Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stand and Survive

I watched Stand and Deliver for the third time last night. Before I became a teacher at a South Bronx high school, I found this movie absolutely inspiring and amazing. Every teacher wants to be a Mr. Escalante. I still think it's a good film, but the thing that stands out to me now that I am actually in a situation similar to Escalante's is that he neglected his family and friends in order to accomplish what he did, and he nearly killed himself over that job. This struck me because in the past year, I have checked myself into a hospital twice. For Escalante, it was heart trouble. For me, it has been panic attacks, which were never a problem for me before. I have also been diagnosed with "insomnia due to work-related stress." I never experienced insomnia before taking this job. I don't understand how other South Bronx educators can sleep when they know what is happening in our schools.

Yesterday, I broke down and wept in the assistant principal's office. I am now taking a day off and wondering how much of my life I am willing to sacrifice for this job. Stand and Deliver isn't just about teaching. It is also about having the courage (and stubbornness) to fight bosses, stand up against a failing school system, and be hated by many.

Another thing I noticed about the movie is that Escalante demanded a certain amount of respect partly because he was an older, already very accomplished man. Not to diminish what he accomplished or what he sacrificed, but I do feel that as a relatively young woman, the fight is a bit harder. It doesn't matter what I've accomplished. I look young and naive, and to older administrators, I'm a little white girl who has no right to call them on their incompetencies. I have already been through fighting administrators and prompting a state investigation at one negligent South Bronx school. I am not sure I have another fight in me at this time in my life.

I recently passed up an $80,000 a year job offer with a private group because I felt dedicated to my school. I'm not sure if I made the right decision.


Blogger herewegoagain said...

I read every blog you wrote after I stumbled onto this. SO well written and so relevant. I hope you stay, but if you don't, please write a book!

8:15 PM  
Blogger Miss Dennis said...

Thanks so much for your kind words! I do hope to publish a book about these experiences someday, and it's nice to know that there are people out there who want to understand what is happening in our country's inner city schools.

1:14 AM  
Blogger herewegoagain said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Mine's silly, yours means something! Thanks!

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You made the right decision.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Whelan said...

Thanks for your comment. Just reading through some more of your blog. I just admire your honesty very much.
My second year of teaching I started seeing a psychologist because I was being emotionally abused and bullied by the principal at the school. I eventually, quietly, switched schools within district. But, I was told to watch my step or I'd become black listed. It was then I realized I couldn't deal with the bureacracy any more. My fiancee was offered a position in the DC Area, so I moved. Found my charter school, and now I'd never leave. It's crazy.
I would say that if you are willing to turn down an $80,000 a year job for you students, then you made the right decision. Just remember, as long as it's still about the kids to you, it's still worth something.
I always said, it was never the kids that got me down, it was the adults. And the adults quite nearly drove me out of teaching.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

Miss Dennis,
I can really relate to your melt down in the principal's office! I had a very similiar experience during the last week of school this year...five days of school left and 5 IEPs to still write! Plus report cards, IEP updates, and battles with a difficult parent. Almost forgot...Principal informing me, on the second to last day of school, that classroom space will be limited next year so you will be sharing your space, which is already a divided room, with another spec ed teacher! After 26 years of teaching, it doesn't get any easier, if anything, the stress and emotions take a greater toll on our maturing bodies! Thanks for all you do for our special kids!

9:18 PM  
Blogger T_Sommer said...

Having dedication to your school is admirable. Knowing your place is where you're meant to be is something I think we all strive for.

Believing in students, and yourself, can help. Giving them the best education you can helps them to learn and create a better future. Maybe these insights you give your students will help the Bronx one day. Maybe the world.

It is worth it. It is all worth it.

12:14 PM  

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