Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Smashing Keyboards No More (that could be my band name!)

A friend reminded me about a keyboard I had in one of my classrooms a long time ago. He might not remember this, but it was a very special keyboard and I had four of them that I had pulled out of the garbage at our school. These were the IBM Model M keyboards that were extremely clicky, loud, heavy, and capable of taking any kind of beating. As a writer, I love those keyboards. They sound and feel just right. They were the computer-age's answer to the great feel and sound of typewriters. I was trying, as usual, to promote the feel of writing in my classroom and so I had retrieved those gorgeous beauties from the garbage and installed them on machines in my classroom.

My friend remembers one keyboard in particular because he hear the sound it made when I smashed it across a counter and sent the keys showering all over the classroom.

This was when I was a young teacher, not quite three years into the profession. Bad things were happening and soon enough I would no longer be in that classroom or even in that state. I had run afoul of an administrator. So it goes when you're young, full of yourself, and lack much of any sense of tact or courtesy. I was a know-it-all but didn't know that I was powerless in my situation. When that lesson was taught to me by the administrator, I walked back from his office, tossed a desk across the room, picked up the keyboard and smashed it to pieces. None of it made things any better.

Fifteen years later, nearly as frustrated with school as I was then, instead of smashing lovely semi-antique keyboards, I write fiery blog posts decrying the state of public schooling. The effect is about the same: lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And that makes me an idiot at least in the short term, and that's okay.

What matters is how I come out the other side. That and if I hurt any keyboards in the process. Today has been a day of crawling out from under some of this stuff. I have begun by working on a simple understanding: administrators aren't in the business of making me feel good. I wish that they were, but it's just not their job.

When I was rated an ineffective teacher, I felt insulted. That's fine, but what am I going to do with that? I mean, feeling insulted and hurt is a reaction, like feeling pain after touching a hot pan, but the thing to do after touching the hot pan is to treat the burn. I was burned by being labeled ineffective. Today was about beginning treatment and the first step was to realize that the administrators followed an equation. They put no thought into it. They did no manipulation. They didn't try to hurt me any more than they tried to help. They simply followed protocol and the rest be damned.

Once I get to understanding that, I understand a lot more about my situation. I'm not going to be getting any attaboys in this job and if that's what I'm looking for, I'm shit out of luck. The ratings system along with all the other reforms coming at teachers are not going to be changed for the better. This is the new world of education. I can fight that all I want, but like the kid at my school who punched a parking lot lamp post, I'm going end up really hurt and the new world of education will remain exactly the same. I can't change education by wishing it was different or by simply complaining. If I want to make changes, I'll need to do more.

I'm not sure I want to make changes. I might be done with schools and ready for the next adventure. Aside from the occasional broken keyboard and the dozens of angry blog posts, I've had a good life as a teacher, but the next thing might be outside of education. If so, that's great. I'll go with what feels good and right to me.

Change always happens. What I'm experiencing acutely is change. What I began realizing today is that it's not in my interests to fight it. Instead, I can move with it, accept what is happening and then determine what I want to be. Right now, I don't especially want to be a teacher. Okay, so I'll see what changes come.

Write on.