Digressions, Gripes, and My Hypocrisy

I’m going to start with a digression (a pregression?). I get poems stuck in my head, just like music. Two frequent culprits are from Kurt Vonneget’s novel, Cat’s Cradle:

Lion gotta hunt,
Bird gotta fly,
Man gotta sit and wonder, Why? Why? Why?


Lion gotta rest,
Bird gotta land,
Man gotta tell himself he understand.

Digressing further, (a bi-digression?) the answer to a question in algebra was y-cubed. A student said, “That’s Y Y Y!” Which sounded like “Why?Why? Why?” and I ended giving a short introduction to Kurt Vonnegut. At the end of the period I projected the cover of Cat’s Cradle and some of them wrote the title down. Then I told them to get their folks’ permission to read it because some of the language might be inappropriate. One girl reminded my that as 8th graders they use more inappropriate language eight feet from my door than they’ll get in any book.

By the way, does anyone know of any Common Core algebra standard that covers Modern American Literature?

Circling back to the point of the first digression, I’ve been filling in Vonnegut’s poems with verses of my own. For example:

Feeling kind of grumpy
Feeling kind of grieved;
Wish a couple teachers would just get up and leave.

Now, I don’t really wish that any competent colleague would leave the profession. Lord knows we need fewer teachers like California needs less rain. But every time a colleague says, “I don’t know why I have to change __________ , when I’ve been doing the same way for ______ years,” I just go berserk.

Needless to say, I’m no Billie Jack, nor do I seek to pick silly fights. So only my brain hears my responses, “Right, you got it perfect 20 years ago. We should all be so lucky.”

Or, “Well, I’m glad you haven’t felt the need to try to improve for 20 years.”

Or like Steve M. R. Covey might say, “You think you have 20 years of experience, but you’re just proving you have one year experience 20 times.”

I did get snarky once, during a committee debate on our grading system. I asked a colleague what evidence they had that their way was superior. They replied, “Twenty years of experience.” To which I countered, “Well, I have 27, so if that’s all it takes, I win.”

But then, when I least expect it, I’m –

Feeling kind of fake,
Feeling in the breach,
I hear a little voice saying, “Practice what you preach.”

You see, last spring our principal toyed the idea of changing our rotating schedule back to a straight schedule. The rotating schedule is very popular with teachers, as I think is with students, too. As one colleague put it, “When my seventh period class meets at the end of the day, I feel like a kindergarten teacher. When they meet in the morning I feel like an AP science teacher.” All the push back, except mine, was similarly focused on the benefits of rotating our periods.

My reaction to the proposed change went something like this: “But, but, but… that’s outrageous! We’ve been flipping our schedule for years!!!!”

Oh, the shame. It came fast and it burned. I kept quiet in the discussion. (For the record, our principal only considered the change to help out the office staff, but when teachers spoke about how the policy impacts learning, he immediately put that first.)

Since then I’ve thought a lot about it. On the one hand, whereas the teacher in the grading debate couldn’t really didn’t really come up with anything but “20 years of experience” as a defense of her point, I could have explained why the rotating schedule was preferable.

But two questions raise themselves

First, what is the best response to someone evoking the X-years of experience argument? Maybe something simple, along the lines of, “Ok, tell us more.” I’m certainly open to suggestions.

Second, am I too quick to judge my colleagues when they refer to their years of experience, assuming they’re like the colleague who had no other defense, rather than  like ones who can defend their opinions?

Probably, so:

I’m trying to go further,
And not be ruled by pride,
Knowing I should always start by looking deep inside.

Related posts:
Two Administrators Who “Get” Teacher Leadership
Let’s Get Rid of Those Teaching-Profession Clichés 
Institutional Mindsets and Whether We Stay in Education


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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