Chicago Public Schools teacher asks: is good teaching attainable every day?

Today was a good teaching day.  I don’t think I did anything extraordinary.  I did my job.

In AP English Language, we’re studying the effect emotions have on our decision-making process.  It takes me HOURS to plan lessons students value. And when I’m teaching–BAM! I know it was worth it. But I’m drained. I have sixty personal essays that just got turned in, a school paper to put out in the next few days, grades to enter before the next administrative review.  Lots of teachers, I’m hearing, feel just as overwhelmed by all the increasing demands.

Teachers work in a context where conversations with bosses focus on the amount of grades entered—not on what’s actually graded.  Compliance competes with planning which completes with teaching and the supposed collaboration we’re supposed to find time to do so we can support students academically as well as emotionally—and build relationships with parents and community members.

At the end of the day in my twentieth teaching year, I question myself, “Can I do this until I retire?”

Still, I’m in a teaching groove I haven’t felt since 2008.

Today, we started by debriefing a homework assignment about emotional intelligence where we explored the difference between motivation and manipulation.  How do we tell the difference?

One student said, “We need to think ahead and we don’t always do that.  We need to think about the effects of doing what we’re being pushed to do.”

Another student said, “We need to see if the other person gets more out of it than we do.”

Most students agreed: teachers motivate more than manipulate.  Others said some teachers worry more about making themselves look good.

We took an ol’ school vocabulary quiz based on the homework (that I made up) so students now know what “Machavellian tendencies” and “nuance” mean.  Overconfidence resulted in lots of Cs and Ds.  They aced last week’s quiz.  They didn’t prepare for this one.  It’s a learning experience.

Then, I had a good time hearing about the nuances that the new Facebook emojis carry.  Students said the “Wow” emoji has three meanings:

Wow! Means you’re shocked by the post.

Wow. Means you don’t see why this is important.

Wowwwwww is sarcastic.

The high point of our 100-minute block class (I love block schedule) focused on students assessing their emotional responses to the democratic candidates’ two-minute introductions.

Using the new Facebook emojis, students overwhelming “Love” Bernie Sanders for calling out corruption and mentioning the unemployment rate of African Americans and Latinos.  Lots of students “Like” Hillary Clinton.  But a few felt “Angry” toward her for sounding cavalier about minority issues.

Martin O’Malley gained lots of “Likes” and a few “Yays” for mentioning the need to address a low minimum wage.  Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb got lots of “Wows.”

Next class, we’ll do a close reading using the transcript so students can determine the emotional hooks that generated their reactions.

This was good teaching—no, I’ll say it—it was GREAT teaching.  It took me a few hours last night to prep everything so all the pieces today flowed smoothly, flawlessly.  No regrets.  BAM!  It was worth it.

While I do recycle lessons each year, I must also take advantage of helping students make real-world connections.  Teaching is about self-improvement.

This is what I expect of myself every day and what students deserve.  After all, interacting with students is the best part of my job.

But I cannot keep working like this until I’m old enough to retire.

Have we hit a point where good teaching every day is simply unattainable without personal sacrifice?

In order to be more than “basic” teachers have to sacrifice family time and our own dreams because we’re exhausted or overwhelmed.  And so much of good teaching has become centered on compliance: entering grades, submitting paperwork, doing things that can be easily checked off.

High compliance and accountability encourage a short-sighted view of success.

And it’s not because of Common Core.  Today’s lesson is grounded in a timeless question: how do emotions affect our decision-making process?

Maybe I’m being too emotional in my decision-making process tonight.  That’s OK.  We need to trust what we feel.

Despite today’s success, tonight I want to find out how I get the job reading the traffic reports on the radio.

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