This will be Rudy's last year as a teacher. It's not like he's retiring or anything; he's in his late 20s and, by his own admission, is just hitting his stride. He's learned all the ins and outs. He knows how to use his time wisely, listening with one ear at faculty meetings while grading papers with the rest of his brain. He knows how to handle the massive load of paperwork, both on paper and in the computer. And he knows how to teach, something he's wanted to do since he was in middle school, when one of his teachers took the extra time to explain how to do a certain math problem. "I remember thinking, 'This guy really cares about whether I understand this thing.' I thought that was so cool. I loved it (teaching) from the very beginning," Rudy recalls. "I couldn't wait to get to school every day. I liked the other teachers, and I liked the kids. I was proud to tell people that I was a teacher."
(Rudy doesn't want his name or school to be identified, lest his last year becomes a lame-duck affair, and he loses what little power he has left as a teacher.)
He remembers reading a column I wrote about another teacher, a lifer who was getting out after 20-some years because he found himself in a system that was set up to fail. That teacher railed against out-of-control kids who were given a free pass by judges, enabling parents and federal statutes that defined everything from drug use to violent criminal behavior as disabilities and allowed knucklehead kids to be virtually impervious to discipline.
"I read that column a few years ago," he recalls, "and I thought, 'That'll never happen to me.' Besides, that other guy had been teaching for 20 years. I just figured it was a cumulative effect. I told myself that I'd be careful."
Well, it's been only five years for Rudy, and he's ready to go.
"It's not the teaching. Inside that classroom, it's magic. When you get through to kids and things start rolling, it's like a tidal wave of good feelings." He pauses, then adds, "Unfortunately, there's all that other stuff."
He thinks the tipping point came last year when he sent a girl to the office for violating the school's dress code. "We've had a strong dress code at our school for the past few years, and it has worked well. If you start out the year strong and do not allow any exceptions, the kids get the message pretty quickly. But last year, we got a new vice principal, and he thought enforcing a dress code was beneath him. He started letting kids slide, so teachers stopped sending kids to the office, and kids picked up on it and started testing the limits.
"This one girl shows up to school dressed incredibly inappropriately. I send her to the office, and a couple hours later, her mom shows up, looking like a bad imitation of a desperate housewife, screaming at me about how she had to take off work to come down and straighten me out.
"I thought to myself, 'You have time to come down and argue your daughter's right to dress like a slut, but when she goes weeks without turning in any homework, you're nowhere to be found.'"
Rudy believes that parents are the root cause of much of what is wrong in the schools these days. "Kids aren't disciplined in the home; they're not appreciated in the home, and they're damn sure not being taught in the home. I took the time to make some take-home assignments that could be done by the kids and their parents, and they got sent back to me with nasty notes, saying things like, 'I already had to learn this stuff once. Why would I want to go over it again?' You just want to punch them in the face."
He says that when they have an open house, three or four parents will show up, and they're not the ones who need to be there. "They're the parents of the straight-A students, and all I can say is, 'You've got a great kid there.'"
So Rudy's getting out before bitterness begins to eat away at him and he does punch somebody in the face. His brother is a contractor, and Rudy figures that by joining him, with the way Tucson is growing, he'll have enough work to last the rest of his life. Lord knows he'll make more money.
He knows he'll miss teaching. He'll miss the kids, but not the parents. He says he even thought about maybe home-schooling his own kids. "But then I remembered that girl who won the spelling bee on ESPN, and I decided I couldn't do that to my kids. I'll just be the best parent I can be."
As a matter of fact, he thinks that the word "parent" is the most misused term of the day. "People should have to earn the title of 'parent.' A lot of people aren't real parents. They're adults who share the same living space with children. And that's the shame of it all."