Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grumpy Old Teachers

One constant I found when changing from private to public schools is the existence of Grumpy Teachers. Now when I say grumpy, I don't just mean grumpy in mood, but rather grumpy in their entire outlook on teaching. When I was at Bethel, we had more than a couple of them and it was rather obvious who they were. All the time it was whinging and complaining about how horrible the kids were this, how useless the parents were that, and why oh why did they even choose this profession because the pay is so horrible and there's so much indigestion involved. They of course don't stop there as they make sure to let the students know how grumpy they are and how it's All The Students' Fault for this. If only they would listen/obey/study/do their homework/try to achieve World Peace then the classroom environment would improve and they wouldn't be so grumpy. Of course, students, whilst not always having the best grades all the time are not stupid by any means, don't believe a word they are saying and treat them as such. The grumpy teacher then disciplines the students left, right, and centre, getting grumpier the entire time. Once they're out of class they then find the nearest teacher to dump on and the cycle continues unabated.


I got so tired of it that by the end of the year I wasn't even acknowledging their existence. Of course, it didn't hurt that they weren't exactly the most savoury of characters, so not admitting their existence wasn't as hard as it sounds. Now I'm in a new environment and unfortunately, I wasn't able to escape the presence of Grumpy Old Teachers. Just this time there seems to be more of them. The complaints are the same and from the scuttlebutt the students (who amazingly enough almost always tend to tell each other the truth when talking about school based on my experience growing up and teaching) speak within earshot, what goes on behind the classroom door is the same.

I've always struggled with the concept of why a Grumpy Teacher continues to teach. Now, I know I'm different and all, but I was taught growing up that if you don't like doing something it's probably best to quit doing it and find something more enjoyable. I ostensibly think that this should apply to teaching. If you can't stand the kids, the curriculum, the administrators, the physical plant, the discipline policy, and everything else, why even teach? It's evident that you're not happy, so why not try to be happy by doing something that will make you happy? Unless you're one of those weird (Yeah, I'll use the term.) people who enjoy being grumpy, and if that's the case, well, just don't be grumpy around me.

Of course, I know that the answer isn't as easy as I made it, but the Grumpy Teacher is someone I'm going to have to be always on the lookout for. I'll readily admit that I'm still wide eyed, wet behind the ears, and any other cliché you can think of (And speaking of clichés, check out what I found, a cliché finder!), but I just can't accept that once the newness wears off that the dirty truth is that students, other teachers, administrators, etc., etc. are nothing but trouble and the only thing we can do is sulk, complain, and get used to the fact that we can't do anything about it. There's just too many examples of students who were seen as just another problem student that turned into something special because a teacher managed to show interest in them and convinced them that the status quo was just not good enough. I ascribe to this theory and every day I walk onto our school I literally say to myself "Whose life am I going to try to change for the better today?" The answer to this rhetorical question is of course "All of them!" And I know even a couple of weeks in that this outlook, not the Grumpy Teacher's outlook, is the effective one.

As a new teacher I got my copy of Harry Wong's seminal book The First Days of School and I've been thumbing through it almost every evening, mainly because I'm desperately bored, but also I know that if most of the Project STAY curriculum was based on this book it must be good enough for me to take some wisdom out of. When I was at Bethel my principal gave me her copy and told me it had some good stuff, but she didn't know how much it would be of use to me since it was written more for elementary teachers (Don't look at me! I'm just telling you what I was told!), and the next day she came by and picked it up, never for me to see it again. As Mr. Wong (I can't get his voice out of my head when I think of his name) points out at the beginning of the book, we teachers are a smart lot, so it's OK to skim through it looking for wisdom to pick up.

The one part of the book I've been stuck reading in is his last unit on being a successful professional, and I think Mr. Wong hits the whole Grumpy Teacher thing right on the head. Grumpy Teachers are only out to maintain the status quo because they're merely maintainers. Fortunately, I learned at an early age that to merely maintain is just the same as failing, and so the only way to succeed is to press on and move forward. As I read that section it dawned on me exactly why my time out of teaching was so excruciating: I was not in a position to press on and move forward, but because of circumstances I was forced to just maintain my status. When I think about how miserable I felt some days stuck maintaining the status quo, it gives me that much more motivation to not become a Grumpy Teacher. I won't just complain and accept things as they are, I'll do something to change it. Even if I'm the only one trying to change things for the better, it's OK, because I don't need grumpy opinions to help me sleep at night.

And speaking of sleep, I may just do some of that.

1 comment:

SuDu said...

I like your description of GOTs, Loren. I think your last paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings, and I don't want to be a maintainer either. Let's hope we can both keep that goal in focus...