Saturday, October 21, 2006

Coming to a Classroom near You

Part 1—The Craziness

Yesterday was one of those days when I was wavering between suicidal and homicidal tendencies—yes, I’m being overly dramatic. But you know what I mean: it was too much to bear. So my overarching dilemma felt like: would I feel better off if I killed myself, or if I killed someone else? Interruption upon interruption. Paper after paper. Demand after demand. Mini crisis after mini crisis. E-mail “in” folder was full. Stop the madness!

Folks, this is just a brief description of the day of the life of a public school teacher—and every teacher feels this way, at least once a week. A bit crazy? Yes. A bit worrisome? Oh, yes. Completely insane? Absolutely yes.

Ten years ago, when I first entered this profession, it was a great time to teach. Masses of people were retiring; jobs were a plenty; practical instructive techniques were being implemented; and teaching was both challenging and exhilarating. During this time, I made some lifelong friends; some were already in the profession, some, along with me, were just entering; and I was even lucky enough to meet my wife.

At this time, there were so many initiatives. Technology was revolutionizing teaching; we were all learning new strategies; and students, for the most part, were changing along with us, or at least trying.

Being a new teacher, I was certainly overwhelmed but never overburdened. I distinctly remember a much appreciated, seasoned veteran tell me that if I were a “quick study,” I could possibly gain leverage on my teaching in three to four years. Leverage meaning: it would get easier and more manageable. Well, three to four years have quickly come and gone, and while I still love working with students, I have a newsflash that far too many teachers know: the job isn’t getting any easier.

Nowadays, teachers, those who actually do their job, have far too much to do. First and foremost we are supposed to teach, come up with plans, “align” our teaching with standards; correct work, and sometimes assign imaginary numbers to ward off a witch hunt that might ensue; do clerical duties that involve paper management—a Stephen King nightmare in the making; counsel students because we need to be concerned with how they feel and whether or not they like us—who cares if they are learning; communicate with parents to justify the grades we give; be on a committee that addresses the “need” for… more committees; attend professional development conferences that are usually hosted by…people who are no longer in the classroom or well-paid consultants; and bedeck our rooms with mission statements, standards, discipline policies and any other interior design item so that we can “flip” the room should another teacher come along, or more dreadfully yet, a walk-through or NEASC team. Can you imagine if we wallpapered the crib with the entire NCLB document? Now that’s what I call alignment!

I wish I were making this all up, but I’m not. Any good teacher worth his or her job, and many visit this site, knows that it’s just too much. And while there are some, just like in any profession, who make those of us who do our jobs, look bad by doing nothing; by pitching tent near a PC while the students do busy paperwork; and/or by going on a control freak rampage, attempting to micromanage everyone else’s day (that’s dedicated to JD and my conservative brethren SK), we all get the same amount of pay. Of course, this pay lags severely behind the salaries of other professionals, say accountants, insurance industry professionals, and, in some cases, store managers—not that there is anything wrong with these professions. I’m just saying that teachers who teach; who counsel students and do care how they feel on some level, just not with a social worker’s or psychologist’s level of expertise; who abide by what comes down from the Mt. Olympus of Administration and the Titans of Central Office; who care about their kids’ learning; who attempt to contribute to rather than contaminate the work environment; and who have a love for their discipline and actually “work” through assignments just as students should and/or do feel that sometimes, we would much prefer killing something rather than managing this inordinate amount of demands.

So in an effort to make us at least 1% more conscious about the current state of public school teaching, I have initiated a new strand on this blog, which both many teachers and, word has it, students read, called “Coming to a Class Room near You.” This is just part one in a long series to come, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

PREVIEW: Coming to a Classroom near You, part 2: The Jeri D. Hours Log: Sorry Folks: We Really Don’t Get Summers Off.


amy said...

Sing it, Sean!

Anonymous said...

speak the truth brother! It is true esp the part about the "PC-camping, CIA-nosy, trouble-making, lazy-ass" teachers would don't know not do jack shit! It is enough for those of us that fall asleep in our potatoes when we eat dinner with our families to book a flight on the Oceanic Airlines and hopefully get stranded on a tropical island somewhere warm with a convenient hatch for food, laundry, showers and bathrooms :) and have the PC-squatter deal with our departure

Anonymous said...

I guess there are some teachers who don't do seem to be doing as much as others, but I don't really know. I'm too busy all day working every minute to notice. In a teacher's life, the first 5-10 years are the zealous years-join every committee, dot every "i" for administration, stay until its dark, take on class advisor for a 4-year term, have sleepless nights worrying about the kid who acts up all the time or is destined to failure. The next 10 years a mental shift happens. We recognize the administrators who went into administration because they couldn't handle the classroom anymore, or the pay, and don't really notice all the extra things you do anyway, but get a "high" from calling teachers on the carpet for every misstep, like forgetting to push a button for attendance or sending a kid to the office for discipline who happens to be a next door neighbor to the administrator. By the way, the teachers they make friends with are often the ones who give less time to their job and more time to schmoozing. After 10 or more years, you realize the only thing that's important is what you do in the classroom and its damn hard because society teaches the young that they are entitled to an A without working very hard for it and it's the teacher's fault if they don't get it. Society teaches that kids need all kinds of techno wizardry so they can send IM's and play games while you're trying to teach and they should be entertained and "understood." "Take notes? Are you kiddin'?"
The teacher after 10 years begins to understand that only part of his or her life is teaching, that family, friends, personal health, etc., are more important. Yes, more important, because the kids in the class are with you a tiny percentage of their lives. That means the responsibility for their lives rests in a lot of other places, not on a teacher's shoulders-one who has them for only 1 year of their lives.
After 20 years of teaching, if a teacher doesn't have health issues, a nervous condition, sore feet and an aching back, they learn to walk out of the building at the end of the school day, not 2 hours later, they learn they can't change the world, but they can start taking care of themselves. They've learn to let go of things that have made little difference in the classroom and have done nothing to improve their own lives. They still care for the kids, they still want to teach, but they realize that you can't get blood from a rock, and they know when to throw in the towel and leave committee meetings and all the extras to the new generation of teachers who will learn, like they did, that enough is enough.

conservative colleague said...

I'm looking forward to the next addition. 20 Year Teacher, are the extra responsibilities expected of a teacher the same now as they were when you started teaching?

Anonymous said...

Even though I'm not a veteran teacher, I know you hit the nail right on the head. I'll have to show Cookie this one too!!