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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Stressful Than a War Zone?

So I found out today that my AP class is officially going to be closed at the end of this week (the end of the first grading period/advisory). Counselors and administrators have been talking about it for some time now. It was a joke from the beginning. They placed a teacher who's never taught or been trained in AP in an class and expected him to get two students ready for two AP tests by the end of the year....until five weeks in, when they literally shoved seven more students in the class. Since then, a few more have added and a few have dropped. For the past four weeks, I've essentially had different students in class every day, none of whom know how to respect anyone or have the desire to do AP work. When I asked them to do an in-class essay last week, two of them turned in a tic-tac-toe game they played, and one of them turned in a paper that said, "These documents aren't worth my time." So the question is, what am I going to do with my third period? And everyone has their own ideas.

The counselors want to use that period to alleviate some of the large class loads in other world history classes. The principal wants me to teach a capstone class for seniors. My colleagues think I need to spend the rest of the semester working with the seniors in my former AP class to get them a credit before they leave the semester with nothing. Lastly, my surrogate mentor thinks that I should take over another class from a teacher who is in the process of quitting, which leads me to what I really want to talk about.

I was discussing possible options with my surrogate mentor (I call her this because my real mentor doesn't actually mentor me. So this woman feels bad and does her best to provide support). She was listing possibilities when she happened to mention that what they really needed was teacher in another subject area. (She had no idea that I'm certified in that subject area and taught it for two years in my previous district.) I mentioned, possibly to my future regret, that I taught this subject, and her face lit up. As soon as I said it, I realized it may have been a bad idea. Working with two students for the rest of the semester on a credit seems like paradise compared to teaching another AP I've never taught. It's for the good of the kids I guess. She said they've been scouring for someone to take on a few classes and have even been considering a middle-school science teacher to do the job. Why? Because one of our high school teachers is quitting.

Apparently it's not THAT uncommon for teachers to up and quit at this new school I'm at, which I suppose doesn't really surprise me. When you teach under such stress, quitting sounds like a pretty good deal. I've considered it on at least a dozen occasions since August. It really is VERY desirable. I've never seriously considered leaving teaching mid-year, but I can see why people do. I've been told that the school I'm at usually loses two or three teachers over the course of a year and between 20 and 40 over the summer. I can vouch for that as the incoming teacher group I came in with was enormous. The tenth-grade counselor mistook us for a district-wide new teacher group the first time he saw us in training.

The reasons for such high turnover are numerous, but I think most of it comes from the pressure put on by the administration. The days I dread going to work are the days I know I have to put up with being assessed or the ridiculous expectations put on us by the administrators. Dealing with unruly kids (although often stressful and frustrating) is usually the easiest part of my day. I've come to believe that the administration's philosophy is that holding teachers to HIGH expectations until they meet them, quit, or get fired is the best way to create an incredible staff one day.

A colleague of mine, my world history planning partner, said that she worked with a guy in a previous year who quit teaching AFTER having served two tours in Iraq because his teaching job was the most stressful thing he'd ever done.

So apparently quitting out right is an option here. This is too bad because that kind of thing seriously messes with kids' educations. It's one thing to have a high turnover rate over the summer, but to just leave your position in the middle of the year - not good. But we don't seem to have much of a contract, and the school can fire the teachers whenever it pleases, so I guess we can quit whenever we please.

Some real union power could be useful here. The administrators get away with taking away our planning and grading time often because there's little to no teacher resistance without any organization or clear understanding of a contract. For example, every Tuesday my second period and my planning period (1st) get cut in favor of advisory. Over the course of the year, that's a loss of 12 instructional hours and 12 hours of planning, but nobody says anything. Sometimes I'm forced to proctor exams all day with no break, but nobody says anything. Tomorrow and Friday teachers are going to a community-development training, which will take away from the time we're supposed to have to teach students and grade papers, but nobody says anything. The administration bought us off by telling us that we'll be compensated for our time.

I tend to think all of this ridiculousness boils down to a need for people to be a little more realistic in the setting of their goals for inner-city public education given the resources that we have. We'll work our asses off because we have to, but there's only so much that can be done. And if you keep pushing us without any regard for our needs as humans, we'll shut down and give up. New, inexperienced teachers will enter, and the cycle will begin again. Maybe, just maybe, fewer expectations could bring some more impressive results.

4 comments:

  1. I'm a new teacher and feel like quitting every day. I hardly have any students but just find the whole DCPS craziness stressing. I've never worked in an organization before where all the staff are treated like children. I feel so incompetent, then I think "hang on a minute", I'm new, you haven't trained me, aren't mentoring or supporting me, so whose fault is it? Whoops, I forgot - it's my fault right? I'm a teacher!

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  2. argh. that sucks. at least you won't be losing 1/4 of your paycheck (hopefully??).

    come visit us and bask in unionization and warm fuzzies anytime. =)

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  3. You make a lot of great points here. I cannot believe the level of ridiculousness I've experienced in DCPS, especially with administrators and those above them. I find that at my school, the administrators are so busy trying to please their superiors, they give us misinformation/conflicting commands from all of the people who are above them. The bureaucracy is so big and involved and folks make very arbitrary decisions and then act like they were handed down directly to them from Michelle Rhee herself. They make us adhere to bullshit regulations that do nothing for student achievement just because they think maybe someone somewhere who is in charge wants them to.

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