What Do Teachers Really Do?

I was a teacher.  I can tell you what teachers really do.  I am a nurse.   I have been in the trenches as a public worker and I know the importance of bargaining power.  

In 1969, when I started my first teaching job, I made $7,350.00.  In present day value at 3% cost of living that’s $25,436.00.   My father-in-law used to tease me that I had the summer off. (Actually I taught summer school to make more money.)  He changed his criticism when he learned what I actually did for that salary:

  • Worked from 7:00 to 4:00.
  • Taught 5 classes of 25-30 students.
  • In teacher-speak had 3 preparations, meaning three different classes  (Humanities, Novel or basic sophomore English, for example) translation: lots of work the night before.
  • Read, corrected and graded papers for these 150 students—translation, worked on the weekends.
  • Presented long works of fiction—translation, read on the weekends.
  • Had to take an extra assignment—like coaching or mentoring, a rule at my school.  Translation: went to games and dances and tournaments on the weekends.
  • Inserted school business and paperwork into each day: attendance reports, notices to student nurse, counselors, deans; reports to principal, department chair; parent-teacher meetings and phone calls; frequent teacher meetings.
  • Created curriculum: tests, assignments, evaluations and interactive learning.

But here is the bottom line for being a teacher—and if the following was true for me, it’s even more true for any teacher working in the classroom today: you don’t know what will come in the door each day you are working.

I taught at Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois.  My school was a microcosm in the early 70s—Italian Americans, African Americans, whites from the south moving up to Chicago for better jobs, children of families whose presence in the suburb for years gave them ownership.   Result: problems—riots, fights, rule-breaking, school closures for safety reasons.  A policeman in the hallways.  Staggered scheduling to avoid having too many students in the building at one time.

And what did we teachers do?  We worked, we taught, we followed all the changes and we did everything we could to help our students.  Everyone one them:

  • the girl in Humanities that told me right out in class that when my husband traveled he was having affairs—interesting way to get out of talking about THE SCARLET LETTER.
  • the boy who came to my classroom every morning and flirted with me in a joking way, but I was only 23 and he was 17.
  • the 9th period coalition whose goal was to break me down in front of the class so they criticized everything I said, questioned everything I tried to teach them for weeks.  I did break down.
  • the kids coming to school sick, unfed, unclean, angry; kids sleeping all through class; kids telling you to f-yourself;
  • the kids who needed love as well as education, who needed someone to stand up for them and give them a chance to get on in the world.

Teachers do that for kids, every day.  And they aren’t someone else’s kids—they are your kids.  And I don’t care if the politicians in Wisconsin secretly set themselves aside because their children go to PRIVATE schools.  Believe me, these same problems occur in those schools and sometimes the teachers are not as well educated and prepared to deal with them.  PRIVATE schools don’t always have as many requirements for teachers because they often cannot pay them as well.

Teaching is a rich and varied profession.  Teaching requires dedication and desire—like medicine—but doctors make a whole lot more than teachers do.

Twenty years ago there was much talk about teachers not being paid enough, not being valued enough.

Now we are forcing teachers into the streets to ask for what they are owed.


STAND FOR NURSES.  What do they do?

  • Nurses run hospitals, work crazy shifts, are there when your mother or father needs to urinate or be suctioned or saved by a Code Blue.
  • Fireman try to keep your house from becoming a total loss.
  • Policemen—enough said.

For those folks who don’t want to pay these members of our middle class, there’s an answer—go live off the grid.  Go to some mountain in Montana or Wyoming.  Teach your children yourself.  Protect your house and don’t even think about needing a hospital.

SUPPORT PUBLIC WORKERS, they work for you.

PS I taught for five years.  When I stopped to raise my children, I had only a $2,000 increase in salary.  What do teachers really do?  They work long hours for you and your children.


Thanks to Google Images

Fighting Fear: Everyone Needs A Barbara

Fighting Fear: Everyone Needs A Barbara

The combination of night, the Dan Ryan, a disabled car and me alone–not good!

I was fighting my fear. Something wasn’t right. Midnight, snowstorm on the Dan Ryan Expressway, my van making some unidentifiable sound above the whine of rushing wheels, above hundreds of cars weaving and lane changing at jet speeds–so many people going somewhere in the depth of the night.

Barbara had taught me about mantras. I was using a new one—help me get home, please God, help me get home—my fingers gripping the wheel. And then my back left tire blew. I was skidding and riding on the metal rim, struggling to keep control, to slow down—finally seeking the safety of the shoulder.

I slammed the car into park, my hands flying from the wheel like frightened birds.    Shivering in the hot blast from the car’s heater, I plunged into my nursing bag and pulled out the cell phone.   As I punched in numbers I was noting my locked doors, watching traffic zip by so close my car groaned and dipped in their wake, like the response of my heart now unloosed inside my chest.  I listened to the ringing.  I couldn’t remember whom I had called.  Icy sleet pelted the windshield.  I was alone, 22 miles from home.  Then my husband’s groggy voice.  He would come right away, he would call roadside assistance.

Moments later I was standing in the slushy snow of the shoulder, staring at my blasted tire.  I thought of the spare, the tools buried somewhere—could I do this, get myself out of here?   A frantic laugh moved inside of me and I looked up, spoke to the halo of the vapor lights—“ Thanks, Barbara, because of you I’m here right now!”

A car was pulling off onto the shoulder, maybe 30 yards behind me.  A long beat-up old junker.  I hurried back, locked myself in the van, waited, watching the slow progression of the car through my rearview mirror.

Disquiet had ridden with me nine hours earlier when I drove into the hospital parking lot to begin my 3-11 shift in Labor and Delivery. The van just wasn’t riding right. My first patient presented with a prolapsed umbilical cord and we did an emergency C-section. I told myself that at the end of the shift I’d deal with the van, I would pray to God to just help me get home. Please help me get home. A new mantra—Barbara would have been proud of me.

I met Barbara when I was in my tentative early 30’s and she in her secure 50’s. She came into a neighborhood party greeting everyone and emanating an intense presence, her brilliant blue eyes bringing people out of corners, her full-throated laugh cheering the room. I watched as she waved her drink in the air with crooked fingers and twisted joints, moved about with a slight limp. But it was her smile. It broke through conversation pulling everyone in. I just stood and watched as the gloomy rain-washed day succumbed to her light.

Barbara radiated a charge. And with sincerity she readily shared her world of elation and her experience with grief. In time she made me want to do the same, tell her everything, including my private fears. Barbara became a gift to me.

In her late teens, Barbara had developed rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that inflames the joints. This crisis happened when she was falling in love with her work in the fashion world and then with her future husband. Three children later with a house in the suburbs and car pools to run, Barbara could hardly walk, bone rubbing on bone. The medical world was there for her–prescriptions, surgeries, over 30 stays in the hospital.  And her family was wonderfully present.

But they couldn’t live her life. And so often Barbara was alone–with her pain. For a while she clung to the quiet recesses of her home. And maybe in those bleak hours she thought of giving up. Then one day she found she was able to will herself to another place–for seconds she traveled away from the boundaries of her body. And while she walked beside an ocean or floated in a balloon above the mountains, she was freed from the clutches of her pain. That transforming moment became the basis for everything that came after–“If I can elude my pain for five seconds while meditating on something wonderful—then I know I can get away from it for five minutes, thirty-five minutes, even five hours.”

Over time Barbara did just that. Her doctors were amazed.They couldn’t believe that she could walk without pain, take care of her family, travel. Questions flew about. What was really happening–a new drug, a radical remission in the disease?

What was happening was Barbara—total belief, total strength, and the power of the mind.  A scientist could measure the fabric of a butterfly wing or predict the demise of a fragile ecosystem more readily than state what Barbara had discovered deep within herself. It could not be labeled. When I learned about Barbara’s life and how she was managing it—things changed in mine.

For there were days, when despite all her efforts, Barbara’s pain took over. Movement was difficult. Then she used the phone. Often she’d call me for long talks during late afternoon when I was struggling to make dinner and keep track of my two young daughters. This was before cordless phones—I was chained to the wall. But I needed Barbara. I thought I was in control of my life. I had dreams of being a writer and the very best mother that I could be.

But maybe I was different from other stay-at-home moms, or maybe it was just the times and places I lived in: a couple stopped and murdered off the expressway near our home; a woman abducted from the local gas station, gang raped and murdered; a child abducted  from her secure bedroom, raped and strangled. I read too much. I read every article about these cases and more. Then I’d be frantic—how could I save my children from such dangers? They lurked everywhere. I’d keep reading, deciding that if I knew how these attacks had occurred, what the attackers were like, how the victim had been caught unprepared—I could learn something, save myself and my daughters. It was a circle with no end. My fears locked me inside my home.

The best thing I did was reveal these fears to Barbara. Calmly but firmly she told me I had to stop such thoughts immediately: I was sending out bad signals; fear glowed around me; my mind was using so much energy to conjure rape and danger that I might draw trouble right to me. Just as Barbara used her mental energy to block out pain, I was using mine to bring negatives into my life.

I listened, struggled to change. After all, Barbara’s life was about vulnerability. She had learned to throw aside fear. I transformed mine to logical concerns, holding fast as my panic and apprehension slowly lifted. Barbara really gave me back my freedom. Her little shove improved my prayer life and my faith in life’s joyful experiences. Now I could put the negatives of life in perspective. With renewed belief in God’s protection and my own inner guidance, I was no longer afraid to journey out into life and take some risks.

I had a healthy baby at 42. I went back to school, started a new career as a registered nurse, working at a tertiary care center in downtown Chicago. And now tonight, I was stranded on the Dan Ryan.

As I watched a man walk toward me from the beat-up car, the frightening newspaper articles were buried deep within, outside my reach. I was a nurse at an inner city hospital.  I had met people who lived and worked in the trenches of life. I could keep my head.

He came up and I spoke to him through a crack in the car window, mentioning that my husband was on his way. He said right out that he wasn’t there to hurt me, he just wanted to change my tire, make some extra money. His gloves were torn, his coat ragged. I weighed my options. I said thank you, but no. He nodded and walked away. He lingered by his car for a few moments and then came back. The snow was heavier now and I ran the window down a little more to see him, to talk to a man who was everything I would have been terrified of before Barbara.

“I work in Labor and Delivery at Mercy Hospital,” I told him, revealing myself as someone he could trust—I worked in his neighborhood.

“Do you know Nadine?” he asked right away. “She works in dietary.”

And so the conversation moved on and again he offered to change my tire—it would be done when my husband arrived. Cars whizzed past. No one else had stopped. I clicked the lever, opened the back of my van to this stranger. He changed my tire. Barbara, my mentor, helped change my life.

It was important that I be there that night—a defining moment for me. Subsequently, my children have claimed the world for their own, being sensible, but living lives of freedom.

Barbara died a year before that anxious, snowy night. But as I fought my fear, she was there, showing me that by using common sense and extending trust to a fellow human being there are many wonderful ways to get home again.

Thanks to Google Images

Fighting Fear: Everyone Needs A Barbara

I found that the community at the hospital moved far out into that night.



This could be mom in our hold Chevy.

After a wedding in downtown Chicago, my husband and I drove to the south end of the city to visit my mom.  Reminders: she is 94 and struggling with dementia. This was a good visit. Mornings are better for her. She remembered the family whose son was married; she was eager to hear details. I wished then we had taken pictures so she could see the amazing roses and hydrangeas, the beautiful bride, and the four little bridesmaids who ran around in white dresses with cranberry bows.

Two hours later, we left her, after going through pictures from the past—left her with a kiss on her bony forehead and a firm hug around her thin back, humped with osteoporosis.  Bye Mom. It could be the last.

We live in Iowa, a five hour drive, and I started out while my husband napped. Rod Stewart sang from his Great American Songbook and suddenly I found myself singing along. After all, the car is where I learned the melody and lyrics to Time After Time, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, It Had To Be You, I’ll Be Seeing You, Night And Day, Someone To Watch Over Me. It was Mom singing, driving us to Washington DC for a visit with cousins. I was only in grade school. She firmly grasped the wheel with hands that typed insurance policies to feed and clothe us, the left hand still wearing a thin silver wedding band, though my dad was long gone from a heart attack.  Her lilting soprano voice, which blotted out the hissing of passing cars, tightened my own throat and stirred my gut and soul with strange and conflicting feelings.

There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that he, turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who’ll watch over me

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed, Follow my lead, oh, how I need Someone to watch over me

As her voice filled the car, those words hung, echoed there. Did she really feel like a little lost lamb? Did she hunger for someone to replace my father whose image sat eternally in a gold frame on our living room table? What would my life be like if someone put on some speed and arrived on our front porch, only to take my mother away from me and my brothers?

We always arrived safely after those car trips. But despite the fervent singing of those love songs time after time, no one ever again appeared in my mother’s life to watch over her.  No one ever put on any speed at all.

Maybe she was too much her own person to attract a man. Or maybe it was the three children who trailed after her. Instead my mother was her own person throughout the years of raising us, working, and then settling back to live alone, and continue to work, travel and see her friends.

Now she is never alone, surrounded by occupants of the Memory Unit where she is spending her last days. Time after time we have to repeat things to her as the dementia rubs her of the ability to store new information. Oh how I wish that I knew for sure there were angels watching over her. Oh how I pray that someone will put on some speed and answer her need for love and guidance as she passes from this earth. I hope it’s my father who comes to get her—he will remember the fragile and beautiful tones of her voice and take her hand. Though he probably has been watching over her for these sixty years, this time the plaintive appeal of the song will finally come to an end.


In those early days, Mom drove us to Washington D.C. singing all the way.

Thanks to Google Images