spock: logic is sexy

December meme: what keeps me teaching

mama_pyjama asked What brings you most satisfaction in your work, makes you think, "YES!" and how often do you feel that way?

I feel like the answer to this question should be some Oprah moment about helping a struggling child learn to read, but it's not. Winning national championships is what keeps me teaching. I was seriously considering leaving the profession about two years ago. That summer, I stood on stage and watched my student win a national speech and debate championship, and I decided not to go. A year ago, I thought about quitting again. And then I stood on stage and watched that same student win his second national championship in a row. Then I looked out at the rest of my team and knew that I would stand on stage with some of them, and I decided to stay for good. I know that speech and debate is just a weird nerd cult at the fringe of our society, but debating in high school literally changed my life, so I know how important it is to the kids who do it. Would that knowledge alone be enough to keep me employed for low wages and obscene hours? No, honestly not. But if I can know that I'm literally one of the best people in the country at my job, if I can achieve professional feats in three or four or five years that other people can't achieve in an entire career, that keeps me in the game. Admirable? No. Honest? Yes.

And here's what else keeps me going: I don't do bullshit stuff just because some administrator asked me to do it. Two years ago, when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I looked around me and realized that my district employs some lazy sons of bitches. People who show videos every day, people who give their students all three lunches, people who spend professional development days at "football practice," which is just a euphemism for getting burritos at everyone's favorite TexMex joint. And I don't want to be those people. But if they are still employed, why the fuck am I busting my ass to fill out random paperwork and post objectives on the board and all the other dumb shit the district asks me to do? So when the vice principal gave me some weird form about ELL students that served no discernable purpose, I threw it the fuck away. You know what happened? NOTHING. Now I have a rule: if it seems pointless, try to avoid doing it. It turns out that ninety-nine percent of extra shit doesn't have to be done.

And here's what else I do: I give myself refunds. I have a two and half hour planning period today, and I did jackshit. Well, actually I did a lot: I wrote this journal entry, some fanfiction, and also read about make-up. I did not, however, grade papers or plan anything. That's because I was made to work until eight o'clock last night at a recruiting event of dubious merit. And even though I know that truly great teachers would spend the whole class period interacting with students, sometimes I give them busy work so I can sit the fuck down and grade their goddamn essays. Truthfully, I wish I didn't have to do these things, but I also don't blame myself for having to do them. If the district, state, or national authorities want me to use all my class time perfectly and all my planning time productively, they can damn well figure out how to give me manageable class sizes and fair compensation for the number of hours worked. Until then, I'll figure out creative ways to compensate myself.
Bravo! Go You!

I wish my sister would read this. She kills herself teaching art at the high school level. I think that teachers should ALWAYS manage their time on a strict basis of cost analysis. Do the thing you do best, but also, protect your health and your sanity. :)

Also, the speech and debate thing might be nerdy, but where would Supernatural be without forensics champion Jared Padalecki??? I am so proud of him and his teacher mom that I could cry.

Haha, maybe you should show this to her. I'm torn between proselytizing to my fellow overworked teachers and keeping quiet. If a lot of people adopted my system, I'm afraid the admin would notice!

I had no idea Jared Padalecki was a former speech & debate nerd, though of course I looked it up immediately after I read this comment. 1998 was the year I was in national finals myself (though for the complete opposite of acting), so I probably even saw that performance. I've never been a big SPN fan, but that makes me want to go track him down at a con and ask how speech & debate affected his life. Nobody wins a national championship if they don't love it.
From your description, I take it you work in America? How teachers are treated and paid is appalling. Hang in there, darling. I really owe so much to my secondary school teachers and the ones who loved teaching really did mean the world to me.
Yes, yes I do work in America - in the state with the 49th lowest education funding, no less. I keep thinking that working conditions can't get any worse for us, and if I just hold on another year, things will start to turn around...and every year I'm disappointed. I started my teaching career in Japan, and I do think about going back sometimes. I struggled with the cultural divide and the language gap, but I'm not sure if that was any worse than the financial and professional struggle I have here.
TEFL was what I was doing in Japan, and I did like it, but I probably wouldn't go back unless I lost my job here. It's a lot of work, pulling up your life and moving to a new place, and the well-paying jobs are mostly in Japan and the Middle East. Of course, if an EU work permit were to somehow drop into my lap, I'd be on a plane in a heartbeat.
Now I have a rule: if it seems pointless, try to avoid doing it. It turns out that ninety-nine percent of extra shit doesn't have to be done.

That's my rule as well. It really is amazing how much of this sort of crap there is in the world.

Kudos for dealing properly with insanity :)
Hah! That is very neat about the debate team. I think that's a very understandable and cool reason to stay. I bet that discovery about the bullshit paperwork was very satisfactory.

I wonder how you would feel working in Germany: The pay and benefits package are way better, there isn't nearly as much standardized testing but as far as I know, there are no high school debate teams.

Of course, now I could not resist researching! Apparently there is Jugend debattiert, a Germany-wide debating competition. Not all schools participate, there needs to be a minimum amount of teachers with a special training certificate, then they teach debating as regular subject, there needs to be a school-wide competition, then regional, state and finally the federal competition. The whole thing has existed since 2001. By comparison, there are Jugend musiziert for classical music interpretation and Jugend forscht for research projects in mathematics, IT and natural sciences, both have existed since ~50 years, are open to students independent of their school's participation, and have some prizes with monetary compensation. Both project websites have far more info on all the concrete benefits to student participants, mostly more internships, scholarships etc. than Jugend debattiert has. But all three can be counted as a substantial part of your Abitur marks, which is the big exam at the end of year 12 that's necessary to enter university studies and of course they all look good on university scholarship applications. There are also federal competitions for best high school student newspaper, best philosophical essay and for mathematics, the latter two with entry to an international competition.

Hah, sorry about the big info dump! I think the grand conclusion is, debating on high school level is far newer to Germany than other youth competitions, and unlike the other two big federal competitions, your access to even the first stage of competition depends on your school's participation in the programme. I am guessing that mostly means it depends more on the parents' social status, though...
Very interesting! I have a friend who taught in Germany for awhile, and she really misses it. Honestly, debate or no debate, if an EU work permit dropped in my lap, I'd be on a plane immediately. I would probably be back in Japan now if the language barrier weren't such an issue.

It sounds like debate is slowly taking off in Germany. It's actually kind of similar here, in that access to debate programs depends on how good a school you attend, which also depends pretty heavily on your parents' income and social status. I'd be willing to bet we are one of the only (if not the only) nationally competitive program in a school where half the student body is on free and reduced lunch.
Sorry about the delay in replaying to your very detailed post. I got teachers' end of term lurgy and was then inundated with family. It wasn't until my kids went back to school that I have had a chance to sit and think about this.

I have left the profession now, and it felt really weird last week when everyone went back to school except me. I have taught for 20 years, most of that time in secondary schools and the job I trained for, the job I enjoyed and gave me that Yes! feeling most days is not the job I have just left.

I completely agree with you about ignoring pointless paperwork, but in the last couple of years it has become increasingly difficult to do this. In fact, a lot of my pointless paperwork was a back covering exercise so I could show that I had done all the things required of me.

You are so lucky to have found a niche where you get the recognition you deserve and where your input is valued and treated with respect. It is lovely to hear a positive teacher story, although your positive is based outside the classroom! For me the lack of recognition of out-of-class contributions (I ran the exchange for my language and a residential trip) was as bad as the ridiculous time-soak caused by the smallest interaction with any layer of management. In the end what the kids got out of it wasn't enough to offset the rest of it.

Thank you for sharing this - I hope that 2015 is another fine championship year for you and that your team cover you in glory.