Pearls before Swine

For my first few years of teaching, I treated it like a job.  In, out.  There, gone.  I didn't bake for anything; I didn't plan anything; I didn't even come to anything, except what was required by my contract.  I was frustrated at times, but it was just a job.

This year, circumstances have conspired to make me more involved.  The first and biggest were the two extra classes I took on this spring; they required that I stay at school every other day until the end of the day.  Staying at school meant I had to eat lunch there, so more often than not I was buying lunch in the cafeteria and eating at my (borrowed) desk while grading papers.  I saw more of the students, heard more complaints and excuses, commiserated with more teachers and felt more and more worn out as I tried to fill the shoes of my sick friend as well as my own.

I've also been trying to teach well, not just teach.  That means learning a new curriculum, reading and rereading books I haven't read in ten years (or had never read in the first place.)  And designing tests, quizzes and assignments that match my friend's standards (did I mention she is also Department Head?)  And making it interesting and relevant with fun side projects like Afghan food and comparative studies of the different Pride & Prejudice films.

The second thing was Green Week.  It was my idea, born out of a fit of conservationism / piety after the Pope's "New 7 Deadly Sins" proclamation last year.  From the beginning, the administration resisted almost all of my ideas: an assembly would cut out too much class time, small-group discussions would be chaotic.  They advised we come up with some creative posters and announcements, which we did.  Except, since I was now at school for announcements, I realized that students don't actually listen to them, and on my walks to and from the cafeteria I saw the futility of hanging posters in a dark hallway that is always either packed with students or unoccupied.  The contests and prizes we had set up usually went to the one or two people who had entered.  It went okay, but overall I felt it had been a lot of effort for very little payoff.  Did we affect anyone, change any minds?  I have no idea.

The school literary magazine is my third responsibility.  It has been an exercise in trust this year, because my Creative Writing class met at the same time as the AP English class I was trying to cover (yes, at the same time; no, I don't think that's legal.)  So the students largely produced the book on their own.  They did an amazing job, and several weeks ago it was time to go to press.  For the last two years, my mother-in-law's printing company has given us a discount (about an 85% discount) on the books, and we've been able to print much of them in color.  They get better every year, as I learn little layout tricks to teach the students; the students, in turn, are inspired and emboldened by the previous year's books.  This year, since the class was much smaller, we produced a smaller book, but I was hoping to have much of it in color.

Except I found out that a) my mother-in-law's printing company had fallen on hard times and would have to charge us actual rates, and b) the school was unwilling to budge an inch on the budget they had set (but never told me until then.)  So for the past three days I've been on the phone with various printing companies, wheeling and dealing to get at least a few color pages, and meanwhile looking all over for money.  Can we have a dress down day and charge the students a dollar apiece?  No.  Can we use extra money from the English department or the school newspaper?  No.  Can we order fewer copies, since we always have so many left over?  No, in fact, you really should be ordering more copies.  (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.)

Not only that, but the administration is somehow trying to blame the situation on me.  Blame me, instead of thanking me for going to such great lengths to educate my students, to fight for them, to be the very best teacher I can be.  Blame me, instead of apologizing for the fact that they can't come up with a few hundred dollars when I've brought in many thousands of dollars in donated products in the last two years.  Blame me, because it must be my fault; it couldn't possibly be their failure to communicate.

Part of me wants to drop all of this next year: the Ecology club, the literary magazine, even the occasional lunch over grading.  I have seen so many teachers "burn out" in religious schools, and I'm beginning to see why.  It's bad enough to wear yourself out for something, but to wear yourself out and not get thanked afterwards -- in fact, to get blamed and criticized afterwards -- is really demoralizing.  It was easier to forget about the inadequacies and communication breakdowns when I was breezing in and breezing out every morning.

When I was struggling in architectecture school, dealing with some nasty professors, a good friend gave me some good advice: "Don't throw your pearls before swine."  In other words, just do your work and then get out of there.  Don't give it your best if it doesn't deserve your best.  Save your best for a worthy time and place.  Does that apply here?  I couldn't tell you.