Five years ago, I was a professional photographer in Detroit, Michigan struggling to make ends meet in a hard-hit local economy. The newspaper I worked for went out of business. The magazine I worked for switched to stock photography. My own business, a portrait studio, was barely breaking even–photography was considered a luxury expense. So I went to visit my friends in California, helping a friend and his employer out with photo coverage for a few events. My best friend, a high school cinema-television teacher, mentioned a photography teacher was going to be retiring at the end of the year. She convinced me to at least apply for a credential and apply for the job–what harm could come from an application?
Well, lo and behold, I got the job. I was so excited. I never thought of myself as a teacher but I am the kind of person who finds happiness in helping others. I wanted to make a difference in the world and I was thrilled I would now have the chance to make a difference in the lives of so many. This would be the mark that I would leave on this world.
Then reality hit. Teaching is by far the hardest job I have ever had in my life. Surprisingly, having to control 40 teenagers for an hour and a half, three times a day (we have block scheduling) is the easiest part of my job. Yep, working with 120 teenagers a day is the easy part of my job. Sometimes the kids can make you feel like a rockstar. On the first day of school I have kids running up to me, giving me hugs and telling me how much they missed me. It makes you feel important and like you are doing exactly what you set out to do–making a difference in someone else’s life.
But then there is the part of the job that drives you into a straight jacket–the battle over grades. My mother is a teacher so she taught me to always have a paper trail and keep the grade based on the numbers. There is nothing personal about the grade. You can adore a student but if they don’t turn in any assignments, they are going to fail. I am clear and concise about my grading system. It is by the numbers and that is that. Yet, many parents and students think the grade is merely a suggestion and is up for negotiation. They will bribe you, harass you and even blackmail you to get you to change a grade. That is when a teacher goes from being a person they revere to a second class citizen who works for them because they pay taxes. We will be accused of conspiring with other teachers to decide a student’s grades. We are accused of giving a test on materials that were never discussed in class. I mean how horrible is it that a teacher would put biography questions on a test, an open note test, given right after the class watches a documentary on an artist. Reprehensible!!!! Your child got a B when they wanted an A. Well, brand me a witch and burn me at the stake.
I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of others. Maybe I achieved that goal, I’m not sure. But I didn’t get into this job to be treated with such disrespect; to be burned at the stake. As a teacher, I have no rights. I am not allowed to have a bad day–that makes me a bad role model. I am not allowed to stand up for myself or speak my mind for risk of offending someone or having a parent sue me for causing their child mental distress because they didn’t get the grade they wanted. A grade is earned, not given. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. My thoughts and feelings don’t matter. I am not a human being. I am a robot that parents will scream at, telling me I ruined their child’s life because they got a B. I am not supposed to have hurt feelings or take the horrible things said about me on Facebook or Rate My Teachers.com personally. If I did such things to a student, I would be fired and sued for harassment. They can say or write whatever horrible things they want about me and my colleagues and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
As a teacher, I am not supposed to be a human being with a life of my own. My personal life ceases to be personal and can apparently be used against me in a parent/teacher conference. A parent can walk into a meeting with a file of information on my personal life and there is nothing I can do. I am a human being. I am not perfect. I don’t deserved to be treated the way I am treated just because I want to teach your child about photography. My personal life is my personal life and has nothing to do with your child’s grade. I have had students cyberstalk me and even go as far as to cyberstalk someone I was dating. I am told to just suck it up, get used to it, grow thicker skin because this is what comes with the job.
Just yesterday, I had a freshman interviewing me for a class project. He asked me if I had ever been bullied or intimidated. I was thinking of my own experience as a student so I answered no. But now, sitting here, I realize that I was wrong. I am bullied, harassed and intimidated practically every day. We tell the students that they need to talk to an adult if they are being bullied but as adults, as teachers, who do we turn to? Who do we go to when we can’t take it anymore? Can teachers file harassment charges against students and parents or is that just another right we have to give up the minute we walk into the classroom?
Was becoming a teacher worth it?