After work on this beautiful Monday, I came home and wanted nothing more than to relax and unwind. Instead, I began to peruse my computer files for an academic paper I may be able to publish for my own vain writer’s interest, and I stumbled across two things — the first was a terrifying insight into the inner chaos that is my mind, and the second is a poem…which, as it turns out, offered a strange and terrifying look into the innerworkings of my chaotic mind.
I read it, and remembered exactly when I wrote it: about halfway through my first year of teaching. I think you can still see the tears on the keyboard from the frustrations I felt that year, and on a Monday this late in my second school year, the words still seem to resonate with me.
Vain writer’s disclosure: I am in no way a poet. The only time I write poetry is when I’m feeling extra pretentious or when I’m feeling actual emotions…which, if you know me, is not something I admit to very often.
Without further ado, here’s the poem that allowed for a much-needed catharsis at a time of complete and utter frustration:
The badge which holds my identity is a noose around my neck –
Every ounce of creativity out of my body
Until I’m just a shell of my former self –
An empty, hollow shell.
I walk aimlessly through the halls –
Robotically greeting students and colleagues –
Sip of water – taste of metal.
Bite of food – tasteless poison.
I can feel my system shutting down.
They hand me a textbook –
They say it has all the answers.
No need to find them.
No need to discuss them.
No need to think.
No need to breathe.
They hand me a curriculum –
It’s a living document –
But there’s no need to stray.
No need to improve.
No need to create.
No need to innovate.
No need to oscillate.
They give me alphabet soup –
FSA, IEP, PLC, DP,
BLT on rye –
No, wait, that’s a sandwich.
I am definitely confident that’s a sandwich.
I’m not sure it’s a sandwich.
They make it so easy.
They make it impossible to fail.
I feel more like a failure now than I ever have before.
Is it me?
Is it them?
Does it matter?
Because it’s me.
I’m the one who takes the heat.
I’m the one who takes the blame.
They’ll take the credit.
But not the blame.
The system isn’t flawed.
If we can’t fit into the system, it’s our fault.
Not the system’s.
That’s what they tell our kids.
That’s what they tell the parents.
That’s what they tell us.
They tell me the first year’s only about survival –
Just get through it.
Next year’s better.
My ID badge breaks –
It falls from my neck,
Onto the floor.
I feel a release.
Take a deep breath.
And, there you have it — the slightly hyperbolic musings of an exhausted first year teacher. Looking back on these words makes me realize that I still feel many of these same emotions, but I also understand that I’m not the only one. It goes from the students to the teachers to the administrators to the school board to the parents and back again. The only people who don’t seem to feel the stifling nature of standardized education are the ones who actually forced us to implement it: the politicians.
I’ll refrain from going on too much of a rant, but I wanted to show you — all of you — what it feels like to be trapped inside the mind of an over-stressed, over-worked, underpaid educator. Welcome! There’s no road map and we most definitely do not have time for bathroom breaks. Enjoy the 180-day journey; survival is everything.
**feature image courtesy of Sunfest 2017 and great Instagram editing software**