Submit: 3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Form Writing Groups

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with the NYCWP Invitational Summer Institute for the past five years, and exceptionally lucky in taking on the role of co-facilitator this past July. Without fail, as out wonderful month of writing, reflecting, and pot-lucking draws to a close, several participants ask me how they can maintain some of that summer magic once back in the real world of teaching and grading, with no time to devote to writing and sharing. A few years ago, I had heard from a handful of summer participants who had continued to meet as a writing group, and while I thought this was an adorable and brilliant idea, which I recommended to participants from then on, I never pursued a writing group of my own. Until this year. For the past few months, I have been participating in a cozy writing group with two other Writing Project alum, and though it is consistently challenging, it is also one of the best things I have done for myself as a writer and as a teacher. The reasons are innumerable, so here I’ll focus on just three.

1. Deadlines are the best/worst.
Unless you have gone back to graduate school since becoming a teacher (or finishing your master’s during your first two years, holla fellows!), most of your deadlines have been self-imposed for awhile now. I say “most” because there are curriculum maps and evaluation reflections and other administrator- or district-mandated deadlines, but in terms of writing, non-students generally only need answer to themselves. Writing group reintroduced writing deadlines, which come with this familiar soreness that I really did not miss but I know is good for me.
Worst first: deadlines are miserable. When we agree to them, they always feel manageable. A week, sometimes two, is plenty of time. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll put in a bit of time each day to rough out a draft or polish the corners of a revision; sometimes, I plan to set aside an evening at a coffee shop (/my living room with a mason jar of wine). More often than not, the plan falls apart. Either the time I think I have gets redistributed to cover other responsibilities, or I glower at blank pages or solid walls of first drafts and make zero progress. Occasionally, I am too exhausted to do more than feebly push open my laptop and stare at my email before falling asleep on the keyboard. Stress, doubt, cursing the clock, procrastination – all the major food groups of my productivity in college come back to me now.
Best next: I forgot all of this. I forgot the way it feels to have someone expecting a piece of writing by a certain date, regardless of my other obligations or distractions. I forgot the paralysis a deadline brings to my writing process. When my students are assigned writing, either in our class or another, I’m more equipped to support them. I understand that deadlines should be close enough to feel urgent but far enough away to allow for time management. I build in checkpoints and conferences that make space for all that freaking out that I know they’re doing.
Bonus perk: I think I’m getting better! Our most recent submission date does not evidence this, but in general, I’ve found it easier to work with our deadlines. A little bit. Sometimes. Progress?

2. Meaningful feedback must be meaningful to the writer.
Providing feedback for writers is hard, because there are so many different kinds of feedback you can offer. Most of the ELA teachers I know have gone through similar, repetitive cycles around feedback: we begin by crossing out and circling and making notes in the margins around every error, then we try to work a little smarter and focus only on a few types of errors. We make checklists, incorporate peer editing, some of us stop writing on the student work all together and use sticky notes instead. We try retelling, asking questions only, referring students back to class readings with our fingers crossed. Few teachers I know settle on one method, and I think the biggest challenge around providing feedback is that different writers want different feedback. Some writers want a draft dripping in red (or whatever color your chosen grading ink), while others respond best to retelling and questioning. Participating in a writing group is helping me realize the importance of thinking about the kind of feedback I need. Submitting a piece with the hopes that I’ll get ideas on building up tension or expanding a character, but receiving only feedback on the word choice, is beyond discouraging. It’s distracting and frustrating, and leaves me less likely to look at that piece again. But the regular process of engaging in a group has encouraged me to think about and articulate the kind of feedback I need, and to think about how I can help students have more voice in the responses I give.

3. “Finished” is a relative term.
Sometimes, I’m just done. I’ve taken a piece as far as I can possibly take it, changed perspectives, rerouted the opening scene twice, polished every line, vetted every word. Sometimes, I’ve done half that, but all the same, it’s enough. I can’t bear to look at that piece ever again, regardless of the thoughtful feedback and encouraging words I’ve received. As a writer, I now have choices: I can force myself to slog through a revision, or I can put the piece to rest and move on to something else. And as a writer, having those choices keeps me writing. If I decide not to push a revision, I open myself to more writing opportunities, and I often find myself returning to that exhausted piece after a break, a fresh take having come to me in its absence. As a student, I rarely had these choices. Doneness was decided by my teachers, for the most part, and it was based on their needs – the grades needed to be in, or they needed me to demonstrate mastery of the unit skills. As a teacher, I want these choices to be clear and accessible to my students. Penny Kittle writes beautifully on the challenges and importance of creating space for student choice in the vital Write Beside Them, and participating in a writing group has only clarified the need for my students to have more control over their writing process in the classroom. Like me, they need the freedom and the language to say, “I’m done with this for now,” if I have any hopes of them building an authentic writing life.

I know you don’t have time. I know you have nothing to write about. I know there are deadlines and meetings and grading, and that you have a family, and that you are tired. But giving yourself time to write, just a few minutes each day, is infinitely rewarding. You’ll do some of your best learning through writing. I believe this. I see it in my students, in the NYCWP summer participants, in myself. Combining that with a writing group, and giving myself accountability and structure and a community of support, is informing my teaching in hands-on, real ways. And if nothing else, it’s a great excuse for some monthly me-time!

Have you tried participating in a writing group? What challenges have you faced, or do you foresee? What have been the payouts? Share in the comments!

On Violence

I was running errands after work today, nodding off as I stood in line. At the register, the cashier slid my receipt across the counter to be signed. Smoothly, I scribbled my signature in a blank space in the middle of the receipt, probably six inches above the clearly labeled “SIGN HERE” dotted line. We both laughed.
“It’s been a long day,” I sighed.
“Girl, mine’s not even half-started. I’m here until 10!”
And I let her win, because there are things I just can’t say, horrors that become the realities of the job. You don’t get to say, Well, I did see a kid get stabbed today, so I’m pretty beat.

Sometimes, I think there might be something in the air in October. It’s a morbid thought, but most of my Octobers as a teacher have brought moments of disturbing violence. Last year was the worst, the one that keeps me up odd nights and catches me tearing up during The Mindy Project. But, no, not the worst, because I don’t know that I can scale any of it. They are all the worst; they all haunt me.

The noise on the street this afternoon, it was the sound that crowds of kids make in movies when the main character gets to sing onstage with her pop star heroes and everyone loves her. Like that, but all wrong. The screaming and surging, laughter like breaking glass – Fight! Fight! Oh, shit – he’s bleeding! We came out of the building into an afternoon that felt like summer, blotting out the early morning’s bite of winter. I was standing in a square of sunlight, smiling as I chatted with a colleague, and the sidewalk exploded.

After security directed me away from the crowds, I sat on the train feeling hollow and let the urge to detach -check Facebook, double-tap things on Instagram, reread Harry Potter on Kindle – wash over me. Every time it faded, the memory of the boy’s shoulder, smeared in thick, bright red, came back sharply. And I just got so tired.

I’ve never wanted to teach somewhere else. I don’t think longingly of the suburban schools I attended; I don’t want to experience the education systems in other countries. Since I started teaching in the Bronx, it has been the Bronx. But every now and then, I wonder what it would be like to teach far away from this kind of violence. Thinking of my own high school experience, the violence was different – quiet and familial, behind closed doors. There is an impulse to push these current events into the silence, old habits and such.

Teaching about violence when incidences of violence in the community are immediate and real, is hard. And scary, and daunting. Everything is too big and too close. It is the difference between dangerous things happening somewhere, and dangerous things happening in front of you, to people you know, to you. There is a healing that comes with the planning, reading, writing, and sharing, but it’s that resetting-the-bone kind of healing. Only slower. And harder, and scarier. I want to be brave. I want to help my students interrogate the world they live in, help them process tragedies instead of brushing them off or accepting them as the way of things.

But if I’m honest, despite everything I want to be, I am. I am tired, my limbs are leaden; just keeping my head up is the greatest effort. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about today, and if I hadn’t survived this many Octobers so far, I would wonder how I will have the strength.

Making Writing Real

Help support my students and our classroom by donating to and sharing our Donors Choose project! Use the promo code INSPIRE to have your donation matched and doubled. Thank you for your support!

School is coming! I love the first day of school, as I’ve said in the past, but this year feels especially exciting. For one thing, this will be my second year at a school I really love, and that’s so different than being at a school where I love my colleagues or (as always) my students. Feeling attached to a school and its mission and vision is so much more rewarding and invigorating, and I honestly can’t wait to be back in it. Even better, after such an enriching summer, I know I’m going in strong. Between the Invitational Summer Institute with NYCWP in July, building up my PLN on Twitter, and my awesome week with Facing History and Ourselves, I’ve been immersed in deep reflection about my practice, connected to so many inspiring and dedicated educator minds. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to the first day like this.

I owe a special thank you to Penny Kittle, for the wonderful book, Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. I had been neglecting my professional reading lately, and this thoughtful, beautifully written, honest look into Mrs. Kittle’s writing workshop classroom was a perfect reintroduction to the value of reading “teacher books” – if you’ve been wary of implementing writer’s workshop in your classroom, or if you are looking to breathe some life into it, or if you need some commiseration and celebration of the struggles and joys of writing with students, do yourself a favor and check out this book. The print version comes with a DVD of scenes from Mrs. Kittle’s classroom (I’ve been reading the digital version). I want to give Write Beside Them a more detailed review in the near future, but I’ll mention that one of the gifts of this book is that, while Mrs. Kittle is clearly a great teacher, she is also a very real teacher. I haven’t been reading this book thinking, “Ok, that’s great that you can do these wonderful things, but I could never do that because…” Kittle’s honesty and straightforwardness have helped me approach the book with an attitude of, “What would this look like in my school?,” far more helpful and productive.

As I prepare for this upcoming year, I’m thinking about what classroom resources could further benefit my students. I made sure last year that new furniture was on the way, to get my students out of the molded desk-chair units that drive me crazy – incredibly uncomfortable and they make flexible seating (moving in and out of groups and pairs) a major pain. Someone recently told me about Bouncy Bands, and I’m already planning the pitch to my principal to get some of those in our school. Most importantly, I’ve posted a Donors Choose project for an ELMO document camera, a tool I plane to use to make the writing process more visible and less scary for my students. Check out our Donors Choose project – donate if you can, and please share! Remember, the promo code INSPIRE will double your donation.

What are you doing to make this new year great? Share in the comments!

For Ferguson, History Matters

In general, I and everything I write, create, think, and say, all of it, is a work-in-progress. Regarding the horrific events in Ferguson, MO, I am far from finished. I spent the first two weeks of August far, far away, the Internet a distant dream. When the plane touched down in New York, I switched my Facebook back on, and unleashed the nightmare of the killing of Michael Brown, the terror of militarized police, the hateful words slung back and forth. It was like being in the ocean, trying to keep my head above the waves and find land on the horizon, and the water swallowing me under again and again.

The next day, I began a week-long seminar with Facing History and Ourselves, and I had something to hold onto. A lot of people -teachers, parents, community leaders, students – are having the important conversations about how they should/can/will teach about what is happening in Ferguson, and for me, the route is through our nation’s history.

After two intense days delving into the history of race and eugenics in the United States, our group of 30 educators were asked to fill in a blank: I feel _____ when talking about race with students. We shared in a whip, each person filling in the blank before the next person spoke one single word. The range was impressive; we felt anxious, eager, under qualified, excited, responsible, comfortable, uncomfortable, ready, hesitant. Overwhelmed, in my blank, and then some.

Talking about race in our country is painful. There are so many days – moments – when I think, “How can this be happening? How can nothing have changed?” And it is difficult, and scary, and uncomfortable, and overwhelming to bring painful things to my students.

This week with FHAO did so much for me. It showed me the inadequacies of my own education – in “good” schools, among the children of the dominant culture, our US history curriculum was shamefully incomplete. It revealed perspectives rarely considered when discussing slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. It placed in my hands a treasure trove of primary source documents and strategies to help the critical reading of them. And it reminded me that, overwhelmed or not, I cannot afford not to talk about race and rights with my students. This is the world they live in, the world they have to navigate, survive, and change. If I don’t allow them to examine that world, and see the patterns and connections in our nation’s past and present, I have failed.

Nancie Atwell says that if teachers don’t make time for reading during the school day, then it won’t happen for many of their students. Penny Kittle says the same about independent writing. “If we value something enough, we’ll make time for it,” Kittle says. What do I value more than my students’ lives? More than their safety? More than giving them opportunities to make the best choices for themselves and their community?

This responsibility is still overwhelming, I know. If you are looking for some starting places, or flotation devices, I can’t recommend enough a Facing History and Ourselves workshop (around the US and online). I also greatly appreciated Mary Hendra’s post on creating a reflective classroom to help students process Michael Brown’s killing and the historical context of race in the US. Katherine Schulten, a wonderful, thoughtful educator and editor of the NY Times Learning Network blog, invites teachers to share their thoughts and ideas in preparation for a collection of planning ideas to be published on September 2nd. This NPR blog post offers words of encouragement and a link back to a teacher-created syllabus around the killing of Jordan Davis. And, as I’ve written in the past, Twitter is my favorite source of PD, so check out #FergusonSyllabus to see what other educators are thinking of bringing into the classroom. If you are looking to give, please consider this list and Michael Brown’s family.

Above all, please, make time for this.

 

How are you planning to talk about Ferguson in your classroom? How were events like this discussed in your school or community? Which blog posts, articles, or ideas are inspiring you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

The Struggle is Real: Facing Setbacks, Moving Forward

I don’t deal with setbacks well, which is why a back spasm that left me bed-bound for two days had me in a whirlwind of panic and self-doubt. When I described my day of playing Hungry Shark Evolution, dozing, and getting sucked into “Doctor Who,” my friends told me I was enjoying what sounded like a perfect end-of-summer day. Why then was I so miserable? Not only because I was in great pain, though there was that. It was more the shame.

In my family, getting hurt was a punishable offense. At best, I would get yelled at, which didn’t feel great what with already being hurt. As I got older, it was more likely that I would be chided for my carelessness, or just my me-ness. The message was always clear: if I got hurt, it was my fault and I should have been better. That has stayed with me. When I get hurt now, I get frustrated with myself. I tell myself this happened because I did something wrong or stupid, and I take my injury or pain as a sign that I am not strong or graceful or disciplined or just plain thin enough to do what I’m trying to do.

Between Boyfriend and the fitness enthusiasts I follow on social media, I’ve become more acquainted with the experiences of people who get hurt. These are strong, athletic, disciplined people, and they get hurt sometimes. And they don’t berate themselves for getting hurt. They don’t abandon their goals, or give up on the things they were trying. They take some days off to recover and, when they’re ready, they start working again. Maybe they’ve decided to start from a different entry point – reinforcing some basics or building from a different strength – but they don’t just throw up their hands, declare themselves unfit, and sulk in the corner.

These are revelations to me, every time: people get hurt, people struggle. Most importantly: I can, too.

I’m reminded of so many students right now, past me included, and how setbacks affect them. Being “behind” the majority of a class has been so demoralizing for many of my students that they’re ready to give up on the whole school thing, rather than trundle along at the back of the class. Reassurances that they’ll get there or are doing great sound like lies designed to make them feel better, especially coming from a teacher, because most teachers don’t show their students what struggles and setbacks look like. We’re not really allowed to, in a system of rubricked evaluations and high-stakes rating. There is a lot of pressure to bring into the classroom only what is proven and guaranteed to work. Sharing one’s struggle as a learner is too great a risk for many teachers, I know. But the implication for struggling students is that only they flounder and face setbacks.

fail-again-fail-better-samuel-beckett

Learning, growing, improving, etc., it all demands trying and failing. It’s the only way we’ll ever get to failing better, doing better. This is well-worn territory, even here, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve only just met my newest group of students, and I want to remember how to make space for them to just straight-up flail toward progress.

- Praise the work. It’s not that I don’t want to tell my students how brilliant and creative and wonderful they are. But I need to remember that many students see working hard as a sign of inadequacy. I’ve had many colleagues and adults in general bemoan “this generation’s” lack of work ethic, but it’s not a secret that hard work is hard. Everyone deserves snaps for working hard, especially people who don’t realize how important it is to do so.

Share the struggle. It’s scary to be vulnerable with students, and overshare is a very real, very inappropriate thing. Some of my colleagues, great teachers, swear by the sharply delineated professional personas they maintain with students. Boundaries are important, but so is being human, and I think modeling the process of learning with examples from a real learner’s life is one of the most valuable things students can get from teachers. I talk about learning new things with my students. I share with them what I struggled with when I was doing what they are doing for this first time, and I make it a point to try new things with them and make sure they know it. Mistakes are shared and discussed in our classroom; we’re works in progress, and we can all help one another.

- Reflect often. Time is at a premium in a school year, but checking in with students has to be non-negotiable. They need opportunities to think about and process what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and I need to hear and see their journeys. This is how we all learn from each other, and from our own selves.

- Get off the stage. I don’t stay in the front of the room for long, and every year I aim to take myself further from the center. But my favorite time of year is when students step up there. Whether it’s a Ms. Thomas impression or an expert presentation, I love to see students taking center stage and leading us through their learning processes. This coming year, I’m hoping to introduce these opportunities earlier than ever.

How do you deal with setbacks? How do you help your students move past what feels like failure? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Dragonish Tendencies: Community and Collaboration

I had every intention of posting during July, I promise, but I found myself in the unusual position of writing too much. July marked the 35th New York City Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, and in addition to celebrating that and my 5th year anniversary being involved with NYCWP, it was also my first summer as co-facilitator of the ISI. I feel so honored, grateful, and just plain lucky to be a part of such an invigorating community, and this summer was even more amazing than I’ve come to expect of the ISI. We spent an intense and wonderful month writing and sharing and writing and writing, and even though I was making lists and nurturing seeds in my notebook all month, I never got around to blogging. Boyfriend and I headed straight to Mexico the day after the ISI wrapped (I highly recommend immediate vacations to stave off the post-ISI blues; much harder to wake up bummed that I won’t see my WP peoples when I’m waking up in freakin’ Mexico) so I actually have some time to post. Don’t worry, I’m still enjoying my vacation!

Way back in the beginning of July, one of our brilliant summer fellows said that she used to think of teachers as dragons: isolated, guarding their classroom caves. I turned this image over in my brain for days, thinking about teacher-creatures curled protectively around their hoarded treasure of knowledge, and I am glad that this is not a picture that matches me as an educator. I love the idea of being a dragon because of wings and firebreath and general awesomeness, but I am not a jealous hoarder of knowledge. I always want to share my classroom, discuss books or theory, or talk about new ways I could approach routine practices. I relate almost every topic of conversation, current event, or environmental observation to teaching and education, which I’m sure makes me a fascinating dinner guest. Often, I force myself to take a break from my enthusiastic activity on the NYC Writing Project Listserv, an email group that connects me to hundreds of NYCWP educators. Reclusive cave-dweller, guarding my treasure? Not so much.

But, maybe a little. While I share eagerly and comfortably in my own outside communities, I can’t say I do the same within my school. I have been a teacher in 3 different high schools in the Bronx, and outside of a small group of teachers in the first 2 of those schools, I haven’t really shared what I do and why I do it.

Mostly, I haven’t felt safe. As a teacher, I invest time throughout the year in making our classrooms safe spaces for sharing, because we can be mean to each other. Even when it’s not our intention, our reactions to the opinions and words of others can shut people down, embarrass them, incite their anger. If I don’t make time for us to know and trust each other, we won’t consider how our words will affect out community. The building and strengthening of classroom community isn’t a time-filler or a detraction from our curriculum; it is a vital piece of that curriculum, embedded in everything we do. But teacher and staff meetings – “professional development,” allegedly – have not, for me, felt like a place to discuss this practice. I have sat through too many meetings about data and standards and realigning performance tasks, in which teachers and administrators become defensive and judgmental, to risk revealing the priceless gems I’m sitting on.

I understand why we are defensive. There’s a lot of finger-pointing in education, a lot of blame. I’ve written about it before, as have many, many others. More will come, be sure. I think teachers often (rightly) feel the need to justify what happens in their classrooms, assure themselves and any potential doubters that they are not the reasons for undesirable data or whatever we are being blamed for at the moment – world hunger, global warming, bad haircuts, etc. I want to be grateful for having the time to meet with my coworkers, especially as it is now a protected and required piece of time in our workday. Collaboration and sharing resources should be easier than ever before. We should be helping each other thrive. But, for so many of the teachers I talk to, these team times range from venting sessions to time spent counting minutes and trying not to lash out at colleagues. Our dragonish tendencies rear up; we put on our thickest skin and hunker down on our piles of gold, sending up smoke signals that say,” Keep back. Dragon.”

The problem of dragonish tendencies is that isolation and defensiveness make us worse teachers. Most of us don’t challenge our held notions by ourselves. Without conversation and sharing to expose us to new ideas, we stay cozy in our caves. Those walls come to contain the world, and venturing beyond goes from unnecessary to unthinkable. My teacher communities, which are comprised of my friends from grad school, NYCWP, fellow attendees of NCTE, and teachers I have met in line while shopping, help me develop as a teacher. They push me, they challenge me, they give me new ideas. They also help me acknowledge and celebrate my own practice; I don’t need to justify my own work by belittling someone else’s, because I have a community that shows me how to appreciate what I do.

I speak to so many teachers who do not engage in their own professional development, because their idea of PD has been sullied by the mandated, administrator-led meetings that demand data review, dissection of standards, or readings of lists off of Power Point sllides. This is not PD. Professional development is not the round-robin reading of a handout. Professional development should do all of those things described above – connect you to a community that helps you appreciate and interrogate your practice, expose you to new ways of seeing and thinking, and create a space for you to imagine, discuss, and plan how to do things you haven’t done before. Fortunately, even if your administration is not professionally developing you, you are not bound to their PD.

Taking charge of your own professional development is easy, really. Here are three simple things you can try, today.

1. Start a teacher book club. That might sound intense, but all you need is one other teacher and a book you have been wanting to read. You can set your own deadlines and expectations, you decide what to discuss and when to check in, you can even help each other plan how/when/where you’re going to read before your discussions.

2. Get on Twitter. I know, you don’t understand all that “@” and “#” business, and you’re never going to keep track of another password, and what you have to say goes well beyond 140 characters and texting language. I know it can just be scary and weird and you don’t think you have time to spend setting it all up and figuring it all out. The good news is, Twitter doesn’t want a lot of your time. It wants a few minutes, while you wait in line at the grocery. It will invite you to spend an hour hanging out, whenever is convenient for you. You don’t even have to tweet anything. Just come see what’s happening. Set up your account, and choose one or two brilliant people to follow: @KyleneBeers for all your literacy needs, @NCTE or another organization that supports your content area, @EdTech for information around using technology in the classroom. Or, check out a blogger or colleague that you like: you can follow me @priscillawhocan and see the inspirational, thoughtful pedagogues I’ve built my PLN (personal learning network) around. In addition to regular Twitter activity, educational minds will engage in Tweet Chats, fun but fast-paced group conversations around given issues. You can find out more about Tweet Chats (and Twitter in general) at CybraryMan‘s page, and by looking through this Storify record of NYCWP’s first Tweet Chat this past July.

3. Find a teacher community. If you’re craving face to face interaction with some like-minded teachers, or new-to-you minds, seek out an existing community. Meetup.com and Facebook are often used to arrange events, and you can find educator get-togethers with some light searching (you can even start with Google). Of course, nothing beats looking up your local NWP site and reaching out. Most sites offer conferences, workshops, and gatherings, as well as providing an online community through Google+ or a listserv.

I know there is never enough time, as Peter Greene of Curmudgucation says more beautifully than I ever could. Thinking about incorporating time for PD into your life seems impossible, because what can you give up? Nothing. Don’t give up time that you value. Don’t think of including meaningful, professional dialogue in your routine as something that requires you to sacrifice. Taking charge of your own professional development is a gift to yourself and your practice. Knowing that you have a PLN or community to turn to makes those mandated afternoon meetings all the more bearable; it can even help you find the voice to push those meetings in a more useful direction. Dragons have a lot going for them – built-in weaponry, tons of treasure, virtually no enemies aside from knights hoping to prove themselves – but you know it’s lonely in those damp caves. So get out in the air, find your flock, and terrorize the countryside of Useless PD!

Who or what is your PLN? How do you keep developing as a teacher? Share in the comments! As always, I love to hear from you. 

The Myth of Whiny Teachers

As we get closer to summer, writing about teachers seems to be everywhere. For every thoughtful or thought-provoking post on the end of the school year, there is a counterpoint, or a host of comments that complain about the whining of teachers. “Teaching: the only job where you work half the year and complain about it full-time,” read one top rated comment on a blog post describing the end of year paperwork and conferences expected of teachers. “You’re not doctors,” another told me. “You’re not cops in dangerous cities. You’re not first responders. These are tough jobs. You play with kids until 3.” In response to the observation that these jobs require teachers, because they require school & training, a clever commentator challenged: “So, should we revere chocolatiers because most doctors have had chocolate before?” (The answer, of course, is no; we should revere chocolatiers because of chocolate.)

Without trying to address the misconceptions and fallacies represented in these opinions (half the year…?), I think the important thing to point out is that teachers aren’t whiny.

There are people who are teachers who whine. And there are people who are teachers who complain, but so are there doctors, police officers in tough neighborhoods, and unlikely as it seems, chocolatiers. But the perception that there is a public platform for teachers to stamp their feet and demand more respect for their jobs is simply false.

This misunderstanding implies that teachers have taken to the internet to list and detail the hardships of their jobs with no impetus. We looked around at 3 pm when we were done playing with our students all day and thought, hmm…I think I’ll complain on the internet for awhile, because my job is done! The idea that teachers are just whining for more attention ignores the fact that these articles, blog posts, and memes are not happening in a vacuum: these are responses to attacks. Teachers are constantly called upon to defend themselves, their jobs, and their students, and that call is most often rhetorical. Articles and blog posts that detail the realities of working in education represent the voices of those who refuse to be silenced, not the petulant dissatisfaction of the over privileged. That so many consider it whiny and unnecessary is evidence that the smear campaign against teachers has, in some ways, succeeded.

The aspects of education jobs that teachers complain about – or, rather, the realities that teachers seek to expose – mostly stem from the increased interference of policy in classrooms. Overcrowding, excessive paperwork, beyond excessive testing – the toll these and other atrocities take on students, teachers, and education is obscured by painting educators as lazy and overly demanding. When teachers write about these things, or address the lies told about them and their jobs, they are not whining. They are standing up for themselves, their colleagues, and their students. They are not crying for more money or trying to justify their worth to you. They are telling you are being lied to; like teachers, they are encouraging you to use your brains, consider multiple perspectives, and interrogate what you have been told. Like teachers, we invite you to think.

And some of us write these stories to remind each other that we are not alone. So to my fellow teachers: keep speaking up. People will misunderstand you, call you a whiner, tell you to quit, call you a liar (#hatersgonhate). But other people will thank you, and some people will think about what you have shown them and see differently. Like teaching, the effects will be varied and we may not see them firsthand. Continue to honor your students and yourself; you teach students to question, to think critically, to express themselves, to speak up when they are bullied, to search for truth. And as we well know, that job is never done.