Wednesday, October 17, 2007


It's 12:14 AM and I'm entering the grades of high school students into an Excel spreadsheet.
I am not a teacher.

The process is tedious as hell and supremely frustrating. At times, I need to get up and pace the room, take deep breathes, and pace once more. I'm helping Shana out because her students' grades are due on the following day but Shana also needs to prepare a fresh curriculum for five classes and grade homework essays for the next school day. She has been working for nearly four hours already and it's a Sunday.
I am not a teacher and I thank God that I'm not.

Over the years, I've always admired the friends that went into education and now I was proud to be engaged to one of them. Introducing "my wife, the teacher" was something I looked forward to saying aloud. Marrying a banker, a lawyer--while admirable and profitable--was nothing like being betrothed to the selfless. I imagine Shana walking into a classroom full of impressionable youth opening their mind wide for the thought food Shana would feed them. Every day she would take them around the world in her Global History class and they would follow her eagerly because this planet is a truly exciting and mysterious place. This, of course, is the ideal.

The reality is that Shana has piles of paper work and little assistance or guidance. The reality is that Shana wakes up at 6:00 AM, runs to school, teaches a full day until 2:30, then prepares lessons for the next day leaving little-to-no personal time for herself, falling asleep reluctantly, at best, around 12:00 AM to then only wake up six hours later. Now, one could argue that a teacher only really "works" six hours a day which is nothing in comparison to those who work nine or ten hours a day.
More accurately, they're always working.
Teachers are in no way paid enough. You've heard it time-and-time again but if you think about it, there's only one way to improve the education system (are you really sure about this, Bloomberg? Giving students the financial incentive to improve their grades really just gives them more incentive to cheat). When you pay large amounts of money to your staff, teaching becomes a competitive industry. And then teachers will want to remain teachers because, sure, it's hard as hell but at least it pays well. Again, the ideal.

Since the end of August, I've been given a harsh insight into life, or lack thereof, of a teacher and by now, I think I have a strong sense as to how stressful it can be. Imagine the pressure of standing in front of a room of distracted teens who have no interest in being there. Imagine entertaining the uninterested. Imagine having to show up to work every day to inspire. It can get exhausting.

So why would someone ever want to do this? It's a great question. It's an admirable pursuit, a rewarding experience of unlimited potential...but why must there be so many obstacles especially when the service is so valuable? See, I believe in Shana implicitly. I think she can handle this--all beginning transitions are bumpy and difficult and as soon as the wedding passes, as soon as we've moved into the next place, as soon as we're truly settled down, I believe (and hope) that everything will get easier. And sure, every teacher we've spoken to repeats the "first year is hell" mantra as if it's acceptable. According to a study done at the University of Georgia, 11 percent of teachers leave the occupation after one year on the job. After two years, 21 percent have quit; after five years, 39 percent have quit. Whether these numbers are accurate or not, it's still jarring.

A couple of years back, Dave Eggers and Daniel Moulthrop co-wrote an editorial in the New York Times titled Reading, Writing, Retailing. It's a worthwhile read and so is the book they wrote Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of Our Nation's Teachers (note the sarcastic title). When I read them in 2005, I had a detached experience because the under-appreciated life of the teacher was not that close to home. That's obviously changed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Over The Rainbows?

Granted, it changed the atmosphere of the record industry, but is the thing any good?
Good question.

It is.