Confessions of an Ugly Teacher

You’ve heard it.  You know it’s true.  Public education in theU. S.is screwed up.  A mess.  A nightmare.  Why, it virtually doesn’t exist, except as a demon institution attacked almost equally by the left for trying to dictate morals and common sense and by the right as being immoral, left-leaning and unjust.

I’m a public school teacher.  Dedicated, although I do get frustrated at parents who don’t care and who are inculcating the “it’s everyone else’s fault” mentality in their children, at the current idiocy over “assessment”–please see my essays on that on AuthorsDen–and determined to make a difference, although every day making a difference seems more futile.  (Cue “The Impossible Dream,” the most inspirational version you can find.)

 Most of all, though, I am saddened to learn what public education now is about and how I have failed it.

 You see–I’m an ugly teacher.

 This inescapable truth came home to roost recently when those wonderful chismes (Spanish for “gossip”) came curling along the grapevine: teachers were needed for a photo.  But only “las bonitas”–the beautiful teachers.  My phone didn’t ring.  Neither did the phones of the school’s most experienced teachers. 

 Then the hush-hush news that the district wanted all the schools to participate in a dance video, a la Beyoncè, to promote fitness.  But the e-mail went more or less to the same teachers as the photo–las bonitas.

 Sour grapes?  No.  Looks honestly don’t matter to me.  The folks who were chosen are close friends of mine.  They are beautiful–by anyone’s standards.  And if I tried to dance Beyoncè, I might be able to hold my ring finger up and tell someone to put something on it.  Unless, of course, I had a senior moment and got the finger wrong.

 So why does it matter?  Well, it shows a glaring lack of professionalism, for starters.  Who is to say that those teachers of 25 or 30 years aren’t beautiful?  Whether or not they’d look good in leotards, those ‘ugly’ teachers might feel as fabulous and fit as their younger colleagues.

 Still, that’s not even the sense of my…my damn-it-all headshake.  Those are symptoms of the problems gripping public education that are not strictly societal and thus could be fixed.

Because of the accountability-or-die mentality, all anyone seems to care about any more is appearance.  Get test results however you have to–didn’t Atlantaprove that?  Look good on tests.  Look good on your evaluations.  For God’s sake, be beautiful if a photographer comes.

 And the kids?  Well, if you teach, they’ll learn.  Except teaching has taken a back seat to testing.

 Walls of objectives are supposed to remind students and teachers what they’re learning and teaching– and if those objectives aren’t up, you become an ugly teacher, half a step from the exit door.  But if teachers could spend time teaching rather than posting objectives…just thinking out loud.

 Various kinds of walk-throughs are the rage right now.  District administrators, campus administrators, heck–people no one even knows–walk in and take notes.  Write you up.  Tell you how to teach more beautifully–mostly by dusting ledges.  Posting more stuff, like mission statements and mea culpas for anything wrong with your room.

 Walk-throughs on a weekly, daily, twice-daily schedule help the teacher create more learning centers, which are supposed to be interactive and free the teacher up to do more paperwork and post more stuff, while children learn at the highest level of ‘rigor and relevance’ yet known to man.

 Ever seen first graders hit centers before a direct teach?  They don’t say “let’s go learn about oppositional forces.”  They rush to the science center, whoop “Magnets!  Let’s play!” and bean each other within seconds.  They’re more focused after a direct teach.  They learn, eventually, to say “let’s use the center.”  And their aim gets really good by the time they move from magnets to rocks.

 ‘Learning centers’ per se aren’t bad.  Research, which can prove anything for anyone, to anyone, shows learning centers are wonderful.  This ugly teacher has no issue with that–except when children are supposed to self teach decoding skills and such. 

 I personally think if the higher ups in any given district have time to visit classrooms weekly–there might be too many higher ups.  Nevertheless, I often worry more when I don’t have visitors than when I do.

 My kids, with all their problems, are good kids.  Trying to learn.  They deserve the attention visitors bring.

 And as for photos and dancing–I chose the classroom instead of Hollywood on purpose.  (My story…_)

 But the only thing that should matter in a classroom is substance–and if it isn’t there, isn’t recognized, or isn’t rewarded–kiss success for our children goodbye.

 And don’t blame the teachers, no matter what the heck we look like after a day’s work. 

 VID (very important disclaimer):  Although I am a teacher, my opinion essays incorporate the experiences, information, and yes, chismes, from family and friends in education across the country.  Appearance-first in education seems to be a nation-wide problem dragging the whole system down into a quagmire of futility.

More of my work can be seen at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?authorid=4186 , and I’d love you to like me at http://www.facebook.com/#!/LeslieP.Garcia  .

About Leslie P Garcia

A well-intentioned principal posted my first story, Ricky and Tricky's Christmas, when I was six years old, condemning me to a life spent writing. I've lived on the Texas-Mexico border for what is now most of my life, am an educator, mother, and grandmother.
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