You will have to bear with me, I am not a writer.
My sister and I were born together more than 35 years ago. We shared a womb, our own language, and sometimes the front seat (and for some reason an unhealthy fear of public restrooms). Perhaps different from a lot of twins, that's where many of our similarities stop.
As we grew older I thrived on science and math. Things with definite right and wrong answers. My sister developed a passion for the arts, music, and creative writing. Things with meaning and coloring outside the lines. My passions drove me to forensics and a job with the government. Hers pushed her into teaching. She chooses to be a public speaker. To change the meaning of words for 120 students every day. To share her passion and propel students into their own.
I think my sister thinks that sometimes I don’t listen to her stories, that they aren't important to me. But she doesn't need to tell me for me to understand that. Although she has been teaching for a long time, this was her most difficult year yet. It’s clear in her actions, her manifestations of anxiety. She has faced challenges and criticisms in all of the expected avenues. But this year she has seen the least thanks and support that I have ever noticed. Not only from the avenues I would expect, but the ones I didn't: parents and people in her own building.
As a former student and a new-ish parent, I never considered questioning my teachers' knowledge, ability, or opinion of me. But then, I was a "good" student. Decent to good grades, quiet, likely not all that memorable once I moved on. Sure, there were teachers I didn't like and occasional bad grades. But I never questioned that I got the grade I earned.
Teachers aren't there to baby your children, give them 100 chances and extra credit. They are there to teach and propel your children forward into becoming productive, well rounded members of an adult society. And sometimes that means giving your children the grades they earned, not the grade you believe they deserve. Did you see the number of hours Ms. C dedicated to grading the paper your student wrote in the last 20 minutes before the assignment was due? As you ask you child's teacher, "Do you have children?" as if being a parent somehow gives you the right to criticize a teacher, you should consider the question, "Are you a teacher of 120 students every day?" I'm sorry your son suffers from ADD, but his desk-mate has chronic depression. And her best friend has a parent who passed away from cancer. And that boy over there? He takes care of his 4 younger siblings at night. All of these students are important and special for their own reasons; yours isn't any different. And my sister cares for every single one of them, whether you believe it or not. Not everyone can have an exception to the rules.
Somehow we've begun to raise a generation of children that don't think they need to work hard to excel, because their parents fight their battles. They believe it's okay to bully their classmates, their parents, and their teachers. Now, that is a very negative view, I know. But this year has proven difficult to find the positives and let those instances shine over the rest.
This year, after recent school-targeted violence, I said two things to my sister I never anticipated: "I'm not comfortable with you working in a school anymore." and "If something happens to you, my life ends, too." After all the stories in the news this school year, how is it possible that there are administrations and parents that can still fathom the thought of "Oh that won't happen here." It’s already happening. With the behavior you tolerate and students you don't suspend because, well, they have feelings.
Now, this is all mostly food for thought. I won't pretend to have the answers. I'm just a person who is fed up, and I'm not even the teacher that works 60 hours a week for a paycheck that I hope can support me. I'm not sure what most teachers signed up for, but for most they have now signed up to be your child's bodyguard. That teacher you hate because they were a hardass to your child? That's the same teacher that will put his or her body between a threat and your child, regardless of the F they gave out yesterday. That teacher has a survival plan for those 120 students they commit to for 10 months each year. When you're handing out your harsh criticism and asking for extra credit so your student can get straight A's in the 7th grade (you know colleges don't see that right...?), did you think of that?
The response to all this should be to teach your children to be respectful and understanding. Not only of their peers, but of their parents, their teachers, their leaders. Everything starts with respect and hard work. And when that doesn't happen, you dole out the consequences that are deserved. Take away that phone, or those keys, or their hours dedicated to Fortnite. (WTF is that anyway?) And thank their teachers for preparing them for a world that doesn't adjust to their needs. And teach your children to respect their life and its meaning. That this is the only one you get. Don't waste it, and don't waste it for someone else either.
I took the liberty of bolding the things I thought were really important to take away from this. Working in a school can be difficult. And I'm totally a hardass a lot of the time. But I'm not a hardass because I like being a jerk. The way I work with my students - the way all teachers work with their students, even on the bad days - comes from a place of love. I love my students - even the ones I might not like. I don't wish them any ill-will. If anything, I will them so hard with my mind to find their own path to success that it's exhausting, and I pray each night that I've done my best to help them find that path. Thinking that I haven't helped these kids in my classroom fills me with intense anxiety because that would mean I'm not doing my job. I want your child to succeed. Really. And, I might add, my parents for damn sure didn't fight my battles for me. That was how I learned to fight my own. It's a little bit like Mama Bird shoving Baby Bird out of the nest. It's scary because she doesn't know if her baby will fly, but she also knows it's the only way her baby will learn.
And yes, respect is SO important. Respecting others, yes, but even more so respecting yourself. If you don't respect yourself, then how on earth can you respect the lives of others or appreciate the value of life itself? Make no mistake - those who don't value their own lives are the ones who end up taking the lives of others. So respect is built into my classroom every single day, no matter what my lesson objective is. Respect yourself and respect each other - I'm begging you.
Also important is understanding that the world does not revolve around you and your wants. As a student reminded me on a Post-it note a few months ago - Be the change you want to see in the world. You can't expect the world to change. You need to enact that change yourself. Be strong, be persistent, and find a way to do it. Find people who will help you make your vision a reality.
And please do NOT fall into the It Won't Happen Here mentality. It's beyond idiotic. Do you think Columbine thought it would happen to them? What about Sandy Hook? Virginia Tech? The students in Parkland, Florida? Of course we hope it won't happen to us, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen to us. And while I won't speak for other teachers, I will speak for myself. I will protect your child. I have a plan. In fact, I have Plan A, B, C, and D. And if someone comes into my school and I have to protect your child with my own life? Yeah, I'm going to do that. How could I live with myself if I didn't? I am responsible for your child when they are in my school, and that is something that I take seriously. I hope that my nephews' teachers feel the same way.
But, as my sister said, this is all just food for thought. These are things we need to be thinking about, and not just in the school community, but in society. It isn't just school violence that seems on the rise, but also workplace violence, or maybe just violence. It is our job as an American society to raise generation after generation to be successful. How do we do that? Where are we failing? How do we fix it? I don't have the answers either - but I sure am looking for them pretty hard. Are you?
And, hey, Sis? Turns out you're a pretty good writer (even if you don't know what an Oxford comma is). Who knew?