Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Phillip Done,

Dear Phillip Done,
       Thank you for writing the truth about teaching. Thank you for telling the good and the bad. Thank you for being honest. Most of all, thank you for not telling me how to be a good teacher, but showing me how to be a good teacher.
       Your first book, 30 Third Graders and a Classroom Bunny came to me at a time when I most needed it. Let me back up a little first. Everything clicked when I decided to become a teacher. I remember it completely. I was at Umass Dartmouth as an English major suffering with the idea that when I was done, I would be an English? Didn't make sense. As I was walking the long sidewalk from the campus to the dorms, it just came to me. I should be a teacher. That what I am suppose to be. Two colleges and a year later, I had my first day in a classroom. It was perfect. One day in a fifth grade in Westfield. I loved it. I love working with the kids, I loved teaching them, I loved being in a school. I was hooked. From then to the end of college, I was happiest in the classroom. Third grade, first grade, fifth grade. I loved it all. I loved writing lessons, coming up new and exciting things to do. I even loved teaching from the book. Didn't matter. I was happy.
    When I graduated in January, I was ready to go. Nearly 10 interviews later, I was close, so close, this close, but not a teacher. Everyone in MA told me I was fantastic, just not enough experience. So when the opportunity to try to teach in Florida came up, I applied to a charter school and expected nothing. Four days later I was hired over the phone to teach second grade. I remember being at my friend's house, since it was close to work at the time, nearly in shock. I had a job, and now I was moving 2,000 miles to get there.
        A month later, it's real. I'm in Port St.John, no where near home and I'm teaching. It was like nothing I expected. It was so much harder than I thought and I cried every day on the way home. What the hell was I doing? That first weekend, I went to the Cocoa Beach Library to find some Ed books and I found 30 3rd Graders. It was unbelievable. Here I was thinking I was doing everything wrong and here was a fantastic teacher, doing the same things I was doing. Here was great advice that I could use that was not all about theory, psychology, and all that other stuff. You were a real teacher, with real kids, with real problems and accomplishments that happen to me too.
         The best advice was when it was just too much to teach. The day a spider got into the room, I knew better than to keep trying to teach. We went outside to visit other spiders. When Meet the Teacher night came, I remembered to be prepared. When the students asked me at 22 if I was 40, I knew I was not the only one. I felt like our classrooms were very similar as were my feelings for teaching.
    Recently, I came to discover you have a new book out. I was beyond excited. I often wondered if you were facing the things I was facing like standardized tests and politicians. Close Encounters of the Third Grade kind was in no store here in Orlando, so I figured I would order it online after my vacation. A trip to San Francisco and I remembered that is where you were from and maybe the Borders in Union Square would have it. It was like finding gold when your book was on the shelf. I instantly started reading it and now I'm halfway through. Which brings me to now and maybe you can help me here because halfway through your second book, I feel nothing like I did before.
       I left the Charter School after my second year because I was tired of living in fear of being fired, I wanted insurance, I wanted a school with a cafeteria, a nurse and walls. I wanted to go into public schools with their fancy school libraries and more than one teacher per grade. It took a while but I got my dream job in Celebration. The school I have always, always wanted to teach in. Celebration is a dream community. Something, literally, out of a Disney movie. It was hard,  but it was awesome. The parents were tough, but always there for me. The standards were high, but there was always someone there to help. It was a great run until about April. Budget cuts and I was the last one in, the first to go. I was devastated. I had what I always wanted and now they told me I had to go. I had another job soon,  but it was the same.
     Now I'm at a brand new school. I spent last school year teaching 6th grade language arts, which wasn't for me, but I didn't completely hate. I've spent my fifth year teaching, teaching 4th grade with all the Special Needs kids. Which brings me to today and to what I'm hoping you can help me with.
     I don't feel that happiness anymore. I'm sure you feel it somewhat in California, but here in Florida it is hard to be a teacher. When did I become the villain? When did the idea of a teacher go from the man or woman who believed in your child, you helped your son or daughter reach for new heights, open up a little more of the world. When did we become these lazy, unionized, idiots who do not do anything and do not meet the needs of your student? When did we go from reading books to sitting filing our nails? And for God's sake, when did we become so high paid that it became a problem? I don't know about you, but my salary is nothing to brag about. Pool men make more money than I do. Here in Florida, the new governor has passed back to back laws taking our pension, taking away tenure and instituting merit pay. It's test, test, test. Data, data, data. I give more tests than ever. I rush through curriculum to stay on the county timelines. I am pushed to teach just like everyone else. I don't have time for projects, fun stuff. I don't have money to buy supplies. I have a revolving door  of students and laundry list of things I have to do every day. I keep data and have to explain over and over why this one students got this one score on this one test. I hate what I do.
    Am I alone in feeling this? Is the world against teachers now or is it my corner of the world in my corner of the school? Is this what they talked about when they told my first education class that most of us wouldn't make it past the first five years? I love the overall idea of teaching, I drowning in everything else. Every now and again, I feel a glimmer of what use to be there. When something sticks with a student, or they discover something new, or they all fight over the same book we read in class. But those moments are so few and far between they don't drive me anymore. I'm burnt out, tired and here I'm not alone. I know many teachers who feel the way I feel. Does it get better or have you never been where I am now? I know this is a lot to ask a stranger, but it almost feels like I'm asking a mentor. I turned to you when things were tough then and I guess I'm looking for answers now.
    I hope this wasn't presumptuous. I hope it wasn't incredibly boring and a waste of your time. I hope you aren't staring in amazement not understanding anything I say. Most of all, I hope that you don't feel like I do. Thank you for writing, thank you for teaching and thank you for everything you've done for teachers.


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