I haven’t blogged in a while. I was sick, first with the stomach flu, then a head cold, but more importantly, I’ve been pretty busy. On an online discussion board, a fellow participant told readers not to be fooled by my “softer side of the teachers’ union” posts. That got me thinking that you all might like to know what a union thug does from one day to the next.
On the average day, I arrive at school at about 6:50 a.m. I check my email and answer, as needed. This week, I replied to a couple of kids on suspension, chiding them about bad choices, assuring them that I still love them, and attaching work to do over the week. I check my online planner, and make sure I have everything I need easily at hand.
Twice a week, I meet with fellow educators from 7-8 a.m., and we reevaluate how our kids are progressing, changing tracks to develop new approaches for concepts they’re struggling with or figuring how to accelerate if they’re ready to move on. From 8-9:00 those days, I have a room full of kids making up work, getting help, or just using our computers for other classes because they don’t have resources at home.
My first class is Freshman ACE. We’re reading Unwind, and we have deep discussions about life, the soul, the ways we treat people as disposable, the moral dilemmas literature puts before us, and the ways these help prepare us for life. We write well-organized paragraphs and provide details and examples to support our ideas. We play cooperative board games like Pandemic once a week to build communication skills and teamwork. I coax little rebels and draw in reluctant learners. I offer sympathy to kids with injuries. I stand witness as kids call parents and inform them of their overall progress at school. I also praise kids who are passing all their classes. Every Friday we talk about the tough issues they face—decisions about drugs and alcohol, the ways that friends and family provide us with love and challenges.
My next class is Junior ACE. We read together, get misty-eyed together as characters we love die and hard lessons are learned. We prepare ourselves for the work world, getting closer every day. We play cooperative board games and talk about life issues here, too. I adjust assignments for kids who are terrified to speak in public, making them step outside their comfort zones a little at a time until they find it’s not so bad. I connect kids I teach now with kids I taught over a decade ago to shine a little light on the path ahead.
I finish up with a credit recovery class, simultaneously juggling 3 5-paragraph essay assignments and social studies classes on modern-day media and 1960’s history. Here, too, we try to eke out time to grapple with issues like conflict-resolution and how to navigate grown-up life.
Mid-day, I grab a half-hour or so with colleagues to eat lunch, laugh at the day’s events, talk current affairs, TV shows, and literature. (Yes, all of those in half an hour.)
My planning periods are spent grading online work for credit-recovery, sending emails to kids or writing comments so they know how to proceed to the next level in their course of study. I need to turn those around fast so the kids get feedback in a timely fashion and can move forward. I grade freshman and junior papers. I use the results of those papers to tweak the next day’s lessons so that I help them with concepts they’re missing.
And yes, once each planning period I take a walk around the outside of the building, closing doors that are supposed to be locked, chatting with kids on their way to their cars, and getting a little fresh air and sunshine to sustain me through the grading.
At the end of the day, I may attend a department leader meeting where we talk about the big-picture of how kids are doing at Columbine and how we can improve this. I might go to a 504 meeting with a kid and his family to figure out what’s working and what’s not for that child.
When I come home, I often let the dogs out before I head to a union meeting of some kind. Ssssshhhhhh…this stuff’s super-secret: We talk about how what’s going on in the district is affecting kids. We worry. A lot. We worry that our best teachers are leaving. We worry that our kids are getting lost in the political agendas of our board and the big-money organizations playing with our kids’ futures. We talk about the ways evaluations vastly differ from school to school, or even from administrator to administrator within schools, and how this affects morale and instruction. We plan thuggery, like knocking on doors as members of our own communities to talk to our own neighbors about the thing that matters most to us—our schools and the kids who attend them.
For a while, deeply uneasy, we worried about a strike. Now, we pray for a school board in November that cares about kids the way we do, and we pray for good relationships between teachers and district leaders. We spend very little time talking about personal gain and politics. (It can be best to avoid politics, as members of the union tend to be rather diverse in their political views.)
I know that’s not what many people believe we do. All I can say is, I’m there. Those people aren’t. I know what gets said. They don’t.
Or I might go to a church meeting.
Sometimes…very rarely…I breathe. I watch a TV show I missed—Law and Order SVU, The Walking Dead, Supernatural. I might crochet, or catch up Facebook, or write something for my blog, my church, my students. I read books, looking for the next great way to hook kids on reading.
On Tuesday nights, I play trivia with friends at a local watering hole. On Fridays, I try to grab a bite with my husband, who’s been working long hours running his small business and printing Jeffco United signs.
On Saturdays, I walk neighborhoods in my community and talk to folks about schools. On Sundays, I go to church and sing hymns, pray, and listen to generally great sermons (thanks, Wendy and Eric!).
This is the life of a union thug. This is the life of a teacher.