Friday, March 1, 2013

The Cold Dichotomy of Teaching Disillusionment

I'm in my sixth year as a public school educator, and I don't know any teacher who hasn't wanted to do something else at some point. We all have our moments of doubt, even the most strongly called among us. Most teachers who are going to leave the profession don't get past their second year. This makes sense because for the whole first year they think, It's just this awful because it's my first year. It'll get better next year. 

But, for many of them, it doesn't get better the next year. So, they leave. Nobody really blames them. It's often the fault of poor support from administration, inadequate prior training for real classroom experiences, or some combination of the two. That's why teachers in Georgia don't get their first raise until they put three years in. Millions of dollars would be wasted on first and second-year raises.

Those of us who make it past that second year find ourselves in a unique position. We have invested quite a bit of time into the career, former students are beginning to contact us and express their appreciation, and the slower-than-Christmas rewards of our profession are finally starting to reveal themselves. We may be tired from dodging the bureaucratic nonsense being fired at us from the state DOE like baseballs on a batting range (or from not dodging it and getting hit square in the face), but we know that our job is a noble one. We know we are needed. If we don't do it, who will? The kind of teachers who make it past the second year are generally good ones with a strong sense of pride and a decent work ethic.

We love the art of teaching. The act of teaching. We don't love the politics and the drama. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and polish up our resumes. We are sick of being under-appreciated, sick of having spitballs blown at the back of our heads, sick of being micromanaged. But, our fantasies of quitting and doing some other job are interrupted by a nagging in our over-developed consciences: Nothing else you do will ever matter as much as this. This is the only way you will ever leave a legacy for humanity.

Nobody teaches for the money, but anything else that might be considered even close to having the same level of philanthropic value as teaching pays even less, and let's face it - much less and we'll fall below the poverty line. Anything that pays more feel exploitative after dedicating years of your life to a cause as altruistic as educating our youth.

We are afraid of letting down students we don't even have yet. Of course we're not going to breech a contract, but waiting until the end of the school year doesn't make us feel any better because we worry about students we haven't even met. Upcoming students who would be in our classrooms next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

So, what do we do?

We stay.

We stay and fight against all odds to maintain our intrinsic motivation to teach. We stay, and sometimes it slowly kills us inside. Sometimes our students suffer because we are unfulfilled, but we rationalize it all and say that they are better off with us - with experienced, disillusioned people who value education but have lost the joy behind it - than with inexperienced, naive, younger millennials who are ready to charge in with their iPads and fight the Man.

But maybe they're not better off with us.

Maybe they're not at all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Coming Soon

Why I've changed my mind about cell phones in the classroom...

Why Block Rocks

I think all educators can agree: Parents will find most anything to complain about. My daughter is entering Pre-K this year, so in about two weeks I'm sure I'll understand their perspective too. But, for right now, I can't help thinking a large percentage of parent whining is silly and useless. We are all trying to do what seems like the best idea at the time for keeping our children publicly educated. Sometimes it works out; other times it doesn't. If you don't like what's happening, chances are we don't either. I'm not saying don't try to change what you don't like, but don't blame the teachers or even the administrators. We really are doing our best.

The particular beef for parents of students at our school right now is block schedule. We recently moved to a full block schedule from a ridiculous - no, scratch that and make it completely idiotic - modified block schedule. Last year, students went to seven 50-minute classes a day for three days out of the week, and four 90-minute blocks of those classes for two days out of the week. Of course, they only had seven classes total, so that left them with one period a week of "nothing" time, which went about like you'd expect. It also left teachers without a planning period one day out of the week. I thought I was just too green to handle what was going on, but at the end of the year I heard a veteran teacher I greatly respect admit that it was the worst year she'd ever had because of the schedule.

This year's schedule is like an oasis of rainbows and fluffy puppies in comparison. Students attend four classes a day. Each one is 90 minutes long and lasts one semester. They have the opportunity to earn eight credits in an academic year instead of seven. All teachers have 90 minutes of planning time per day. Instead of having 160-180 total students on our rosters at once, we have no more than about 90.

As a military kid, I myself attended three high schools. Two of them had six period days, the final one had a block schedule like the one we have now. I can say with absolute certainty that I learned more on a block schedule. On the other schedules, just when I felt like my brain was finally warming up to the content that was being thrown at me, it was time to switch modes again. How can we force kids to jump between SEVEN subjects in a span of eight hours, with all their social concerns thrown in between, and then expect them to actually retain any information they encounter?

Yes, there are some problems with a block schedule, but they pertain mostly to poor teaching technique. Some teachers complain about having to teach for 90 minutes at a time. Some claim you "can't" teach their subject on block (namely, math). Some are lecture-oriented, so they bore their kids for an hour and a half at a time. Some point to discipline issues.

But I took math on block, and it was the first time the coursework didn't fill me with an all-consuming hatred for arithmetic. I had time to become steeped in it like never before, and found that I actually kinda liked it. I wasn't half bad at it, either, like I'd been led to believe I was all my life. I find that if I keep working to be a better teacher and don't rely on the same lesson plans year after year, I can avoid lecturing more and more. Every time I throw my old lesson plans away and start over, I see a more student-driven classroom emerge. It's a lot of work, but with the increased planning time we can all adjust the way we teach as long as we're open to improvement. As for discipline issues, longer class periods and a lighter load of total students means more opportunity to get to know them. Students I get to know - really get to know - don't give me trouble with behavior. They're the ones who keep in touch with me long after they graduate and tell me about their lives.

If someone can come up with a legitimate reason for disliking block that I can't quickly debunk with a quick application of some light logic, I'll consider alternatives. So far, non-block's only champion seems to be laziness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 18 - April PAD

From Poetic Asides:
For today's prompt, take the phrase "Like (blank)," replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title to your poem, and write your poem. Some example titles might be: "Like Superman," "Like Criminals," "Like a Poem," "Like Whatever," etc.

Like Pulling Teeth

That's why they call it research:
You search, then search again.
If you'll be patient I will show you 
how to create a hanging indent.
Yes, you need to cite your sources.
No, you cannot use the Googles.
Your wording is excessive;
please attempt to be more frugal.
I don't see in-text citations.
Why is this still single-spaced?
Does this follow with your thesis?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 17 - April PAD

From Poetic Asides:
For today's prompt, write a big picture poem. I know these can be difficult to write, because they cover big ideas or emotions or concepts. However, we're just getting our first drafts out this month, so it's the perfect time to attempt something big--even if your big picture poem fits within a shadorma or fib, which actually might be a great fit for tackling a big picture since the poem expands with each new line.

What Isn't?

Aren't all poems
"big picture poems,"
even ones focusing on
the minutia of some plant
or a single fleeting moment?
Isn't the big picture just a quilt
made up of those?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 16 - April PAD

From Poetic Asides:
For today's prompt, write a snapshot poem. When I think of snapshot, I think of a photograph or painting still life. The poem would bring this particular moment to life. However, if you have another interpretation, I encourage you to follow your muse.

At This Moment

They are all on their cell phones,
or listening to music,
or gossiping,
except one.
She is writing.
Her mind is in her monitor,
in the even double spaces
of twelve-point text.
Her writing voice is best in the class.
It isn't hard to see why.
She writes.
They don't.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 15 - April PAD

From Poetic Asides:
For today's prompt, write a profile poem. When I think of a profile poem, I'm thinking of social media profiles. Personally, I have one for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other sites like the Writer's Digest Community website. So you could write a poem that is your own profile, or that of another person (like what would Edgar Allan Poe or Emily Dickinson put in their Facebook profiles). Of course, I'll accept other takes on the prompt, such as describing a physical profile, or a piece on criminal profiling, etc. As always, the main thing is to write a poem.

[In progress...]