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Education Opinion

An Open Letter to Mildly Melancholy

By Susan Graham — February 11, 2009 3 min read

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.

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