By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
First week of June 1998
I estimate that I've spent close to $1,000 out of pocket this year on materials for my students and the classroom. My school gave me $300 to order supplies I needed, but that went instantly. Teacher stuff doesn't come cheap. I've managed to scrounge some materials, and Mrs. Roberts generously donates some of the things I need, but anything I want beyond the most basic resources, I must pay for myself. I buy art supplies, markers, posters, games, math manipulatives, stickers, prizes, books, crayons (every student is allotted two boxes of eight crayons each per year; by the time I break down and chuck out $30 for a new class set, their old ones are broken nubs). When I'm stuck for lessons, I go straight out and buy a book.
But it all makes me wonder. What other profession requires employees to regularly shell out their own cash just so they can do their jobs right?
The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and I wish we had more time. We've spent a month studying the rain forest, and the students really got into it. As one of our culminating projects we created a "Save the Rain Forest" classified-ads paper of which I am quite proud -- and which addressed, to my delight, a variety of skills related to language arts, social science, art and mathematics. They even had to figure out fractions of a page!
These moments of fulfillment are priceless. They're what we're always told teaching is ultimately about. To actually see the children's accomplishments, whether on their papers or their faces, is enough to keep my hope alive that someday I'll know what I'm doing, someday I'll live up to those impossible expectations of what a teacher should be.
Last day of school 1998
We had a party today, and a little ceremony during which I presented certificates recognizing each student for a special talent or ability. A few days earlier, we'd attended the school's official awards ceremony, which pained me, because I saw how disappointed many of my qualified students were to return to class empty-handed; I could only choose two students for scholarship and two for citizenship, even though more of them deserved recognition. I wanted each of them to feel they had contributed something to our class. My 10-year-old sister designed awards far more beautiful than the school's standard issue, and I made up categories -- "for making us laugh," "for being an excellent friend," "for loving to read." I would have been overwhelmed with sentimentality if I hadn't kept thinking about how much cleaning and packing and preparing I have to do after the final bell rings at 12:55.
Today, our last, is a Monday, and the new school year begins on Wednesday. I'll have 20 new kids in just 48 hours; at least I get to keep my classroom for another two months. I don't want to let these guys go, and a lot of them want to keep me as well. "Can't you teach fourth grade, Ms. Campbell?" they've been asking for the past couple of weeks. I know I've been too much of a pushover this year, but in part it's because these kids did not require a strict disciplinary plan. I am so sorry to lose them; I am so afraid of who'll be sitting at these desks come Wednesday morning.
I hug each of them as they walk out the door.
I taught third grade for two more years after that first one, each with its own challenges. I experimented continually with different methods of classroom management, discipline and authority, trying to find a style that was both effective and fit my nature. It made me re-examine my attitudes about the teaching strategies I'd had such contempt for as a novice teacher. With experience, I gained real respect for my first-year co-teachers. Mrs. Roberts' methods, while I'll never make them my own, began to make more sense. She had found a way to teach that worked for her, as all teachers must. Her authoritarian style demanded student achievement, and I was impressed by her students' quality academic work. Even Mrs. Moore's inexcusable attack on a child's reading skills seemed, if not right, at least understandable. I'd experienced my own bouts of overwhelming frustration, had to struggle with biting back words to a self-satisfied, playful or defiant underachiever. My own style evolved as my confidence increased and I dealt with a variety of challenging children.
But despite my growing awareness and ability, I was getting tired. Gradually but steadily I lost my resolve. I was frustrated that I could never do enough, that neither the school system nor the parents seemed able to provide the resources desperately needed by so many of my kids. A great many weren't getting the extra attention and instruction that they required, and, in many cases, there was precious little I could do about it.
So I resigned. I intend this to be a one-year leave and hope to return to the classroom next year; I believe now it is where I belong. I miss the kids; I miss the feeling, however rare and fleeting, that I am both bringing something to other lives and learning more about myself. In no other context have I tried so hard -- or had my efforts count for so much.LA
*The names of teachers and students in this story have been changed.
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