SCHOOLED! Or How My Mother Saved Me From Prison

There was a time in college when I wanted to be a teacher. I called up my mom, who had taught almost every conceivable grade and subject, in public schools and private. I thought she would be pleased. Instead she said, “Don’t do it, Ashley! It’s like being in jail. You can’t even go to the bathroom!”

My mom was a wonderful teacher. All my life, people have stopped me to ask how she is and tell me that she was their favorite teacher. Her assignments were always unusual and interesting: rather than writing a book report in eighth grade English, she had us act out a scene from the book. In seventh grade Social Studies, she had us create a board game to teach people about our assigned country. Even I enjoyed her classes, even though she would occasionally share embarrassing stories about me with my classmates.

Even more importantly, my mom took an interest in each of her students, even when other teachers had given up on them. It depressed her when she learned that some of her colleagues were counting the days until certain students turned 16 and dropped out of school. When she ran into a frustratingly unmotivated student in her Gifted program one year, she noticed he had an interest in computers, and invited a computer programmer to come and meet with the class over lunch. Suddenly he was interested and engaged.

My mom has always been my hero. So it was a bit shocking to me to hear her describe teaching as a prison sentence. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. Any day of the year I could ask her, “How many days is it until summer vacation?” and she could tell me the answer without hesitation.

After she discouraged me from going into teaching, I thought about all of the reasons why teaching (especially K-12) is such an incredibly difficult job. Aside from not being able to go to the bathroom, you have to be “on” for six or more hours a day. What other job is like that?

I think most people’s jobs are a mix of “on” and maybe “idle.” In my own job, I’m in the public eye a lot of the time: answering reference questions, finding and recommending books, helping people with computers or demonstrating databases, and performing storytimes. But there are definitely moments when I get to slouch a bit in my ergonomic chair and take a mental vacation to Fiji.

Plus my interactions with people at work are usually pretty friendly and even fun. I am not trapped in a room with 20-35 young people who would really rather be at home playing Angry Birds, and who would love nothing more than to see me screw up, if only for a laugh.

On top of watching the little dears, and ensuring they don’t start a riot or burn the school down, teachers are also supposed to actually TEACH them, and make sure they do assignments ALL DAY LONG. (I have a hard enough time making sure my seven year-old gets his two or three pages of homework done a night).

And after a whole day of constant vigilance and instruction, often followed by faculty meetings or parent conferences, teachers have to go home and grade papers and write inspiring lesson plans for the next day. No wonder my mom was counting the days until summer.

But it’s worth it right? Because like CEOs, who sit in private comfortable offices all day, often with their own bathrooms, teachers make HUGE salaries. Oh, wait! I just read in an article that 62% of U.S. teachers have to work a second job outside of the classroom to make ends meet. Hmmmm…

Why do they do it? Why did my Mom do it year after year? She must have thought it was pretty important. All I know is that I’m grateful for all of the teachers I had, and all the ones my kids will have. Especially the ones who somehow manage, in spite of the impossible demands and miniscule material rewards of the job, to inspire and motivate their students.

As for me, I’m grateful to my Mom. She dedicated her life to teaching, but kept me out of jail.


ADDENDUM:  I was of course being provocative when I said my mom kept me out of jail by dissuading me from teaching.  But on a much more serious note, teachers literally do keep their students out of jail, and make the world safer for all of us.  According to data compiled by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68% of state prison inmates in 2003 did not have a high school diploma.  And according to a 2005 study, increasing high school graduation rates by 10% would reduce murder and assault rates by about 20%, motor vehicle theft by about 13%, and arson by 8%.  So when people cut funding for education, they are essentially voting for higher crime and more prisons.  Imagine if we could turn those priorities around, while also giving teachers the support and respect they deserve.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joan Woodford
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:36:37

    Thanks Ashley for the wonderful tribute to your Mom and all teachers! God bless them for what they do!


  2. ash
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:24:18

    Thanks, Joan, and amen to that! Our future depends on teachers, and I hope they all keep doing what they do. I just wish we could show our appreciation and respect for them with higher salaries and saner teaching conditions. But for now, thank you teachers, everywhere!


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