20 March 2012

I'm baaaaaaaaaack

There has been a lot of chatter online and in what conservatives call the mainstream media (which the rest of us simply call "the media") about a study released when I should have written this post at the beginning of March that puts teacher job satisfaction at it's lowest point since I was 9.

Obviously there's been a lot of gnashing of teeth, and plenty of people on both sides of the aisle trying to score political points from this. Normally I would get in line to both gnash my teeth and try to score some political points from this kind of story (seriously, read the first parenthetical aside in this post), but I just can't bring myself to do it. Why? Because I think this deserves a serious look at why teachers I work with (and have worked with) are not happy with their jobs.

Also I think that this will be pretty easy to write, what with my history of job satisfaction.

And my wife is watching Dance Moms and I can't stomach Abby Lee Whatshername so I've sent myself to the office to write, and this is what came to mind.

So, with the worst intro in the history of this blog, and perhaps writing in general, here we go:

The study shows that teachers aren't happy because they don't feel like they have the same job security that they once did. They're also feeling attacked, because so much of the reporting is about bad teaching, and so all teachers begin to question their own teaching abilities. Add in the increasing focus on test scores (which, for the vast majority of students don't indicate much in the way of learning), more and more intrusive parents, and all of the usual pressures that go along with changing lives for the better or worse every day and it's no small surprise that teachers aren't very happy with their jobs.

I can't speak for every teacher out there, nor would I try to (at least until I get invited onto some talk show where I can be an educational pundit), but I can tell you why I'm not very satisfied in my job.

1. We hear a lot about good teaching and not-as-good teaching, but I'm not observed enough or given enough feedback to know which category my teaching falls into. I'm in my first year of teaching at a new school for me in a new state. I'm going to get two formal observations. I will also get some much less formal "drop in" observations. That's not enough. If society and school boards of education are going to put more pressure on teachers with more tests, then I want more and better feedback about the work that I'm doing.

1a. The observations I do get are bureaucratic crap. There are forms to fill out and jargon to check off. (Good lord is there jargon. When I first made a joke about the "random catchphrase generator" I was taking a cheap shot at education experts. Now? I'm trying to figure out how to put one on the side bar of this website. Might as well have it out there) The evaluation won't provide very much in the way of good suggestions, mainly because there isn't another classroom teacher involved. Listen, there are plenty of good administrators who were good classroom teachers, but they generally haven't been in the classroom recently enough to understand the new era pressures teachers are facing.

I would love an evaluation format that did two things that very few evaluations do today. I want it to happen far more often (but each one would carry less weight) and I want my peers in on the process. I want other teachers to see my class, see what I'm doing, and offer suggestions. You know what I don't want? A form that has been checked off by my evaluator and comments like "You know what you're doing!"

2. Teachers are disgruntled because there is a culture war in the profession. There are plenty of union-loving, worksheet-giving, book-reading, jean-wearing, 2:25-leaving lazy jerks in this job. They will do everything they can to prevent having to work hard. They are doing the job, but they aren't doing it well. Far too often, because they don't get upset about actual education, these people stay in education for a long time. Since education tends to reward seniority, these people then have more sway over the way a department or school is run.

The opposite of this are the teachers who never teach the exact same lesson twice, who bust their collective asses grading, planning and teaching. Even in systems with good merit pay systems (yes such things exist) there isn't really enough money to really differentiate between the lazy turds and the life-changers.

Worse yet, the passionate young teachers burn out fighting against the status quo maintainers, and end up leaving the job. The end result is that nobody is happy. The bad teachers are unhappy because they feel threatened by the ideas and work ethic of the good teachers, and the good teachers want to punch someone because nothing is changing.

3. I for one am tired of the public discussion of schools always being about what's wrong. You know what, cable news talking heads? There are tons of GREAT tings happening in schools. Sure there are problems, but every segment of society has problems. People who see doctors die. People who go to the dentist get cavities. People who use lawyers go to jail. Yet teachers feel singled out for criticism when their students fail high stakes tests.

4. It's the money, stupid. There isn't enough money in schools. For a change, I'm not talking about the money that goes into teachers' pockets, either. No, there simply aren't adequate funds for facilities, books, technology, or training. School districts have become bloated at the administrative level (a function of the increased emphasis on testing and data) and as a result less money is getting to the student level. I realize that what we're asking for is a monumental amount of money, nation-wide. However, I think that it's worth the cost of a fighter jet that probably won't ever shoot down another plane to help do things like have enough classrooms and books for kids.

5. We're tired. Really really really tired. In the past ten years, I haven't gotten any additional time to plan and grade. However, the amount of paperwork, calls to return, and meetings to attend has increased by a huge amount, as have the number of kids in each of my classes. I started with classes of 16-20. Now, I have classes of 38 across the board. More kids come with paperwork (IEPs, 504s, BIPs, and contracts) and that paperwork often has legal ramifications if you don't follow the accommodations laid out within it. Parents want to know what and why you're doing. The stress level is astronomical.

There was always stress, but the job used to be fun. You got to teach something you loved. Now, with high-stakes testing, you don't ever feel like you can do that. I spend my days trying to fill every minute with educational activities. I don't want to have a 3 hour long party while watching Dirty Dancing, but I also don't want to feel guilty when we watch Elvis and the Beatles in class instead of filling out review sheets, outlines, and guided readings.

That, boys and girls is the big lesson. Teaching isn't as fun as it used to be. And that's why teachers aren't as happy as they used to be. Low pay, long hours, dealing with idiots; all of that was ok as long as the job was fun. When the job got serious SERIOUS the rest of it started to suck a lot more.

But hey, that's not a good talking point, so none of those talking heads will be talking about it on the news. Instead, 90 seconds will be spent glossing over the idea that 7.2 million people in this country are less happy than they have been since the Soviet Union was still a viable entity, and then we'll be onto talking about more important things; like who's in a feud with Kim Kardashian

With that sarcastic closing, the BlazeBlog is back, babay!

1 comment:

  1. Why haven't I taught in a high school classroom since being certified?

    1. While student teaching, my confidence in my ability to judge others' characters was shaken after some seeing allegations of sexual misconduct. I then considered all of the CYA that has to be done to prevent "revenge" reportings. In the teaching world, even one false report can ruin your whole career. This didn't deter me from pursuing a job, but it always hung in my mind.

    2. I went on an interview in which I blew the principal away. He took me to the classroom and said, "This is your room. This is your lab. These are your books." We chatted for much longer than the scheduled interview time, and he showed me much more of the school. He called me a week later to apologize; the hiring committee chose somebody's relative instead. The issue of having quality teachers in the classroom will never be addressed properly until districts look at their own hiring policies.

    3. Another local principal called me halfway into that semester, after hearing about that interview. He offered me a job replacing a teacher who'd gotten burnt out and quit. I refused it, because I could tell how she'd done it: 2 different levels of chemistry, 2 physics, 1 anatomy, and 1 biology. Yet another reason teachers are tired.

    4. Teaching certification is not portable. For me to become certified in my current state, I would need to pay nearly $500 in fees, testing costs (taking them all over again because they're from a different testing company!), and a background check.

    High school science teaching positions in my area draw in hundreds of applicants. I make about $1000 per semester per lab I teach as an adjunct at the local colleges. I can't waste half a semester's pay to re-certify and try to make myself stand out against that many other applicants!