Getting Credit

Credit cards advertisements really are a study in tremendous irony.  They almost ubiquitously vaunt the amount of freedom that their card will give the cardholder.

Which is hilarious and ironic to anyone who ever had to swear off credit cards because they were an absolute albatross around ones neck.

The thing any 18 year old freshman college student who wants a way to buy a pizza at any time doesn’t understand is that most credit these days are tantamount to usury, which is a fancy way of saying that credit card companies are robber barons in disguise.

And the cleverest of robber barons they are, robber barons with Harvard degrees in marketing which is the business world’s equivalent to psychology because they know more about how peoples brains work than most 18-year old freshman excited about unlimited pizza delivered to their dorm would suspect.

I have heard the lottery tickets are a tax on people who are bad at math, and I would suggest that credit cards offering freedom are somewhat in the same vein.

But I digress, because it wasn’t credit cards that inspire this.  It is a story.  A story of my first year of teaching. The backstory of this is that while I was going to the university to get my post-bac certification to teach, I was paired with another teacher who was considered a “Master Teacher”.  Master teacher was indeed effective at her job.  Rather amazingly so.  However, to this day I am not sure if she had a soul at all.

I concluded this because at about the same time as she had bought a cake for me for my 30th birthday, a colleague in the same program stopped me in the parking lot.  We chatted a bit about our teaching at the high school, she asked me how its going.  She also proceeded to tell me that she felt really bad because she had overheard my “Master Teacher” boasting about how she ruthlessly flunked teacher candidates and she was just about to flunk another one.

Yes, that one was me.

I wanted to not believe this, because I was trying very, very hard in this program, working 2 jobs to pay rent and survive, teaching at the university, taking classes and also doing student teaching.  My days started at about 6 am and ended at 11:30pm when I finished closing up the computer lab where I worked.  In between was a steady schedule of teaching, homework, observing teachers and taking classes. When I wasn’t working at the computer lab, I had a rather degrading job as a hostess at a fish restaurant where my boss assured me I couldn’t handle being waitstaff.  In retrospect, I realize it was only sheer focus on my goals with a smidge of desperation that kept me there.  It was among the most stressful times of my life.

Master Teacher was really tough, there was no real mentoring going on, it was mainly “do this,” “you did it wrong,” but not much instruction on what her expectations were, which scared me to death, because the university is expensive.  I was not to speak in class, she wouldn’t permit me to use the copier at the school, and there was no direct instruction about the role she expected me to take in her class.

It was hard, but I was used to hard things.  After all, I had spent a couple years in Russia with the Peace Corps, hard was not new.  At the end of the day, the advisor of my program switched me to another teacher, and I would never recommend that Ed. program to anyone, even if they did give me a fellowship. is only relevant because I got a stellar teaching job at one of the highest paid high schools in the state.  And at the end of the school year, my first year teaching in public school, my students pitched in to buy me 2 dozen long-stemmed red roses to show their gratitude.

As I sat at my desk after the last day of my first year of public school teaching, dwarfed by this vase of enormous roses, I knew that the appreciation I had just received had been out of pure graciousness of these students.  Because a first year teacher is seldom at their very best, at the top of their learning curve, yes, but fully showing their capacity, not yet.

I dearly loved those students, because they were my firsts, because the year presented so many challenges, because they made me laugh so often with their clevernesses, because they were so gracious, but I still didn’t feel like a single thing I did merited the response they gave me.

Perhaps the best part of those roses was returning to a program that I was involved in that was directed by my former “Master Teacher” and being asked by a colleague “How did your first year teaching go?” and not realizing Master Teacher was nearby, I tried to think of something positive to say about this very difficult year, finally telling my colleague “…but must have gone ok because my students bought me 2 dozen long-stemmed red roses to show their appreciation”  I turned around to see my former mentor teacher looking like she had just gagged on a walnut and I realized that she had overheard.  Then I realized how it must have hit her, after her certainty that I was a flunk of a teacher.  And yes, it felt a little good.  Okay, maybe a lot good. assembled events bring a smile.  Primarily because from that particular experience I learned that receiving credit, gratitude, being lauded with awards and certificates and merit often in life does not line up with the level of achievement or effort we have put forth.  It would be nice if it did, but it hasn’t been my experience.  There is the messiness of politics and things that happen outside our work lives (to which I attribute the caustic response of my “Master Teacher”).  Sometimes the small things are overly appreciated, sometimes the big things are barely registered or go unnoticed, despite (Herculean) effort. thought makes it easier to tolerate feeling overlooked, passed over or generally taken for granted.  The effort was put forth not necessarily because we wanted to be heaped with awards and recognitions (though it never hurts), but because we chose to do that job.  Knowing also that ultimately one is only as stuck as one chooses to be.

An aside to this is that teachers often deserve much more appreciation than they receive.  I am not sure if anyone who teaches with children lovingly can be over-appreciated.  Particularly at this time of year as they have pushed the year off to a start, every time I enter an elementary classroom and see the huge amount of effort the teacher has put into making a good place for kids, I am surprised that so many can stand in criticism of teachers. In fact, parent conferences often strike fear into the hearts of teachers because of the seemingly culturally endorsed view that teachers are rightfully in the cross-hairs for scrutiny.  Although, yes, I have met the teachers who are checked out, burnt out or otherwise overwhelmed, however in our nook it isn’t the norm.

Speaking of our little nook and teacher appreciation, just this week our Superintendent of schools spoke out against a discouragingly problematic program in the state when the balance of high-level school administrators in our state refused to comment on the record.  Props to Kym Esparza-Le Blanc for being a courageous voice! Soto

Two years ago happened the most gleaming example of teachers showing their true colors, those teachers at Sandy Hook who took bullets to save their young students.  Sandy Hook teachers’ sacrifice offer a humbling level of dedication to their job.  I won’t say anything about the fact that a large number of those teachers were young women, not the demographic the media typically associates with outstanding success or heroism.

Appreciate good teachers and administrators.  Often times they are the very people working behind the scenes in children’s lives to make big differences in our communities.

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