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An Open Letter to Mildly Melancholy


Dear Mildly,

It’s way too late for me to be up, but for the last two nights I have been caught up in your life. It started with skimming a single post of your blog where, at the end of the workday, you are offered the option of resigning or being dismissed from your teaching postion in a New York charter middle school. I have now spent hours reading through years of your life and following your links. I read backwards from today's mohito back to your idealistic beginning as you reflect on your teaching practice right there in front of God and everybody.

I’m heartsick for you, and, because I’m guessing you’re somewhere around the age my own daughter, I’m worried for you. I'm sorry to see it end this way. I’m sorry for your sake and also for the sake of the students you may never teach. We need more teachers who have the compassion and sense of humor to teach prickly Hedgehog and Whack-a-Mole middleschoolers to knit as well as to analyze literature and write a five-sentence paragraph.

I went over and read the Gotham Schools' article about your release from contract and all the comments that went with it.

Back on your own blog you said:

one thing that bothered me was that it didn't seem like any of the commenters had actually read my blog at all, but instead were going on an excerpt from one post and another person's summarization of me and my teaching career.

It bothers me too. It seems that people found you to be more interesting as an exiting teacher than a practicing teacher and that says something about teacher induction and support. Of course, there are those who would point out that I’ve only heard your side of the story and that maybe you really did mess up pretty bad sometimes. I don’t know. But you were willing to examine your own teaching under a glaring public light and so I have to believe that you were serious about analyzing, adapting, and refining your practice. It appears that you would have been open to a lively discussion with fellow educators who might have a different perspective on content and learning theory, a different methodology for lesson design and delivery, or a different philosophy on classroom management or assessment.

I wish I had heard your teacher voice sooner. I wonder if it would have helped to know that you were not alone in having awful terrible bad days. After twenty-seven years in the classroom, I still have mornings that I sit on the parking lot and wonder if it’s too late for me to apply to that big rig driving school. I fantasize about spending my days cruising along, all alone in the cab of an eighteen wheeler, instead of being locked down in a roomful of squirrely middle school kids. When you questioned how anyone could have survived teaching while being married with children, would it have made a difference to hear how veteran teachers find ways to resolve the ethical and practical dilemma of being a responsible teacher and still having a life?

I guess this goes back to what I was talking about in my last entry. It seems too often we find ourselves isolated and that makes it hard to put issues in perspective. Even when we escape our isolation, we tend to find ourselves segregated into homogeneous groups that reinforce our personal experience so that we have difficulty seeing ourselves outside of our shared context. We lose sight of how valuable our work is. Just a week ago you said:

It's kind of ridiculous that being a teacher for five years holds absolutely no weight in the outside world. I have half a mind to leave it off my resume altogether, because maybe the hiring people think I'm still trying to be one? It's just a distraction.

I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. I notice that you are beginning to see teaching as something that happened to you once upon a time, but that doesn't mean it didn't matter. You’ve left the classroom and so even as I write, the thread that might have connected us is probably unraveling like the knitting of a thirteen year old Hedgehog. I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk about that. But mostly I’m sorry that we lose so many bright and funny and caring young teachers like you and I wonder what we can do to get more of you to stay.


Susan, wow, I am blown away. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your kind words, encouragement, and empathy. I've been feeling aimless and directionless, trying to reconcile the potential difference between my past and future, desperate for something positive and hopeful. This letter really helped with that. I really appreciate your support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I can tell you how to get more of us to stay. Convince state and federal regulators to *think and act* as if we had the brains to BE professionals in our field rather than indentured servants.

Take a peek at any teacher contract today. Ever noticed how the wording of those contracts are titled strongly on the side of the contract presenters? (i.e. our public school employers?) Furthermore, when did it become a teacher's responsibility to be all of these:

1) family therapist
2) psychologist
3) social worker
4) lawyer (or para-legal at a minimum)
5) babysitter
6) politician

What has happened to being able to simply teach? Either in the form of a child-directed curriculum (I'm all for differentiation) or standard-approved?

I wonder how many of those whose pay-grades exceed the average teacher's has ever set foot inside a classroom for more than a half-hour observation of same.

OK, YES I sound resentful. And for that I apologize. But I have an innate ability to see the big picture of this field as well. And it ain't "purdy."

Thank you, Susan, for reaching out to our young colleague. Sadly, her story is repeated all over the country and too often, these departures or dismissals could be prevented by more deliberate and sincere induction and mentoring programs.

Probably most telling is Mildly's realization that "teaching doesn't count for anything..." I've seen that reaction too from those who never taught and don't understand the miriad number of balls and skills we have to negotiate to be successful in the classroom - and out of it.
The comment I get from parents that always astonishes me is "You work with teenagers all day. I don't know how you do it." The subtext to me is complex - implying any/some/or all of: I can barely stand to be around my teen, how can you? Teenagers need to be locked away until they are worthy to hang with. Sheez, I'd never do such horrible, unappreciated work. I'm glad you're willing. And on and on.
When the professional work teachers do daily is made visible (we plan, manage the unmanageable - see above - inspire, evaluate, create, lead those who would rather not be lead, communicate non-stop in all mediums, follow orders, manipulate whole systems to reach goals, adjust to accommodate lack of supplies or time etc. etc.) who wouldn't want to hire a teacher? Oh, plus we are our own administrative assistants. (see all forms and handouts that need to be completed and turned in...)

Susan, as a lifelong teacher serving intergenerational populations, and as a woman who, like you, has reached the "age of sage" I am touched and impressed at your depth and clear ability to reach into the lives of others. Your comments and caring are important to many - both teachers themselves who carry such a responsibility (often alone), AND the preteens/teens who are readily aware they are often seen as "the problem in the room" rather than the litmus test of our effectiveness as a people. All the best to you.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • gael chiarella alba: Susan, as a lifelong teacher serving intergenerational populations, and as read more
  • Mary Tedrow: Probably most telling is Mildly's realization that "teaching doesn't count read more
  • Renee Moore/TeachMoore: Thank you, Susan, for reaching out to our young colleague. read more
  • thisdogdonthunt: I can tell you how to get more of us read more
  • Mildly Melancholy: Susan, wow, I am blown away. Thank you from the read more




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