Friday, July 20, 2007

An open letter to my multitude of bosses

Dear School Administrator
(Literacy Coaches, Principals, Assistant Principals, Superintendents, School board members, and anybody else who bosses teachers around):

Please stop "helping" me.

Some teachers have their kids in tidy little rows, backs straight, mouths closed as they copy the notes from the board like obedient little automatons. That's how they teach and it works for them.

I am not that teacher.

That bores me almost as much as it bores them. When I teach my kids are loud and laughing and that's how I like it.

When you walk in the room all you hear is "Once his penis got reattached, John Wayne Bobbitt started to star in porn films."

And you shake your head and write it down in your little notebook and leave.

You don't stay for the conversation about the symbolism of the penis as a source of a man's power, the fact that the word "impotent" means both powerless and erectionless, the way phallic symbols are used throughout architectural history to represent fortitude, that the Egyptians and Romans practically worshipped the penis and made sculptures of it as part of their artistic culture.

This is how I teach. My students think I'm talking about porn so they think it's all secretive and dirty and they're not being forced to learn anything. I'm really teaching them symbolism. At the end of the year they all gasp when they realize how much they know. They don't remember learning anything.

But all you hear is the word "penis", and we all know that's not in the textbook.

Every year you send me to a new three-day workshop that costs millions of dollars and pulls me out of the classroom to sit in a room where some old lady who hasn't seen a child in eight years hands me a big fat book that details every second of classtime and takes all the thinking out of my job. And it's the magical answer to all our problems and some day soon every class will be identical and all the children will learn the exact same thing and we will have a world of beautiful automatons.

Until we discover that this doesn't work either and make me go to a new workshop to learn the new magical plan next year.

Want to help? Here's what you do. Tell me what you want me to teach. Not the standards, not some generic idea about writing - specifics. World Literature. Literary terms. How to write a research paper.

Then leave me alone.

By the end of the semester they'll know what you need them to know. They'll pass all your standardized tests. They'll write dynamite essays. But only if you stay out of my way.

If you have a great idea for a lesson plan on how to teach theme, by all means share it. I'll listen and tweak it and maybe use it if I like it. I'm always open to new ideas. But stop telling me how to run my class.

I just want to shut my door and teach. Please let me.


  1. Have you spoken to your students' parents about the importance of the way you teach? Do they get offended by the words you use, or are they receptive?

  2. Teenagers don't talk to their parents. In seven years I've only ever had one conflict with a parent and it was because I taught the kids about religions other than Christianity. The kids I teach now, most of their parents only want to know if they behave.

  3. I wish I had a hot teacher you used the word penis when I was in school.

    Your kids have it good.

  4. I love your post. I feel the same way. What really bugs me is when the older teachers think I am an animal for being creative. That can't imagine why I don't lecture the whole period using 1970 overheads. That day is dead.

    Another thing I hate is when a creative teacher is passed up for the job because the district wants to hire a veteran teacher with loads of "wrong" techniques. Boring, Boring, Boring.

    My district gave us an extra period two years ago called PD period. At first, teachers were thrilled to have the extra time to plan and brainstorm ideas for their classrooms. However, the period is basically us going to trainings, writing book reports about educational techniques and observing teachers. In one week I have to read three magazine articles, a book, observe a teacher in my school, write a report about that teacher and attend five hours of training on the newest technique the district has deemed worthy. The funny thing is, year after year the technique from last year is shot down and a new one emerges. Usually the one that is cheapest from whatever consultant they have hired.

    No child left behind in deed. Welcome to the wonderful world of education. No wonder kids hate going to school.

  5. You sound just like me, J. Good to know the silly methods they use are universal.

    Actually, that's not good to know. It would be better if it were an isolated situation.

    And Crash, yeah, they know. We have an understanding. They can think what they want but they keep their mouths closed about their desires as long as they're in my classroom.

    I'm pretty sure I've been the subject of a few masturbation sessions. I take it as a compliment.

  6. School as we know it was designed to prepare students for the Industrial Age, and hasn't yet caught up with the rest of the world. The ivory towers are on shakier and shakier ground these days...


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