I don't have a title for this post. I don't know that I even have anything constructive to say, or what I am allowed to say as an employee of a school district that is currently in crisis. I am nothing but a raw nerve of despondence, and I can't say everything I want to say, but I can't stay silent.
I first heard the news as most things in rural Iowa travel: gossip. A question from family members over dinner, told in that can you believe it? tone that goes along with divulging bad news. By the next day at school, rumors were swirling. Three kids from the high school expelled. Hazing incidents. Reporters. Newspapers. Television crews. Lies. Truth. A perfect storm of sensation to distract from everything we try to do right in our classrooms, and to instead focus on the worst imaginable scenarios of what allegedly happened.
I have heard very little fact about the events that occurred in my district, and I doubt that I will ever know everything. I know names. I know sordid details, no doubt being expanded on as they spread in this disgusting game of adult telephone. And I know that ultimately the kids suffer the most from this situation.
But we as teachers, as a school district, as a wider community suffer, too. We strive every day to create a safe environment, a caring place for all of our students. We do our best. And to have this happen, to have this be what puts us in the spotlight, is heartbreaking. We are not a place where this is okay. We are not a place where students are allowed to treat each other this way. We are not a place where teachers look the other way. We are not this place that people will now think we are based on a soundbite or an article.
I am scared for my students in middle school who are now worried about moving on to high school based on the awful things they are hearing. I am frustrated with people on the outside using this as an opportunity to release long-held hatred toward our school. I am furious with adults who think that gossip about teenagers is an acceptable pastime, especially when it's something of this magnitude. I am heartbroken for the victims who have had their childhoods scarred by senseless acts. I am disgusted and worried for the bullies who allowed poor decisions to irrevocably change their lives.
I refuse to let this change the love I have for my job, my building, or my district. A small group of troubled individuals did terrible things. We will not ignore this problem and pretend it didn't happen, but we will also not allow it to overshadow the truly amazing things that happen in this school district every day. This is not who we are, and I will do everything I can to create a positive narrative about this learning community.
I'll end this post with a picture of some of the high school kids I know at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows: members of my Varsity Cross Country team, on the day of their last group practice before Districts. They ran a slow, easy course that we use regularly. And when I saw them coming back into view, they were running together, as a family, even though they all run at different speeds. I didn't know they were going to do it; they just did it so they could be together one last time. Bad things might have happened here over the past few weeks, but some pretty amazing things happened, too.
It's October. And this is the first blog entry I've done since June. So much for teacher-writer, huh? Thank you to some of my favorite fellow Iowa English teachers/sporadic bloggers/world changers: Jenny, Kim, and Allison. You remind me of why I'm teaching my best when I'm adding more work to my load by writing here. Thanks also to Te@chThought for their #reflectiveteacher Slo-Blog approach that I'm using to kick-start myself back into gear.
It's been a stressful start to the school year. I knew it would be with my new role as Head Cross Country Coach for the entire CGD school district (boys and girls), but it overwhelmed me anyway, even with months of preparation. August and September are crazy enough for any teacher, and a fall sport ensures that there's little breathing room in those precious months. I'll make it through this first season of chaos, and then I'll improve, just as I've done with teaching, just as I do with everything. And then maybe each year, I'll find a better balance.
I never wanted to be a coach when I was in school. I probably would have laughed at anyone who predicted that I'd be one, not that anyone would have. Oh, my English-teacher brethren are full of extracurricular responsibilities: speech, drama, journalism, yearbook; you name it, they take it on. Let's face it: responding to and grading student papers is enough extracurricular work to keep our time filled from August through June. But sports coaching? I only know a handful of other English teachers who also went the athletic route. And it scares me.
I don't ever want to be the teacher that's here to coach. I knew those teachers; I had those teachers; I've seen those teachers. The people who blatantly care more about their sport and their athletes than they do about their classroom and their students. There's nothing wrong with coaching. I know that coaches are some of the best role models for student-athletes, and coaching carries just as many responsibilities as being a classroom teacher. But I believe people should go into teaching to be the best teachers they can be, and coaching often interferes with that. I've always known I didn't want that to be me. I didn't know how hard it was to prevent that from happening.
The constant phone calls. Emails. Print and radio interviews. Entering rosters. Managing injuries. Roster changes. Insurance and liability forms. Training. Explaining the training. Defending the training. Meets. Missing uniforms. Team t-shirts. Happy parents. Doubting parents. Fast runners. Slow runners. Walkers. Bus rides. Complaining. Reconnecting with former students. Lectures. Recaps. Fun. (That's right. We were supposed to have fun, too. I said I was going to be fun. Damn.) I'm busting my butt to be a successful coach and it's exhausting.
And all of this action and distraction is outside of my real job. My main reflection each day focuses on one thing: am I still teaching to the best of my ability? Is the learning in my classroom still the most important part of every day? Are my students still first? Am I still a good English teacher?
I hope the answer is yes. I am still working my magic, but with less sleep at night. I am still creating writers, but with slower turnaround on comments and response. I'm still having meaningful conversations about writing with kids, but with less after school time for writing conferences. I am still doing my best, but it's harder than usual.
The struggle is worth it. It has to be. I like coaching, and I want to do it for as many years as I can without sacrificing my true love. I'm an English teacher, and that always has to be my most important job.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.