When I was struggling to make ends meet, I was a public school teacher. I had never worked harder at any other job in my life, except for being a mother. I spent long, tireless hours developing projects, doing extensive lesson plans, gathering materials and hanging large art shows in schools and malls. On average, I worked anywhere from 50 to 75 hours a week and only made $1,800 a month at my peak stage. Yes, I influenced lots of kids, put them on the right track and made a “difference.” I also learned what butter on toast with beans tasted like. Tuna became a main staple as well. Happy Meals were pretty fun to go get and they were inexpensive. Yes, I took my own daughter to McDonald’s. She loved it.
What I tried to impart to my students was that I was not responsible for their grade. They would always look at me perplexed. At the end of each year I was told that I was the most fun and fair teacher they has ever had. In the interim, it was a long and nasty road. I let them “contract” for their own grades. If they performed all duties and took their time with the desired project, they got an A. They could “contract” for that A. They could also contract for a B. if they just didn’t want to put in that “over the top” attitude into their project and simply comply with the basic model, they would receive a B. Each one of my projects had “steps.” For instance, when there was a clay project, they would have to form the piece, paint and glaze it. According to how they made the actual piece, painted, designed it and glazed it, I would allow them to choose their grade. I’d ask them why they felt their grade should be an A, because that’s what most of them chose. Of course, many fell below the actual A mark. The kids were also informed that if they touched or damaged any other child’s work in the class, they would receive an F for that project. Of course, there was always one that would rip, spit or spray paint on someone’s project. I believe that happened only to see if I would provide the fatal mark. I did.
I also had “table captains.” Once a week, one child would be put in charge of obtaining supplies for “his” table and executing “clean-up.” You would be astounded at how many children did not want to be a table captain. They’d rather take orders. others, wanted to be in charge constantly and were told they would eventually “get their turn.” This went well for many years. Only when there were two very bossy kids at one table, did I have a problem.
I suppose that I am writing all of this to let folks know that being a student in a classroom prepares you for much more than learning a subject. It teaches you how to get along, and what your placement will be in life. Children that wanted to be a part of what the others would be doing would watch for a bit, then chime in, pretending to be something or someone the group would accept. These were children who were adaptable and easy to get along with. If I saw a child being “picked on,” I never allowed that behavior. I would give a sermon on how it would feel if that was YOU. I also included the outcast in handing out supplies, helping other students, and basically, filtering him back into the game.
I was an excellent teacher, and sometimes, I miss it.