Rucsandra Bitere, or Roxy for short, is in her 3rd year teaching 9th grade English in Orange County, Florida. She is the Poetry Club sponsor, a member of her school’s FAC, a Stanford Hollyhock, Education Fellow, and her team’s PLC leader. Roxy graduated from the University of Central Florida with her English Education degree.
While she has her degree, Roxy strongly believes that teaching is a profession in which the learning is never truly done. Teaching is a craft, a craft that one must constantly work on in order to fully reap the benefits of this profession. Those benefits being able to connect with your students and foster meaningful relationships.
I live by two words, so much so that I’ve tattooed them onto my body for safekeeping, ‘Reflect’ and ‘Rebirth’. My poetry club kids would tell your there’s a poem in these words. That, they wield such power, I would really need to unpack their meaning then tie them back up into metaphors. And they have a point, I constantly reflect on everything I do especially in the classroom. I think many teachers do this.
A past lesson and how it can be improved. An interaction with a student that may have gone better. A really interesting text that perfectly connects to what you were already authentically discussing in class, so you move around your calendar in order to make space for this genius material.
Reflection leads to growth, or in my poetic brain, a rebirth. A thoughtful and purposeful change into a better version of yourself. That’s what I had at the end of Quarter 1 this 2019/2020 school year. However, this rebirth was grounded in sour awareness and tedious data work.
It was the last Thursday in Quarter 1 and I found myself driving to my childhood home in South Florida. My grandma was hospitalized the day before for a blood infection and my mom needed me to be home to help my grandpa, who has severe Alzheimer’s and is diabetic, around the house. I left my kids with two tasks: to complete the district wide Quarter 1 assessment in the computer lab, and then to finish any missing work they had so I could grade it over the weekend.
Finally, after two days of running between hospital and home, checking in on one grandparent and making sure the other received his insulin, I had a day, Saturday, to work on school stuff. All Saturday morning, I graded missing work and afterwards I was going to send out emails to parents of students who had a D or an F in my class. The emails were to notify parents of their student’s grade and to remind them that the final day to submit work was that upcoming Monday. I thought this was an important and thoughtful gesture on my part. Me going the extra mile for my students and their parents.
What I was met with was not something I anticipated.
A parent emailed me back not long after the initial email that I sent, telling me I was lazy and that I should grade her son’s work. That she knows he has completed everything, and that if I didn’t grade his work soon she would talk to the School Board about me.
Even now, recounting the memory, still sends me through so many waves of emotions. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. I had just gone out of my way to grade every missing assignment before my grades were due, on a Saturday, while my grandma is in the hospital. Then I sent you a reminder email, on a Saturday, to let you know your student’s grade and the last day I was accepting work. On a Saturday. I just couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong.
But then it hit me. Teachers are held to a much higher standard than other professions. Teachers are socially expected to do so much more for significantly less. This notion is so ingrained in our social fabric that while I was in college I would get laughed at for ‘wanting to be poor’ when I got my degree.
So I got mad, then I cried, and then I got back to work. I made several changes to my class for the start of Quarter 2 and in doing so I also made changes to how I go about the time I work on my craft.
I started to log all of my hours I work outside of my contract time. Contract time at the high school level at OCPS is from 7:10-2:40. I began documenting everything, from time stamps to what I was doing. The results are heartbreaking. During the first week of Quarter 2, I worked over 19 hours outside of my contract time. 19 hours. That’s 19 hours of unpaid, full on work that I am pouring into my classes and students. That’s 19 hours of time I take away from my family, friends and self care. That’s 19 hours worth of money that I will never see.
Teachers work so much more than anyone cares to talk about because it is already considered a norm that we will do it. We’ll do the work regardless, it’s expected of us at this point. We’ve got to push back in order to get what we rightfully deserve–a long overdue raise.