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November 11, 2008

“It’s Good To Be A Teacher…”

Nick Diaz

Work-to-rule, teachers’ contract, planning time, Board of Education, FCTA, negotiated agreement – these topics, and more, have surfaced recently in Frederick concerning local education issues.


Apparently, the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) and the Frederick County Board of Education have been having a dispute for several months on this or that issue. Planning time seems to be the main source of contention. Teachers have designated some days for “work-to-rule” job actions.


It all makes me glad I’m no longer a Frederick County Public School (FCPS) teacher. I, for one, would not have agreed to any “work-to-rule” action. As a matter of fact, one of the best actions I took while an FCPS employee was to resign from FCTA/MSTA/NEA, back in 1992. In 1985 I defied the “work-to-rule” action called for by FCTA, and I’m certain I would have “violated” this recent call for the same.


Recently an article was passed around among teachers at the independent school where I work. This piece came out of the journal of independent schools, and its title is “Ten Reasons Why I Envy Teachers.” What a refreshing idea – someone who envies us, rather than “us” envying “them.”


It’s easy for “us” to envy “them.” After all, lots of other professions have higher earning potential than teaching does. In order for a teacher to earn a higher salary, he or she must go into the administrative ranks.


Unfortunately, the old “Peter Principle’ kicks in quite often in these cases; so many teachers who become administrators do so for the money – can’t blame them there – yet become totally incompetent as principals and supervisors, to the detriment of the students, the teachers, and the system. I’ve seen the Peter Principle at work, much too often, in educational circles.


I would have made a lousy school administrator, and I knew it early in my career; I’m glad I stayed the course and remained in the trenches. That’s where I’m happy, doing what I love to do, doing it well, and having fun while doing it.


So, what are these 10 reasons why the writer, a clinical psychologist named Michael G. Thompson, envies teachers? Some of them are pretty obvious, even to me; others, however, gave me something on which to reflect, and so I thought I’d pass them on to my readers. As space limitations keep me from listing all 10 in one article, I’ll refer to some, and leave others for future reference.


Reason #1: “Teachers Have More Fun than Other Professionals.” This is so true. At The Barnesville School, our mission, (which the Head of School – as he is called – fastidiously repeats at every meeting, and shames us into memorizing and internalizing it), is: “Providing a joyful and supportive learning environment for the development of excellence in each of us.”


Joyful! Yes, we have fun at this school; I certainly do. For one thing, we eat a lot, and laugh a lot – at the kids, at the parents, at each other – every day.


According to Mr. Thompson, “When you are a teacher, you are the audience every day for children who want to delight you and entertain you.” My sixth and eighth graders do exactly that; they delight and entertain me. In turn, I delight and entertain them, with my nicknames for them, my silly jokes, my off-the-wall comments meant to do just that – delight and entertain – while engaging them in the most serious of businesses – developing their young minds. That’s how I grab them!


Another quote from Mr. Thompson: “When you are a teacher, children are deliberately or unwittingly entertaining you all day. They want you to have fun. They like it better when you do.”


So true. I laugh too hard at my job; hard to believe I get paid a couple of bucks to laugh so much.


Reason #2: “Teachers have the ability to create a little world in their classrooms, each with its own culture, rhythms, traditions, and history.”


Winston Churchill had it right when he wrote: "Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested."


The same is true for teachers. In our own little domains, we have the ability to create ritual, ceremony, a new reality, an enduring world of meaning.


According to Mr. Thompson, “Teachers have the opportunity to create a little world, with its own symbols, that become a part of someone's entire life. How many people in other professions have that opportunity?”


Two years ago my eighth graders at Barnesville bought some spray paint, borrowed some stencils, and proceeded to inscribe my silly “sayings” all over the walls of my classroom. They even acquired permission to graffiti the room from administration, strictly on their own.


So they wrote, ‘Take your time, but hurry up,” something I always say at test time, on one wall. “Don’t work hard, work smart” on another wall. Many other “Mr. Diaz sayings” that mean something only to them and to me.


These students were celebrating the culture of our classroom. They understood it, they were one with it. I establish and nurture that culture, and it’s up to them to absorb it, incorporate and assimilate it.


I’m so privileged to be the educational leader of young people.  Nothing compares to the feeling of knowing that my occasional monosyllabic chalkboard lectures are being understood, simply because they’re part of the culture of the classroom. Questions often don’t get finished; answers are interrupted by a nod of understanding. It’s our lingo, our way of doing things.


And I set up the culture – and they’ve bought into it. What an ego trip. In what other job setting can I be so deeply influential, for the long range?


Reason #3: “Teachers Get to Be Eccentric.” Wouldn’t you like to know how eccentric many of us can be, and still keep our jobs?


This is a good place to pick up on my next laughable column.


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