Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

In The Trenches

By Anytimeyoga @anytimeyoga

It’s a phrase my colleagues and I hear a lot — usually from site principals, district administrators, or private educational consultants. Less often, from the school board. Teachers are “in the trenches” because we’re the ones who interact with students every day.

I’ve heard this phrase for years finally decided that I don’t like it.

Scratch that.

I’ve known for a while that “in the trenches” needles me. But a growing and sharpening contrast has recently allowed me to articulate why, in my own head, the phrase bothers me so much.

It’s true that I interact with my students every day, and because of that, I am often the first one — or one of the first ones — to notice if a student is having school or life difficulties.

The student who was never tested for special education services because they’d moved around too much. The student who was never tested because an ESL issue covered up a specific learning disability.

The student who suddenly starts coming late to school. Turns out she’s walking because she doesn’t know when the bus comes by her now — because her mom kicked her out, and now she’s living with her aunt.

The student who’s unfocused and disruptive because her family has to choose, in part, between medication and food. (Also, side note for any United States Congressfolk who just happen to be reading this blog entry — The problem is worse this year than it’s ever been. And it’s worse this month than it was earlier this year. The increased funding for SNAP was actually a totes good thing that we should have continued. But that is probably another post for another time.)

So, yes. On one level, I am often the first person who notices that interventions should be happening, as well as the person who often intervenes. And I’m not saying that these interventions aren’t awkward, time consuming, frustrating, or heartbreaking — because they often are.

But they do not feel like I am at war.

Because that’s what “in the trenches” is: imagery of war.

And it does not feel like I am at war with my students. It does not feel like I am at war with their families, their histories, their communities, their difficulties. Not that I’ve never gotten a bit adversarial during sixth period on Fridays (or at least wanted to), I’ve always made best and consistent progress by working with students rather than against.

This has historically been my thinking.

Lately, however, I am starting to think that I might actually be at war.

I mean, I have long thought it with respect to national and statewide climate of hostility to education. But those seemed… not far away, but… abstract. I did not know and could not see the people making decisions that affect me.

Now it’s local.

There’s another round of budget cuts. There are perpetual, progressive budget cuts. We’re at the point where we cannot further cut without majorly impacting the fundamental functioning of our district.

It’s never easy. It always hurts. However, in the past, representatives of various parties reached a consensus regarding specific cuts. Voices at various levels are being shut out, and district admin is making decisions far more unilaterally than they have in the past. (I will note that in my particular state, there is no statute that legally binds them to seek employee, union, or even public input. That said, they have done so in the past — usually to the effect of surviving the storm with as little critical damage as possible.)

It feels like I am in the trenches, am at war, with my district — and I don’t like that.

Not at war to keep my job individually, let’s be clear. This is not personal.

Not at war because I am combative by nature. And even if I were, ten years of teaching high school students has taught me how to de-escalate so many situations like it is my job. Because, well, it is my job.

But because I am struggling, we are struggling. To be treated as competent professionals. To have a voice. To be taken seriously. Because when it comes to the discourse of public education, it is a sad day when teachers have to fight to even be seated at the discussion table. In ten years of teaching, this is the most in the trenches I have ever felt.

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