Hey! Do you not see me?

I have been watching a Netflix series titled Grace and Frankie about two women in their seventies whose husbands divorced them to marry each other. It stars Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin who look fabulous, by the way, better than I do in my fifties. The show spotlights some issues older women experience, and one of these is “irrelevance."  In Season 1, Episode 3, a male grocery store clerk ignores the titular characters as they try to buy cigarettes. When a hot blond girl approaches, he is right there to help her. Grace explodes slamming her grocery basket several times screaming “What kind of animal treats people this way? Do you not see me? Do I not exist? You think it’s alright to ignore us because she has gray hair, and I don’t look like her?” Sitting in the car in the parking lot afterward, she states, “That lacked poise, and I’m sorry. But I refuse to be irrelevant.”

That last sentence resonated with me because I have noticed that no one looks at me anymore, and I’m okay with that. My looks never drew much attention anyway. Clean and well-put-together has always been my goal, and now in my menopausal fifties, not to smell like pee.  I can’t explain to teenage students who want to make fun of my age that I still feel sixteen inside; a wiser, more confident sixteen, but sixteen nonetheless. I just politely smile at them and respond, “I will ignore your comment because one day, if you are lucky enough to reach my age, a rude teenager will make fun of you.” And . . . when did I become the oldest person on my hall, practically the entire school! I have no idea when that happened, and why do I not feel the confidence and peace of a sage.

After lighting a cigarette from the pack she pilfered during Grace’s meltdown, Frankie responds to Grace’s comment with “It’s okay. I learned something. We’ve got a superpower. . . . You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.” Basically, the more women age, the more invisible to society they become. That can be a blessing. I have learned to enjoy the invisibility cloak of older women, becoming less self-conscience and more relaxed. I worry less about being appropriately clothed and coiffed when I leave the house. I state me opinion more and care less how people receive it.

However . . . as a teacher, I do not want to be invisible or irrelevant, yet feel exactly that after this last year, especially with the new TKES evaluation and new standardized testing system. 

Why do I feel invisible as a teacher these days? The obvious reason is constantly listening to pundits and politicians talk about how broken the U.S. education system  is yet most have not even wandered into a public school. They offer their ideas, usually based on false data, on what teachers should be doing in a classroom. They spotlight failing public schools in high-poverty areas, yet ignore the research on the effects of poverty on children and learning. Reformers showcase successful charter schools as the beacon of hope for us all, but I cringe when I see students, especially students of color, performing like robots tracking teachers with their eyes and stating rote answers in unison. I wish they would visit my school, which probably represents most of the schools in the U.S., and see what actually happens every day. Learning . . . that’s what is happening. Teachers are teaching and students are learning. I teach in a Title I school, and minimum discipline problems occur. Students know they are expected to behave and learn, and the majority do.

Another reason many experienced teachers feel irrelevant relates to Teach for America. These young, elite college students receive eight weeks of summer training to teach in high-needs schools; the very schools that need the most experienced teachers. They are lauded as the remedy to heal public schools even though many do it to improve their résumés in hopes of attaining a better job after two years of teaching. I find it insulting as a teacher who studied in a traditional teacher preparation program, which by the way, does not even totally prepare new teachers for what they will experience in their classrooms, that TFA students are considered qualified to teach in some of the most challenging classrooms in America. 

Teaching is a sacred calling; true teachers know this. It is not a job one does because they cannot do anything else or they need a good entry on their résumé. Teaching requires one's heart and soul as well as incredible creativity and intelligence. Most of all, it requires a lifetime commitment to improving the lives of children. TFA candidates provide mostly the intelligence. Some systems are hiring mostly TFA candidates now partly because their salaries are cheaper than that of a veteran teacher. Ironically, in other professions, experience is valued, and people are willing to pay for it. Experienced teachers in education are starting to feel like that particular color of lipstick we ladies wear every day. It works, both color and texture. It looks good with our skin tone and goes well with most clothing colors. We can depend on it. Yet, every now and then, we find ourselves in the make-up section of the drug store eyeing a new color. We think we need a change, something that will improve us, make us prettier, so we buy it. When we arrive home and try on the new color, it just does not look right. Just as women waste money on a wrong color lipstick, so some school systems invest scarce public dollars in short-term solutions. 

Famous education bloggers and teacherpreneurs make me feel irrelevant, too. It is no longer enough to do my job and do it very well, now I must be a famous blogger, win national TOTY, and sell millions of dollars of lesson plan ideas on TpT. Of course, I am putting that pressure on myself, but I still feel “less than” because of this new teacherpreneur trend. One teacher made a million dollars for her school selling lesson ideas online, and was even interviewed by Steve Harvey. Another teacher in South Korea created a series of math videos, and is happily counting his piles of wons.

Now, this is the part of the essay where I was going to write, but as Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction states, “I will not be ignored." Next, I planned to expound on the many ways to become more relevant as a teacher. These included exploring the following:

Joining the ranks of the latest teacherpreneurs
Learning how to gain more readers of my blog
Joining an advocacy group for educational issues
Trying the latest technologies for the classroom
Trying new and innovative teaching strategies
Attending our local BOE meetings
Attending more educational conferences
Taking more risks in all areas of my life
Mentoring younger teachers
Writing articles for educational publications

Of course, these are all good ideas, but as I lay sleepless at three in the morning after waking to the eighth hot flash of the day, thank you Ms. Menopause, I experienced a "hot flash" of insight. 

Relevancy for a teacher means showing up every day with interesting and challenging lessons for our students. Relevancy is caring for each student and making sure his or her needs are met emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Relevancy is watching students take risks because our teaching inspires them to do so. Most importantly, relevancy is being fully present every day, in every class, with every student so that no student ever feels invisible and wonders, "Hey! Do you not see me?


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