HAVE YOU HUGGED
 A TEACHER TODAY?

    My 25 year old daughter, whose claim to fame was being named "Ms. Saturday Night" of her graduating high school class (anyone can be a Valedictorian), has settled down.
   After traveling to more countries than her poor deprived parents could ever dream about, and after never missing a party or function since she was a toddler, she went out and got her California teaching credential and accepted her first teaching position.
   5th grade in East Palo Alto. Hello, real world.
   She had a chance for a position at a school in a wealthy Marin County community. But she decided she wanted to teach inner-city children who were less privileged. She got an interview with the East Palo Alto School District and they hired her on the spot.
   That might have been a clue.
   It’s now nine weeks into the Fall semester, and "Ms. Saturday Night" is a shadow of her former self. Saturday night is usually spent grading papers and trying to recover from another hellish week before Monday rolls around and it all starts again.
   My respect for the teaching profession, while always healthy, has grown enormously. And my respect for teachers who work in difficult areas such as East Palo Alto is off the charts.
   This respect comes from personal experience. I couldn’t believe the stories my daughter would tell me during the first few weeks of school. The kids couldn’t be that difficult. All they needed was more discipline than an inexperienced 25 year old could offer.
   Naturally, I was the guy to right the course. When she told me that budget cuts had eliminated the P.E. teacher for her class, I offered to help her out by occasionally coming to the school and teaching the little ingrates some discipline. Not only would I show them how to play basketball, but I’d teach them respect, honor, duty and commitment while I was at it.
    I only had an hour, but I figured that was more than enough time.
   The 5th graders were waiting for me in the classroom when I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon. I marched them outside and gathered them around me so I could tell them about the fine game of basketball. This took about ten minutes. Not the speech, but the gathering. They were wandering everywhere and I was forcefully screaming at them to gather round. Once I got one group settled down, another would wander off.
   When I finally got them together, I began my lesson. I got about three words in before I had to stop and order one kid or another to be quiet. And it never stopped. I would stand over one group of kids and look as imposing as possible, and another group would start yapping. I’d turn to them and a third group would begin.
   It was organized chaos, and I quickly and sadly realized there was nothing I could do. At least half the class had some form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), whether it was genetic or socialized. And the saddest part was there were some good kids who wanted to listen and learn, but they were at the mercy of the disruptive ones.
    Meanwhile, my daughter sat on a bench a few yards away, watching me suffer. She was clearly having the most fun she would have all day.
   After 45 minutes of teaching absolutely nothing to nobody, I called it quits. I bolted to the delightful solitude of my car for a quiet ride home.
   I was exhausted from less than an hour of trying to discipline these kids. And my daughter does it five days a week, all day. 28 kids, and she has absolutely no help. No aides, no parent volunteers, no nothing.
   There’s no money for aides in East Palo Alto. All three fifth grade teachers at my daughter’s school are first-year teachers, and all are having the same problems as my daughter. Experience would help, but experienced teachers get paid the same to teach elsewhere, so they do.
   So while being named "Ms. Saturday Night" made us very proud, it pales in comparison to what she’s doing now. She’s making some progress, but it’s physically and emotionally exhausting. All I can do is remind her of my friend when asked to name three reasons why he wanted to become a teacher.
   His answer: "June, July and August."

 

 

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