Eyre Affairs

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Location: New York, United States

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"It seems her career there was very honourable: from a pupil, she became a teacher, like yourself..." ~ Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre begins her career as a teacher, but we all know she does not end her career in the capacity of a teacher. I always knew that I would not retire a teacher and have vocalized this fact. The most influential people in my life are renaissance people who have had multi-faceted careers based on their passions.

Passion is a motif that I try to teach my students each day through characters and text; I work to ignite passion each day, whether I am working to have a student form a passionate opinion or encouraging students to choose paths that best suits their passions.

Unfortunately, someone is failing the lesson, and it is me.

It is quite easy to romanticize the life of an English teacher. Perhaps there are the visions of a woman wearing glasses with a pencil stuck in her hair, tying her bun together. Perhaps there are images of a woman who is reading Shakespeare in front of a classroom with students actively participating and caring about the plot of the play. The woman comes to work in the morning to a bright and sunny room with portraits of Steinbeck and Stein on the walls, and the students enter the classroom polite and eager to learn. Field trips are arranged to museums and theatre. Hallways are filled with positive energy and camaraderie amongst students. Conversation is active, smiles are abundant, and the teacher is met with constant support by her administrators. In her free time she reads and goes to see a play. Her summers off are spent at the beach, and she takes vacations during the school's recess for President's Week.

I invite you for a moment to take off the rose-colored glasses for a glimpse of what the truth is in my classroom. In my heart I believe that there are actual English teachers like the one I just described, but they are so few and far between; a dying breed. I am not speaking for all in this post, but I am speaking for many.

The truth is that my students are apathetic to literature. This generation is the television an video game generation; they don't know how to sit down and read because their parents handed them a remote control instead of a book. There is no camaraderie in the hallways; my district has a task force now for gang awareness. Even if there were no gangs, there would be no socializing because students have headphones in their ears from their IPODS. For those that do fraternize, their language makes one think one is in a gutter and not in a place of academia. Now that tracking has been dismantled, self-contained classes cut because of budget issues, and inclusion classrooms are not being set up properly to succeed, I spend a good deal of the period being a disciplinarian and not teaching. I don't trust my students enough to take them on a field trip. Many of the parents in this community are just as disrespectful and impolite as their children are. The physical conditions in my building are abysmal; I joined the Health and Safety committee this year in hopes to make changes, but I was met with excuses and bureaucracy. I work summers because my salary is not enough to carry me through the two months I am off.

I am not complaining. I am merely stating facts. After six years of teaching, I have a sixth sense that this profession is not making me feel professional. I teach about passion, but lately I feel as though I don't practice what I teach.

I have become dispassionate about teaching.

There are pockets here and there that I still love, but it is not enough to make me stay here for much longer. Guilt tends to surface here and there in my mind, but I know myself well enough to know that whatever path I choose, it will involve either giving to others or educating others.

I sat in Fourbucks during lunch and stirred my coffee as swirls of ideas about career paths went through my head. I have been collecting ads and addresses to send my resume to, all of which are enticing: MOMA, Random House, the AGBU, the History Channel. The best part about all of this is I have so many options because of what being a teacher entails. If I can do teach high school English for six years, I can do just about anything. I have all the time in the world to search, and the idea of the process excites me.

So I take the grave away from the "e" in resume and see the word resume.

As in, resume a path in my life that is a path filled with passion.


Anonymous Ariella said...

I am so sorry to see you write this. I was always really passionate about school, and my high school teachers were the ones who really inspired me and pushed me towards embracing that passion. I'm not implying that you're not passionate, but I AM sad that these kids don't feel the same passion that I did.

Sometimes I feel as though high school is a double-edged sword. I wasn't popular. I was chubby. I had bad skin. I read a lot. I had family issues. In short, I wouldn't repeat high school ever again because it was a terrible experience. And yet, out of that experience, I was able to really LEARN about literature and to begin to appreciate poetry.

I sometimes wonder whether the bad social experience I had was what enabled me to really appreciate the good educational experience I had. Sometimes I think about teaching, but the reasons you cited above -- student apathy, parental irresponsibility, bureaucracy -- are what keep me from trying to get my Masters in Education. I know myself, and I don't think I would be able to remain civil in front of a group of kids who don't care enough about their future (or literature) to really learn.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Clearlykels said...

I think that passion is important. Teaching is something that you can always come back to and it does give you so many skills. Good luck in your search. I'll be sending good thoughts your way.

3:37 PM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

Ariella ~ Thank you for your kind and helpful words. Indeed, I am sad, too. I put so much into this, and I had the same teachers as you did, and that is why I chose this path: to give what they gave me. Its hard creating lessons I think are awesome and then the kids don't want to put any effort into it at all. I did an entire lesson on bullfights when I taught Hemingway, footage and all, and many of them talked during it. Unreal, right?

Kels ~ Thank you, as always, for being so supportive. A big hug to Sparky; I hope he is feeling better, the poor baby. You know, if only the science part of my brain worked, I would have become a Veteranary Medicine! ;)

5:02 PM  
Blogger work in progress said...

Following your passion is not always an easy thing. Stepping out of your comfort zone is very difficult, and I commend you for doing so.

It saddens me that someone as passionate as you is going to be lost to the education system. Sadly, you cannot be a parent (and by that I mean set good examples and them live by them) to all the souls that come through your classroom, and I can only imagine how trying that is.

There is hope. In our home we don't have cable TV, or IPODS, or video game systems. We take the kids outside to play often, and we designate an hour a day to reading time. I'm sure (at least I hope) there are more of us trying to buck the technology trend, and teach our kids to live life, not watch it take place in a video game or on television. You have to follow your passion, but I believe that your school will suffer a huge loss when your passion dissapears from the premisis.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Thanks for the little umph I needed to get my resume back out there...

I had withdrawn for awhile and your post reminded me that when your passion is no longer there, it's time to move on...

9:27 AM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

WIP ~ Thank you for your kind words; they are so appreciated. I know there are so many teachers who leave within five years because, as passionate as we are, there is a lack of support from the administration and parents. The irony is that even though I am in the comfort zone, I am very uncomfortable being here.

Heather ~ I am glad the post gave you an umph.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Charlie Mc said...

Tiny A should follow her dreams. I am sure whatever they are, they will come true....

11:32 AM  
Blogger Madfoot said...

I love the semantic trick of taking the accent out and seeing it as "resume." Well done, m'lady.

But as to your larger point, doesn't every generation think "kids today" are hopeless? Maybe I am being a Pollyanna, but I have to hope there are challenges with every generation, and this one will find its way as mine and yours did.

The students will be the poorer for losing you, but I am excited for you on your journey. MoMA! Imagine! (Then you would live here, right??)

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

This is so sad. I hear it all the time. I have a good friend who teaches in the Bronx and my brother who once taught in inner-city Detroit just quit after several years of struggling with this decision; do I try to save just one kid, or do I throw my hands up in frustration and kind of toss in the towel on the whole thing. It is a tough thing; to quit one's job when it is so intricately intertwined with young lives.

"You have to look out for yourself" is what people say and that sounds so ugly and, well, selfish doesn't it? But it's true--what kind of a teacher can you be when you are filled with self-doubt, resentment toward your fellow staff-members and the parents of these poor kids? When you have virtually NO support you must move on. It is a very difficult realization--but once more teachers start making it and get out and the country really starts to feel the burn from what these awful parents and terrible school systems have started--it's not until then that change will start to happen.

Unfortunately you are among many many causalities of a mismanaged system.

12:06 PM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

Chaz ~ Its a good feeling knowing that you are always so supportive of me; I can't thank you enough for that.

Sweet Coz ~ I am a Pollyanna deep down, too. I have hope in the kids but have lost all hope in in the system. As for the living sitch...well...I can always do the LIRR! ;)

Lynn ~ You said all of this so elequently and truthfully. You are right: within another year or two, I would be helping no one if I stayed and burned out. Thank you so much for reminding me of that,too.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

This post makes me sad, also. I think I'm quite a few years old older than you, but I think our perception of youth at every generation is pretty universal - a little more apathetic, a little more rebelious, less eager to learn - with every generation.
It also makes me sad to think that teachers with your passion and commitment will fall away because of lack of support from parents, administrators, etc. I have a daughter in high school and thank God for the teachers who care.
I don't know if this will help, but it got me through many frustrating years of youth ministry...there's a Biblical reference to a person's growth that you can apply to any walk of life. It says that some of us are planters, some of us water and some harvest. We may not know where we are in the process of, in your case, igniting a passion for learning in today's youth, and we may never know. We may never see the fruit of our hard work. Kids pick up so much information, values, and passions on their own journey, and we're never really sure what they're absorbing. We just have to be satisfied with the fact that we did our part to the best of our ability and trust that they are gleaning what we are trying to share, even if the fruit comes later.
Sorry to ramble, I've just so been there.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Pukk said...

A ~

I can only imagine how hard it is to leave a profession, especially one that you love and had such high hopes for. Perhaps looking at it this way would be useful - it was once a dream (teaching, English in particular) and the fact is, you made it reality, even if it might have become less than what you wanted it to be towards the end. Well guess what, now if you want to, you can pursue another dream! Few people get to do that, much less have the guts to if they got the chance...

In terms of teaching, English in particular, I can only speak from the perspective of a student. And two things come to mind immediately. My best teachers were the onese that were the most passionate about their subjects. Some of my worst teachers were the one's who were a) not passionate at all or b) just wanted the students to think they (the teacher) were cool/wanted to please everyone. I think its pretty obvious you belong to the passionate group of teachers and it will be a big loss to education if you leave. Unfortunately I think public education is going down the drain mostly because of bureacracy (and unions) and also because parents don't get positively involved. It's sad, but that's reality - hopefully someone fixes this soon, otherwise it will have much more serious national ramfications.

The bottom line is that you clearly care about what you do and how you do it. And I'm sure that it would serve you well wherever you took that hard work and good attitude to. And whoever that lucky person was you worked for or with should be darned thankful for it too!

Good luck - I can't recommend one profession over another, but I know it's one of the toughest decisions you can make...

8:18 PM  
Blogger ThursdayNext said...

Steph ~ I love the reference you gave. I feel confident that I have done the best I could for my students, and the analogy of the harvest is true. I know that one day I will be teaching all over again when I become a mother, and your daughter is very fortunate to have you as a mother. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Pukk~ I can't thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule this week to comment. I wanted your advice before you left, and I appreciate that gift. As usual, I take your words of wisdom to heart. Because you have been right there, your thoughts resonate with me most. I am quite conflicted, but I think its time to take a new path. And yes, I am very much excited about making a new dream come true. I remember writing in a journal that I "wanted O--------" when I first interviewed there. I don't reget it for a moment; look at the good to come out of it. Now I want something else...and, well, I am going to get it! :)

10:02 PM  
Blogger Night Flier said...

We should all live with such passion in our careers and every aspect of our lives. I am excited for you as you follow your inner passion! You Go Girl!

11:42 PM  
Blogger afromabq said...

wow tiny, i'm almost at a loss.

although, i can tell you from being a friend of a teacher, she finally made a change by going back to school and getting her credentials so that she can now start applying for principal positions. i know this is very different from what you might want to pursue, but sometimes you just need to go for it. good luck. i agree w/charlie....they'll come true because you not only know yourself, you believe in yourself.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

I was a teacher, Iloved it. I enjoyed it most of the time. I really am not sure kids are all that different than when I was in high school. Maybe just different distractions. Circumstances and other things had me wind up being a cop instead of teacher - strange huh?

Anyways sometimes we loose our patience in what we do, or maybe our drive or passion. I guess one of the reasons I ended up doing my job I am doing now.

11:11 AM  
Blogger beachgirl said...

TN- I don't know if I can add to the beautiful sentiments already posted, but my I always loved my English teachers, especially ones like you that inspired me to love literature. I cannot imagine how hard it is for you in these times, but you have a beautiful gift to share and maybe if you only reach one child out of many, your journey will be well worth it... hang in there!

2:33 PM  

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