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Is Anybody Out There?

This week, SJTA posted a link to an important report from Linda Darling Hammond at the CTC.

In short, it said what you probably already know: California teachers lead the way in stress. Only 38% of the teachers surveyed indicated that they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, down from 62% in 2008. Additionally, 52% reported that they were under “great stress” at least several days a week, and that number climbs to 59% when it only includes elementary teachers- a significant increase from 35% in an 1985 survey.

The report lays out the obvious factors: decreasing salaries; a culture that blames teachers for the myriad problems our students encounter and deficits that they cannot seem to overcome; skyrocketing instances of school violence; decreasing participation in some parent communities; and abrogation of the responsibility of our society to help the poor, heal the sick, shelter the vulnerable.

What the report doesn’t do is tell us how to cope. It ends on a very uncertain note, a quote from an LA middle school teacher, who says, “We don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know where the profession is headed.” That sums it up well. We don’t know what’s coming next, what attacks will be leveled at us, what political juggernaut will spend its vast wealth to ensure that political might trumps our education, training, and common sense.

Teachers ask me, “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to cope with this?”

My advice in my younger days was two-fold: hobbies and happy hour. My advice is a little more nuanced these days: What would you tell your students?

Personally, I would tell my students to be the best they can be in that very moment, because that very moment is the only thing that is certain. I would remind them that even the things we think we can count on sometimes slip away, and therefore the fear of the unknown is simply the fear of living, and nothing is worth that waste of our precious energy.

I would tell my kids to ignore the cliché of living each moment as if it’s your last, because that’s ridiculous. Sometimes we need to go to the dentist instead of maxing out our credit cards on fantasy trips to see the penguins in Antarctica. (Okay, maybe that’s just my fantasy.) Most importantly, I would tell my students that each moment is a gift, and urge them not to give it away wondering what the next moment will bring, in either misery or joy.

I would then tell them to hold on tight to what they love. Some days I dearly miss the classroom because I love the act of a community in the concert of learning, and nowhere is that more evident than with children and young adults. These days, though, I am sustained by smaller victories, smaller moments that mean a great deal to someone else: a reversal of an improper discipline notice; the answer to a question that brings someone piece of mind; crafting contract language that is going to make someone’s job just a little easier.

We have a tremendous advantage over many people in this world in that we do what we love every day. While that may not stem the misery that comes from being openly attacked in our profession by people who don’t have the stamina, the compassion, or the ability to shape the future in the classroom, sometimes it has to be enough.

Of course, there’s always happy hour.


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