In the past two weeks I have had several discussions with teachers who have left or will be leaving the profession to work in the private sector. All were rated effective or above on their evaluations and had high student achievement scores. Then I read a great blog at http://theeducatorsroom.com/2012/09/the-exhaustion-of-the-american-teacher/.
All this has me thinking about the job of being a teacher. I am a reformer and I have been since the third month of my first teaching job. I appreciate the information standardize testing gives me. I have been in enough schools and in enough places to know there are some really terrible teachers out there. There are some average, solid teachers who care, but not enough to go the extra mile. There are some really amazing teachers, who do things for which they receive little compensation. These teachers are the ones who are taking tickets at the door of the game or calling on local businesses to buy advertisement in the football program. School is much more than only reading, writing, and arithmetic. Unfortunately, for years school was only about the fun things. I remember back in the day when I took the CAT test, my scores were sent home in an envelope and few people even bothered to look at them. Now the scores are all that matters.
There has to be a happy medium. There has to be a place where scholastic success is valued along with the social and emotional elements. (Finland!)
The conversations I have had over the last few month have made me sad for a profession I love and for people I value. For the sake of children, we must find a middle ground.
One teacher explained her day to me. She arrived at school after four hours of sleep, because she had an exam to score the previous evening, which took thirteen hours. The essay questions were several paragraphs long and she has 95 students. Her planning time was taken up with a needed meeting as it had been for the past four out of six days. She taught her classes, had before and afterschool duty, had a meeting at lunch with a club, and then had another club meeting after school. She finally went to the restroom at 4:30, ate her sandwich, and went to the gym to work voluntarily in the concessions at the ballgame. She finally arrived home to her family at 9 that night, but had more papers to grade and some paperwork to do for the district. She said her $45000 a year job does not equate to the 18-hour days she is working most days. Her biggest issue is she has gone two and three days without seeing her toddler awake. The weekends are packed with lesson planning, creating materials, and grading papers. Her summers include summer school and tutoring to make ends meet. Her husband is fed up and her home life is suffering.
Another friend, a high school teacher, shared she estimated she had put in over 75 hours planning, organizing, setting up, monitoring, and cleaning up for the prom and the various prom fundraisers. None of these hours were paid hours. She also endured the nasty parents who did not like the dress code. She had a run in with a student who tried to enter without a ticket. In addition she has been given the cheer squad and the other sponsor had resigned, so now she will work three nights a week going to games and then practice the other nights. The squad enters competitions on the weekends, so she is trying to arrange childcare. All of this is non-paying work. She laughed when I ask her even at minimum wage how much she would have made for all of the extras. She instead tutors on the side and also works summers at a local retail business.
Finally, an elementary friend told me she still loves the kids, but her district has created yet another piece of paper for her to fill out. She told me she recorded the same data on five different documents per child for everyone from the parent to the principal to the supervisor. The time she spends recording numbers, which are seldom seen could be spent working on activities to help with the data she is recording. Teaching all subjects requires a tremendous amount of time to create materials and activities. The data requirements are beneficial, but nothing is streamlined and every week there seems to be another form to fill out to “cover all the bases”. She is frustrated as it all seems about “covering the bases”, not teaching the child.
So! What about the prom? Homecoming? Selling tickets at the football game? Chaperoning a weekend trip to a convention? Completing the endless forms and paperwork someone dreamed up “to cover the bases”? In the age of accountability where the only thing that counts is a teacher’s evaluation scores and the students’ value added scores, what benefits a teacher to do the extras for free? The extras actually take away from their time to focus on the actual teaching, what they are held accountable to do. One friend explained the teacher everyone brags about at her school has one responsibility....teaching. Could it be this teacher is amazing, because all she does is plan her one class and focus solely on the teaching? Possibly, however, what gets cut?
What do schools look like with no clubs, no extra curricular activities, and no social events? Is there value in these things? If so, how do we convince an English III teacher who has 125 students with four page essays weekly to grade, to also chair the homecoming committee? The homecoming committee matters not in her evaluation score. Are we missing some pieces of the whole child?
Maybe this is the future. There are those in state and national discussions who have shared a vision of no brick and mortar high schools., but rather a system where all children take virtual courses or simply test out of a course and move on early. In this vision there is little need for a traditional high school, so no “extras” such as football on Friday night, prom, homecoming, and the drama club. Is school simply an exercise in gaining credits and moving on to adulthood as quickly as possible? How will our culture change?
I pray my child will be finished with high school before these types of things become the norm, because she has been blessed to attend a great school. She has learned as much from the social activities and the clubs as she has in the classroom. Her courses are extremely rigorous and well-taught. Her teachers are human and they demonstrate wonderful compassion for her. They stay after school and encourage her. They hold her to high expectations and their presence is priceless. They give of their time, their hearts, and their wisdom. I am so thankful. I would hate to know any of them had a poor evaluation one day, because they had stayed up late at an event for my child the previous night.
Pay attention to what is happening. Read between the lines in the discourse about schools and teachers. Consider your community if teachers simply teach and quit all of the extras. Consider your children, if the only interactions they have is through a computer. What are we willing to give up? What will our children miss? What parts of our culture are embedded in the social aspects of school? What about the prom?
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.