of kids.  I was here because working as a tutor had shown me that people come into college with only a conversational grasp of language, and it dumbfounds me.  I want to be in a position to lobby for better standards for how language is taught and evaluated.  I want to start a national conversation about the role that language plays in poverty and economic success.  Maybe I don’t belong in a classroom.  This is not for me.  Everyone else here is so passionate about taking care of kids and here I am, just so angry that our system is broken.  Then we had to write a short statement about our goals and share it with a small group.  There were people sharing about creating a loving and safe environment and other ones about modeling good behavior, and then me with my screed about Bridges Out Of Poverty and how what home a child is born into shouldn’t be the major determining factor in what kind of language they are able to use as an adult; the language of negotiation is reserved for the upper classes and poor kids grow up only knowing the language of survival and intimacy, and we are failing them, and I want to see if it’s possible to tweak the programs we HAVE to teach to involve opportunities for kids to master the kind of language they need to better their position in society.

So I was chewing on my lip as we moved into the final portion of the orientation, where we talked about the rubrics and standards for temperament, character and behavior.  I’m so glad I hadn’t walked out before then, because suddenly everything changed.  As we discussed the framework for the education department’s philosophy we were handed a chart.  It’s one of those Venn diagrams, and the middle facet, the one that all of the other areas of professionalism overlapped in, was dedication to social justice.  One of my peers asked why that was there and I felt this sudden warmth in my heart, because I knew.  Because it was why I was so angry, why I changed my major in the first place.  And the instructor said words I’d said earlier that evening, even though he couldn’t have known it, he said, “what home a child is born into shouldn’t determine what opportunities they have in life.  Our role as teachers has to be making sure that everyone has the same chance, the same education, and the same ability to benefit society.”

I nearly screamed “AMEN.”

Then we talked about what kind of person you need to be to survive a career in education.  Sure, patience and compassion and consistency, which had been so exhaustively discussed, were on the list.  But it went beyond that.  Are your responses appropriate to the situation at hand?  Are you dedicated to self-reflection and self-improvement?  Do you seek out professional support and collaboration and realize you are incapable of individual success without others?  Do you seek out diverse opinions and examine all situations with multiple viewpoints in mind?

Suddenly the cry in my soul, asking what had I done and why, started to subside.  I found myself saying, “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

He said that we need to be ready to fight.  “Teachers are held to the highest standard in society. We have to fight every day to exceed expectations and face every criticism with a smile and open heart. We guard the future.”  When your students see you in the grocery store, they are watching.  Their parents know if you’re in a neighborhood bar and how much you drink.  What you eat, what you wear, what you do, all of those things will be under a microscope.  In the world of social media you have to be careful of how and why you have a bad day, because people are watching.  It’s not for everyone, he said, so don’t be embarrassed if you want to change your major.  But it’s about what we’re fighting for, he said.  If we want a better society we have to be that better person for the kids who are entrusted into our care, and our first and most constant thought has to be why we choose to do what we do.

Yes, yes, yes.

We have to ask ourselves, he said, if we are strong enough.  “Are you strong enough?”

I was taking notes (of course), so I wrote in the margins, “perhaps I forgot to mention, I am a warrior.”

I am a warrior.  I can do this.  I can become a teacher.  I can become politically active.  I can write a doctorate thesis on uses of language in the home and television and on and on and on.  I can do this.  I WILL do this.  Because I’m not Teacher Candidate Lindsey.  No, I’m Teacher Candidate Warrior, and I have a mission.  Do I know why I care so much?  Why I’m crying as I’m writing this?  Why I threw psychology under the bus like last year’s fashion even though it was a lifelong passion?

Yesterday morning I may have said that I was confused, but I’m not now.

This profession ISN’T for everyone.  It’s for the people who have the strength, drive, and passion to never forget why we do what we do.  And we don’t do it because we’re softhearted and naive and rosy-eyed and just want to spend the day with kids (although there is that, too), it’s because we’re freaking warriors.  We have to be, because society doesn’t value education.

So we have to fight, and fight, and fight- in a world that thinks we don’t deserve to be paid, that we are failing as literary rates fall, that pans the profession on the evening news without a second thought, where kids come into the class more concerned with their kill rate on video games than reading a decent book, and where half of them are more distracted by thoughts of getting through the day than ever giving a second thought to their future.

A future that teachers have to fight for.

Because it’s not our fault that kids are failing.  It’s our society as a whole that has failed.

But teachers take responsibility for it anyway, don’t they?

We’re warriors, and that’s what warriors do.  They take up the sword and fight on.