Over the course of my final years as a public school teacher I decided that I would write a book about my experiences and my thoughts about teaching. I have quite a bit of material written now. Maybe one day I will organize it all into that book, but for now I will put some of it up here. Starting with what I thought would be the forward:
I had to write it all down. I’m a writer. When asked about myself recently, I described my writing as an affliction or a disease, as if the words needed to come out of me or I would retch alphabet soup or explode in a cloud of well-worn and yellowed scrabble tiles. As a kid I would take a pad and paper with me wherever I went just in case I felt the need to release some words. This I take as normal now, having lived with my paper and ink burden for over 50 years. I still prefer pen in hand to more modern voice recorders or laptops, phones, or tablets. But, even after all this time, I still think it’s weird that I’m also a math geek. When I was growing up we thought that you had to be either a writer or a math geek, and that you couldn’t be both at the same time. There were even some theories that this had to do with brain hemisphere dominance. I used to imagine myself in an old style western movie sitting on the fence between the feuding families of English and Math. Even my SAT scores were almost dead even at 650 Math and 640 Verbal. Go figure.
As befitting my condition, I had already been doing some writing along these lines. I had been actively engaged in writing a chronicle of what has been a long career in education. I was writing about the past and what I had seen over the years. There were so many things that even I found unbelievable that I knew the stories had to be told, even going so far as to title my manuscript, You Wouldn’t Believe. But as the year went from the hopeful optimism of late August to the soul sucking dread of late October I knew I also had to document what was going on now. In less than two months of school, the entire staff knew this would be the worst year ever. The kids were impossibly even more out of control and less interested in learning than ever and the bureaucracy was rapidly approaching mind numbing proportions. The state had moved right in and was still camped out in our building imposing ridiculous regulations, restrictions, and requirements while offering no help beyond repeated platitudes. It had become obvious to even my most short sighted colleagues that the system is broken beyond repair. Something had to be done and sooner rather than later. And I was just the idiot to do it.
So I wrote. I wrote about an educational system too broken to fix that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. I wrote about all the State mandated meetings and trainings that were just that much horse hockey. I wrote about the staff, sick and tired and overworked. Without clear purpose, they tried to do what was mandated, even knowing that they were being set up to fail. I wrote about the students; the young people shafted out of their right to learn how to think, communicate, and solve problems so they could be productive. I wrote about the growing percentage of young people who were not students. Some were just working, recruiting for their gangs. Some were just playing, games like milking the class as they would go from student to student pulling on the back of the head and down the neck, or “milking” everyone, or maybe some worse game.
And here we are. All of this and more just the way I remember wishing it was. Memories are what we make them after all. All of this and none of this ever happened, and if it did, it was certainly not even close to what I have written. And any resemblance of any character to anyone, living or dead, is purely accidental. But the one thing you will notice in all I have written is there is the ring of truth. I hope that ring awakens our nation. I hope it’s not too late for us all. I hope we can save our youth and our future from our shortsightedness.