Sunday, March 9, 2014

Empathy Pizza

         On Saturday, I attended a mandatory training session for my teacher certification program. The program was supposed to provide a pizza lunch. When lunchtime came, the pizzas had not arrived, so the directors shuttled us into our next training session. An hour went by. Still no pizza. One of the directors, a blonde woman in her late 20’s, came in to tell us that the pizzas still weren’t here.
         “We appreciate your understanding,” she said. She looked frazzled. I felt sympathetic – I have spent most of the last six months as a teacher feeling overwhelmed.
         Most of us shrugged. We could wait for lunch. Then someone stood up, a big burly Teach For America fellow with a deep authoritative voice.
        “Life happens,” he said. “You get a flat tire, your kid gets sick, you get stuck in traffic. But if we are even a minute late to these sessions, you lock us out. So why are you coming in here asking us to be understanding when you don’t extend the same courtesy to us? So no, this is not acceptable - get your act together.”
         All of the teachers started talking about all of the times they had been penalized for being 5 or 10 minutes late. A few teachers cheered. I gave the TFA fellow a high-five. I could feel all of my anger and frustration bubbling under the surface. That was all it took for me to switch from feeling sympathetic towards another frazzled human being to being angry about all of the times these same frazzled people had failed to extend a similar empathy towards me.
       The woman looked like she wanted to either shout or cry. “OK, I’ll do whatever it takes – next time I’ll have them deliver pizzas an hour early.”
       I wanted to tell her that the issue wasn't about the pizza - it was about us wanting to be respected as responsible and conscientious adults. But I am not sure the message would have been heard.
        I work in a district that boasts about its mentoring program for first-year teachers but fails to mention that the funds for this mentoring program are taken from the first-year teacher’s paycheck. Every paycheck about $20 is deducted to pay my mentor, a fellow teacher who continually tells me what I am doing wrong but doesn’t offer any solutions. I also work in a district that keeps adding more and more requirements – tutoring, a heavier teaching load, extra students, extra training responsibilities – while at the same time eliminating the tenure system. Tenure, as imperfect a system as that may be, still offered teachers enough job security to say no to extra responsibilities. Now that security is gone and teachers are getting pressured into taking on extra responsibilities. I myself was given an extra subject to teach in my first week of school as a teacher.
       I look around at other teachers in my certification program. I see them working and stressing and getting burnt out. I see how much they work and how much they care. I know how much I care. I also see myself turning into an angry person, all because I am stuck in a program that doesn’t respect me as a responsible adult, that is constantly adding more and more burdens onto my workload, and that is currently punishing me for not doing enough. I remember why I became a teacher in the first place and a very big part of me feels a keen sense of loss at the way my dream has turned out.

       Sometimes I just wish that we could all just sit down for a pizza lunch and empathize.


  1. I'm sorry, but Big Burly TFA guy was rude. It wasn't the director's fault that the pizzas were late, or that she was bound by her employer's rules about tardiness. If Big Burly had an issue, he should have expressed it without humiliating her to near-tears. I don't think his actions were really about fair treatment or food; I think he was trying to express dominance.

    1. It may not have made sense or been effective - but this is how people react when they are pushed into a corner.

  2. So did the pizzas ever get there?

    It is truly distressing that so many Americans are not willing to may more in taxes to support public education. Teachers should be making top salaries, instead they are treated like you described above (the director included--I'm sure her job's no picnic). At the same time people love to complain about lousy public schools. I spent one year trying to be a high school English teacher. It was exhausting, and not the right job for me. Mark spent a year teaching middle school math. He loved it, but the heavy work load, mountains of bureaucratic red tape, and low salary sent him back into the for-profit business world. Kudos to you and your fellow teachers.

    I hope you got that pizza.

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  4. My mom started out as a teacher and ended up in admnistration as a director of psychological services before she bailed and took a university professor position. She was most relieved that neither my brother nor I chose to pursue teaching. She says that the profession sh once loved is no longer really about teaching.

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