Weeks of Doom, Years of Good Fortune: Teacher Talk

The posting has certainly been light here in the past few weeks as I go through an annual ritual called the Weeks of Doom with my AP Language and Literature students. Over a four week period, those 80 students each get the experience of writing 10 timed essays while I get the pleasure of commenting on and returning each handwritten essay—overnight. It’s an incredibly stressful time for both students and their harried teacher, who is slowly coming to realize that he might be getting a little too old to grade essays at 3:00 a.m., but it’s also excellent preparation for their AP exams and college, not to mention the profits of coffee producers in the local area.

During this time of year, teaching can occasionally feel like an incredible burden, and that’s even before I read today that it’s the “most overrated”career in the United States. Tensions are high, the paper load feels unmanageable, and sleep is fleeting.  And the constant attacks on the profession from a certain political persuasion certainly don’t help.

The past few weeks, though, have also provided reminders of just how lucky I am to be involved in public education, flawed and frustrating as parts of it may be. I’m not only seeing real growth in my students’ writing; I’m hearing from former students who are continuing to do amazing things. They are a reminder that I have the obligation to do everything I can to improve their education and that I have the privilege of proudly watching them as they achieve goals they probably couldn’t have imagined when they were 17 years old, counting the minutes until my class was over.

One, a teacher,  just had a beautiful baby girl; another just began a pilot for his own television show; a former debater is leading an incredibly professional statewide political campaign here in Montana. An incredibly talented musician is seeking funding to release her album while another is running for the state legislature here in Helena. Two have worked in health and education for the Peace Corps, while others are serving with the distinction in the armed forces.

For each of these successes that I’ve recently discovered, there are no doubt hundreds I haven’t yet heard about, but it’s a real pleasure to continue rooting for all of them. No temporary frustrations can ever diminish the good fortune I’ve had to be a small part of these amazing and evolving lives.

No sense of doom or exhaustion can ever diminish that.

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  • Attacks on teachers in this era are usually motivated by anti-unionism. Public employee unions are the largest remaining unions we have, and so are being demonized and attacked. I regard teachers as the greatest wealth creators we have, and sadly, the lowest on the monetary reward scale.

    But the other side of that coin is that, by definition, teachers are not in it for the money. That is arguable on the major campuses these days, but in the small colleges, the two year insinuation, and in primary and secondary, it is the rule.

    It’s easy, therefore, for a teacher to feel put upon. I know the long hours you work, your dedication to your kids. Anything else that comes out is generally aimed at American education in general, and not at each individual participant, least of all you.

    • What the hell are you farting about, Buttinski? You’re an idiot. You have absolutely NO idea of what you’re talking about. Teach much, didja? We had a saying in Nam, dude. If you haven’t been there, STFU! Actually, that is where the last part of that sentence originated. And you haven’t been a teacher, dude, so STFU! ONLY someone who has actually taught can understand what the profession is all about.

      For example, have you EVER sat across the table from a group of asshole farmer school board members during negotiations, and been told that you shouldn’t even be making as much as you are because the guys down at the local feed plant work harder than you and make less? THEN, you begin understand what education is all about, dude! But you ain’t been there.

      • The fact that someone was drafted and sent to Vietnam makes that person a victim, in m view. But being a soldier by definition means that you were indoctrinated and compartmentalized. For that reason, your Vietnam experience means nothing to me, and the fact that you were a soldier even less. If we had real enemies we would need soldiers to defend us. We don’t. My countary nvaded Vietnam and unleashed mighty horrors on them. You participated, so shame on you.

        Want a good laugh? Regard what Mencken had to say about soldiers.

        I am not a teacher. I do make private judgments on the personal integrity of others, as we all do. Many people who disagree with me are people of high integrity and character. You are not one of those, Kralj. Butt out.

        • Nope, your country did not invade Vietnam, so you can feel better about that, Mark! Your country send troops to an internationally recognized state to defend that state’s sovereignty. Was it a terrible state? Oh yes. Did it’s people deserve some kind of liberation from their plutocratic government. Probably. Was the defense of that state worth the what happened? No.

          But Mark, now you’re reversing your stance on sovereignty. It was clear that North Vietnam (not to mention China), even minus an actual invasion, was interfering with the sovereignty of South Vietnam through their support of forces hostile to the government, the same way the US violated Libyan sovereignty, and the same way you accuse the US of violating Syrian sovereignty. The US position in Vietnam was merely the defense of a South Vietnamese sovereignty – if an actual invasion were on the table, we might have stood a better chance of winning or at least coming to a favorable peace agreement. But it wasn’t. And if you can find a shred of evidence that the US caused more Vietnamese civilians casualties than the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces (both during and after the war), your position will be much more powerful.

          But Vietnam isn’t the main issue here, Mark. The point is, you are living entirely in the theoretical. You haven’t seen the students, you aren’t intimately familiar with the curriculum, you lack first hand experience with administrators and school boards that set policy, and therefore your opinions on education are not well informed, coming from at best secondary sources.

  • Though it may sound cliche, my High School English teacher changed my life. Specifically, one day in class, I said something stupid and hurtful about a certain subset of the population. He called me out in front of the entire class, and afterwards made me state the premises of my argument, and ripped them apart. He made me feel like shit, but he was right. I’ve since written him a letter of gratitude. When you look up to someone, and they try to understand you, as a teenager, you listen. He also pounded into all of our heads a simple way to write essays, which I used successfully in every blue book exam I ever took in college.
    -Say what you’re going to say
    -Say it
    -Say what you said
    Teachers make a difference.

    • I have a better one from a college history professor: “Say what you think. Don’t pull punches. All these people are dead, anyway.”

      — Max Bucks

  • As a Vietnam War combat veteran and someone who has taught high school and college students, I can say unequivocally that Larry and Mark are totally clueless, if not world-class lairs.

    — Max Bucks

    • Really? How so, cupcake? Maxine, methinks that it’s YOU who’s embellishing here, dude. Where and when did you serve, cutie pie? Man UP, buttercup! Hard to take a liar seriously unLESS he puts a name up there too, doncha think? Maxine, you’ve proven to be a lousy liar in the past. Now, prove up!

    • p.s. Maxine, there IS a site for dudes like you who lie about their service. It’s called Stolen Honor. Put your name up there so we can check you out! Hell, the wackos have been checking me out for years! And they get pissed when they come up with nothing!

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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