It's not polite to talk about money, but I'm going to tell you what I took home on last month's paycheck: a whopping $3,032.17.
For some of you, that might seem like a small fortune. For a single gal who pays $995 in rent (not to mention bills, groceries, keeping gas in the car, etc.), it's not huge. But then, I've always said that I didn't go into teaching for the monetary rewards.
In nine years of teaching (eight credentialled, one year of subbing and student teaching), I have encountered rude parents, snotty kids, assinine state regulations, bosses who make my head spin, daily frustrations caused by working for a beauracracy, unfair conditions, helicopter parents, red tape, and disasters large and small. In two years of teaching high school, I had to have an ambulence pull in front of my room twice--once for a possible overdose and another time for dangerously low blood sugar because the girl was fasting to lose weight.
Kids have lost parents. Kids have told me things that make my hair curl. I have filled out a mandated reporter form. I've been called a bitch. I've been told by a drug-addicted mom that I'm a terrible teacher because I wouldn't let several middle school kids cross a busy San Francisco street to use the City Hall bathrooms (instead telling them, "I'm sorry, you'll just have to wait 'til we get to Pier 39."). I've been lambasted for giving a "star singer" a B in choir. I've had five-year-olds wet themselves in my classroom. I've seen barf, blood, but thankfully no feces (yet--my time will come). On a regular basis I am locked into a classroom with an overactive heating system while one (or more) middle school students are in desperate need of deodorant, or Beano.
I have heard more whining, seen more tears, heard more fibs than I can count. I've contracted strep, flu, colds and upset stomachs from working with kids day in and day out. I have cried in my classroom, and I've laughed myself silly. I've yelled, I've whispered, I've sung, and I've ignored.
I spend my free time researching and writing lesson plans. I spend my personal money on books, copy paper, pens and pencils. I spend my lunch time sorting colored pencils or washing paint trays. There are days that I don't sit at all.
My time isn't my own. Have to pee? Gotta wait for break or lunch. Lunch is 40 minutes, but more like 20 by the time I get my class on their merry way, check my mailbox, go to the bathroom, etc.
I referee arguments, deal with drama, and "knock it off!" has become a permanent fixture in my vocabulary.
Why do I stay? What has made me spend nearly a decade pursuing this? Why do I put up with it and only take home $3,000 a month? Some of which I spend on stuff for my classroom?
It's not a job, teaching. I knew in high school that I wanted to be a teacher; I knew at a time when most kids are still thinking that a pro ball career or a pro singing career are in the stars for them. I never thought that--sure, I daydreamed, I secretly wished. But I knew then that I would be a teacher. A good teacher. I pursued the career because I love kids, and I love music. What could be better than putting the two together?
I deal with so much crap--it's true. And yet I'm not ready to give up on this calling. That's what it is, a calling. Not a job. A job is something you do from nine to five, then you go home. Teaching is a calling, something that consumes you. Even when I'm hanging out with friends on the weekend, I am the Teacher Lady, the childless woman who still knows a thing or two about dealing with kids.
Today, it hit me especially hard that this calling, this path I've spent a third of my life hiking, might soon be yanked away from me.
It was my last day at my "bad" school, the one where I could do nothing right. The school that tested me every day, that put me on anti-anxiety medications. I packed up my personal belongings into boxes and loaded them into my car--a decade's worth of books, resources, Snoopy stuff, posters and wall hangings. I turned in my keys and said goodbye to a few key people. Then I got in my car and bawled like a baby.
How did I get here? How did a career I love get pulled away from me? How is it possible for one person with so much hate in her to put such a dent in my calling?
I'm facing a huge, wide unknown. I have an interview with Aflac next week, to possibly sell insurance. Me! Selling insurance. I'll do it, if it keeps a roof over my head, but I am baffled that I'm here, that a good teacher who sometimes struggles, as anyone does, is contemplating selling insurance. I could have been tenured into my job, but instead, I'm looking at unemployment.
Above, I listed all the things that could make me throw up my hands and run screaming from teaching--that haven't. Because while my job is often difficult, almost always thankless, it is also wonderful.
I inspire children. I make them laugh with my silliness, and they are contrite when I call them on bad behavior. I have seen the lightbulb come on over so many heads as what I am teaching them takes hold and begins to grow.
I have provided a safe place for kids with no other place to feel safe. I have given opportunities to children with no opportunities. I have watched kids go from resentful and surly to trusting and sweet--because of music, and because of me.
Kids rush to tell me when they have good news, or to show me how well they did on an assignment or test. I have watched reluctant singers become true vocalists, and kids who can barely color in 7th grade become my best artists in 8th. I encouraged a kid who could easily lose his way when he gets to high school this fall to join the mariachi group at one of our local high schools--he had no idea the mariachi program existed until I told him, and now he's going to be part of it. I think it will keep him in high school.
I can't tell you how many "hip hugs" I've received on the playground, how many times I've heard "I love you, Miss Cooper!"--even from 8th graders!
I have known the satisfaction of seeing my beginning choir rock out to "Seasons of Love" in front of a thrilled audience, and the gratitude of students who got their choir trip to Disneyland (not all of my high school charges were so bad...). Teaching has taken me to England, where I dosed out a little bit of California Girl on my unruly charges and got them (mostly) in line within a school year. The sweetest memories I have include hearing an entire K-5 school say, "Good Morning, Miss Cooper!" at our weekly Morning Sing.
There was heartbreak in filling out that mandated reporter form--but also satisfaction in knowing that I could do something to help a little girl.
I get paid to sing the Racecar song, or "Six Little Ducks." The kindergarten teachers go on and on about how much their students love coming to music, how excited they are each week when it's time to line up and walk to the music room.
I am a good teacher--and no one can take that away from me. It breaks my heart that I might have to leave the career for a while. But I'm also hopeful that I will find my way back. The good far outweighs the bad.
Teacher Lady isn't done. I've been knocked down, yes, but I'm not out yet.