School lets out, worry sets in
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Beleaguered Lansing teachers talk about their highs and lows
Kristen Small, a teacher at Wexford
Everything had to be thrown out or go into boxes so the
The room emptied down to brown shelves
“I’m getting a second job,” Small said. She is a 47-year-old single mother. “I want to be financially prepared for what’s about to happen.”
The school year is over, but with
“Right now the climate is so bad to be a teacher,” Small said. “It’s a profession, but it’s not terribly respected.”
She kneeled on the floor and began to put away a shelf of beads that help teach math.
Subtraction is on her mind. A bill that
“When I sit down and do the math, I figure my wages would go back nine years,” she said.
Last month, Small and about 20 other area teachers talked
In the interviews, one theme plays over and over: People don’t know what it’s like.
“A lot of people come in my classroom, roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh my God, I wouldn’t last a day here,’” Small said.
The teachers talked about great
Despite the immersion in day-to-day details, Small keeps a “spiritual” image of the job in her mind.
“Everybody goes off to work, but we are handing over
She is worried that a lot of people in
“For the first time ever, I’ve told young friends and relatives and colleagues, Don’t go into it. Not in Michigan, not now.”WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TEACHING?
I understand what many of our students are faced with every day. I grew up in a low income, extremely dysfunctional family. If I did not have a few good teachers who could see past my dirty clothes, or who continued to help build my self esteem and who taught me that I could change my path in life, I might not be in the position I am today. I am the only person in my family who gets a salary and benefits and I have never been on welfare. -Jessica Pless, 38, Gardner Middle School, in district 10 years
I like the look they get on their face when they are really into learning the content and forget about everything else that is going on in their lives, focused just on the moment. -Chuck Alberts, 37, Pattengill Middle School, in district 13 years
My students are real, authentic. I grew up simple in Lansing and the only language I knew was Spanish. My dad worked on the line at GM. I was part of the Headstart program and had trouble learning English. I am able to relate to their real life situation. -Alfonso Salais, 38, now at Everett High, in district 17 years
I love making those daily connections and seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moment. -Jennifer Shaw, 33, now at Cumberland Elementary, in district nine years
I am more than a teacher to my kids. I teach students how to hold a pencil, how to use a bathroom. I teach them skills to survive. Sometimes we give our students the only meals they get. -Irma Baker, 50, has been teaching refugee students at Dwight Rich Middle School for 10 years.
It blows me away when students come back to visit or I see them at the store or in public somewhere and the say they miss my class, share with me things they remember. You know it is real and they don’t have to say it. That is why I do what I do! -Chuck Alberts, 37, Pattengill Middle School, in district 13 years
A teacher told me a student of mine got a tattoo and she told the teacher I was her favorite teacher and she chose to put a Latin motto on her body as a tribute to her religious faith. -James Bell, 60, Eastern High, in district 11 years (teaches Latin)
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THE SCHOOL BOARD, STATE LEGISLATORS, OR GOV. RICK SNYDER, IF YOU COULD?
If you want to build Lansing as a world class city, you need world class schools. I wonder who will be going into education in the future? -Irma Baker, 50, has been teaching at Dwight Rich Middle School 10 years
I would ask the Governor who he thinks would take children to Michigan, knowing that their children will be in classroom with 30 to 35 students. I want him to know I know of families that are questioning if they will even stay in Michigan, because of the cuts to education. -Julie Adolphson, 39, Kendon Elementary, in district six years
If we try to balance the budget on the backs of the children, look out in 10-15 years. That will make this seem like the golden ages. -Matt Pierson, 41, now at Gardner Middle School, in district 12 years
When the school doesn’t have paper, pencils or glue I buy them. When kids don’t have lunch money I pay for them. Does he buy his own office supplies? When his printer is out of ink does he buy his own. I don’t think he realizes how much a teacher spends of their salary on their classrooms. -Chuck Alberts, 37, Pattengill Middle School, in district 13 years
Back off of all the regulations that are being thrust upon us. If they were us, they wouldn’t stand for how we are treated. Nobody says a word about bad administrators. -Deborah McMillan, 61, Bingham Elementary, in district 23 years
Leave us alone and let us teach! (It’ll never happen.) -Mary Evangelista, 55, in district 17 years
DO YOU THINK THE PUBLIC AND OTHERS BELIEVE TEACHERS WORK HARD?
My husband can’t believe the amount of work I bring home and asks why I can’t get it done at school, as it cuts into family time, but the reality is there is not enough time in 55 minutes of planning to plan for three different subject areas, plus grade 150-plus assignments that require reading, proofreading, comments etc. After my kids are in bed I work on grading papers because there is never enough time at school to grade them, log them in, enter them into Edline, and get them back to kids in a timely fashion. Down time comes when I crawl into bed at night. -Jessica Pless, 38, Gardner Middle School, in district 10 years
People that don’t have personal connections to teachers probably don’t realize the long hours we put in during a school week, the extra we do over the weekend or how we spend parts of our summers taking classes, planning or purchasing items for our room. -Chuck Alberts, 37, Pattengill Middle School, in district 13 years
I worry about all of the kids all of the time. Teaching is a very emotionally exhausting job for me. When I am grading papers at home or planning lessons, I get questioned by my son. ‘When are you going to be done so we can play?’ Sad and frustrating. -Jessica Ryan, 32, now a teacher coach at Gardner and Dwight Rich middle schools, in district six years
Those who have teachers in their lives know we teachers work hard, during and after class. Some people know they can’t do what I do. Kids buy into you. Not everyone can just teach my kids. The kids don’t always open up. -Alfonso Salais, 38, now at Everett High, in district 17 years
Teaching is mentally exhausting. I have a 10-12 hour day. My job in the city is tougher than others, because we lack parental support sometimes. I can’t give up on my kids. -Irma Baker, 50, at Dwight Rich Middle School 10 years
WORKING FOR A LIVING
I have trouble making ends meet. I raised my son while a single mother. To help, I tutor after school for a private service several days per week, but it doesn’t pay much. -Mary Evangelista, 55, in district 17 years
WHAT DO YOU LIKE OR DISLIKE ABOUT THE SCHOOL DISTRICT?
There doesn’t seem to be any long term planning. -Casey Beauchamp, 33, Gardner Middle School, in district 10 years
Too often, the administration is disconnected with the schools, teachers, etc. They make decisions and create unrealistic expectations for the schools, but don’t provide resources or follow up to address the issues relating to them. -Casey Beauchamp, 33, Gardner Middle School, in district 10 years
Response from Superintendent T.C. Wallace
First of all, let me be clear: there is no misunderstanding by the administration as to how hard our teachers and staff work everyday. We publicly celebrate the success of our teachers in the classroom with the continual increase in student achievement. This administration is incredibly proud of our dedicated teachers and the care and effort they put into every day they spend with our students.