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Monday, November 30, 2009

Lost

This has got to be the most messed up conclusion I've ever come to: Breaks are bad for my mental/emotional health.

In the past two years I've developed a healthy routine of work, exercise, chores/errands, and sleep. All of these aspects of my life work in tandem as long as I'm on the usual five-day-a-week work schedule. As soon as this gets upset with a break, it throws me off. I think this is particularly true in an environment that, when I really stop and think about it, I'd rather not be a part of.

Going to have Thanksgiving with friends, and reminding myself of what home is like (for someone who moves around A LOT) really made me feel horrible when it was time to come back for work.

This happened on a much smaller scale when I taught in Seattle (somewhere I REALLY enjoyed teaching), but now that I'm somewhere that I have so many negative feelings associated with, it REALLY messes with me. I think the gloomy weather in DC also has something to do with it.

It's interesting how these things work. There are good things at my school. I like the people I work with; I generally like my kids and teaching on most days; and I get a strong sense of satisfaction out of what I do. It's just these humongous negatives that cloud my thoughts and seriously mess with my emotional health. This is a really challenging time. I keep telling myself to focus on the positive and choose a positive attitude. And that works - to a degree. But there's this underlying tension that won't go away, and it rears its head after breaks and on Sunday nights.

I need to get out of this, I just don't know how.

Last night I received an e-mail informing me that I have a million and one things to do in order to be a decent teacher in my department.

On top of that, I was told that the unit we'd been working on for the past two weeks (trying to meet this school's standards for planning and instruction) is essentially worthless and we have to use lessons and materials from some website instead.

My reaction was to send an e-mail in response venting all of my frustrations with these expectations. On top of that, a few teachers and I have been attempting to have union meetings in order to combat contract violations occurring at our school.

I think this is my last gasp. If these meetings and our e-mails produce some change in the way things are handled, staying until the end of the year might be a good idea. But if nothing changes, I'm not sure I'll stay past January. I don't feel like I'm a teacher. I'm a robot at an educational factory. The school is considered VERY EFFECTIVE, and the kids go to college, but I'm not supposed to do what I do best: teach creatively.

Even as I write those things, though, I feel like I'm considering giving in to failure. All these other teachers are going to stick around, why can't I?

I don't know. I'm lost.

9 comments:

  1. Yes, the fact that they want all of those things aligned is crazy. Best (or worst?) of all, is that, most likely, no one will ever check. If they do, there is probably no way that they will be able to tell that all of those things are aligned. It's just too much. Do what you do, and shut that out.

    I'll leave you with the advice that I was once given during a phase of my youth: "If you hate something, try to make it better. If you put in an honest effort to change it and you still hate it. Then you're allowed to quit. "

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  2. I'm a new teacher, first year and totally overwhelmed with the expectations from DCPS with none of the support. I've thought about quitting, and have got to the point were every day I feel sick going into work. It's crazy. If I could afford to quit I would, but I can't and have just taken out a school loan. I don't know if mentally I'll make it through until the end of the year. Unfortunately, they do check all the above, either your Principal, Master Educator, or School Supervisor can (and will) ask to see your lesson plans at any time. All IMPACT has done is put fear into teachers, made people less likely to collaborate (who has the time), and made the teachers who give a damn sick. It gives me hope that other school districts are not as bad as DCPS, it makes you wonder why anyone would want to come and work here. It also makes me wonder why they spend so much on recruitment but so little on supporting new teachers once they get here. Only another 4 hours lesson planning, a few hours sleep, late nights with grad. school for the next 2 nights, and then it starts all over again on Monday.

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  3. Man, that totally sucks. I do know that feeling a little, although it never got that bad at my old school. Knowing you personally, and knowing that you give 150% All The Time, if this job is making you sick, it ISN'T worth it. Are the kids happy? Is doing this making them learn more? Does this crap make you a more effective teacher?

    I don't know what to tell you. I never thought I would advocate leaving a teaching job in the middle of the year, but if I was in your position, I probably would. Do consider how leaving will affect your resume, but also think about your health and what's best for you. Good luck.

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  4. If your school is the one I think it is, who in fact considers it "effective", as you state? What's its drop-out rate, especially among immigrant youth? How many teenage girls are having babies over there, something guaranteed to derail a young girl's life and dreams of college? As for quitting in the middle of the school year, I've known people to do it, but they were the victims of assault by students and got little administrative support.

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  5. Hello Reflective Educator -- Who told you your school was “very effective?” Did you know it didn’t make AYP last year? It had less than 50% proficiency in both math and reading, according to the official OSSE site http://www.nclb.osse.dc.gov/index.asp. Imagine having such low proficiency and requiring AP courses.

    You mention not having been trained in AP standards. Consider that veteran teachers haven’t been trained in the teaching methods that IMPACT measures, yet they are evaluated according to it. In one school, I know of three excellent vet teachers (according to parents and students) who got 1.3 to 1.5 on their first IMPACT evaluation. Did they suddenly become bad teachers based on a 30 minute observation by a complete stranger? Imagine how valued they feel by their school right now.

    To the poster who wondered why DCPS puts so much money into recruitment and so little into teacher support, consider that the Chancellor operated a teacher recruitment firm before coming here. Also consider that constant teacher turnover means fewer teachers with tenure and fewer long-term union members, making it easier to bust the union – which has been Rhee’s goal from the start.

    To all of you new teachers wondering why people come here to teach -- Think about why you came. I think of younger people being savvy and dedicated internet researchers, checking out the horror stories available in the teacher’s blogs, the Washington Post and especially the Post comments sections, but that’s not the case. Or else maybe they’re reading all that and assuming it’s bunk and they are the competent, dedicated teachers who can make a difference. Or maybe people are so desperate for work, they don’t care. I don’t know, but the abuse will continue as long as people keep coming despite all the information available that this is a hellhole.

    Reflective teacher, please keep us posted on the results of your email and attempts at union organizing. In case you missed it, your school’s former union person asked to get in touch with you in the comments section of the blog entry in which you mentioned rumors at your school.

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  6. Reflective educator - “these other teachers” all have their own reasons for staying or leaving. Their reasons aren’t necessarily noble or good or even sensible by another person’s standards. The fact that coming from Seattle you can even think to credit DC’s dreary weather with your depressed mood tells me you’re not thinking clearly. I’m sure it’s rough to have made such a big change, with high hopes, to have it come to this, but I do believe you can make it work for you – and for many other teachers – in a way that will be healthier for you and beneficial for education in general and DCPS education in particular.

    I hope that’s not too grandiose a thought for you in your current mood. While you can’t singlehandedly change the system, you can avoid being a victim of it while doing something positive for kids. You could tutor and be a sub in other systems – that would give you insight into how other schools operate. If you can’t find a paying job in a policy shop, you could certainly volunteer. You could keep writing – maybe getting stories from other DC teachers about their predicaments. The possibilities open up as soon as you leave your current situation.

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  7. I am a veteran educator with over 20 years in the system and I wasn't even a ed major. I started getting exceeds or outstanding, under my evaluations under PPEp and TAP, what we used to have even before PPEP. I haven't been observed yet by the so-called master educator for my field, but our rather tough AP gave me a 3.4. Of course, I wanted higher, but mentally prepared myself to be content with anything over 3.0. I was not trained on IMPACT any more than any other DCPS teacher, yet I did try to stick to the rubric when observed and read it over. I know some teachers who are so fatalistic that they don't even want to read the T1-9 rubric and try to internalize it. Well, I am and hope for a higher evaluation next time. As we all know, there are 5 of them.

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  8. Whoa, slow down! Let's take a look at your list.

    I'm confused: why would you be teaching an AP course if you're not certified to teach one? Never mind...if you are teaching one, there are no DCPS standards for AP courses so you don't have to align anything; you follow the AP standards. Also, I don't get the distinction between DCPS content and DCPS skill standards. DCPS doesn't have 2 sets of standards for each course. (Some standards address skills and some content...is that what you mean? If so, that's different than saying you have to align with 2 sets of standards.)

    As for the textbook and your department chair's preferred website, you are not contractually bound to abide by either of them. Nor is your department chair in an evaluative position over you; his/her recommendations carry the same weight (which is to say none) as the teacher across the hall.

    And the school/department missions? Those are abstract parameters (slogans, actually, because who would disagree with them?) that are so abstract as to be applicable to anything you do.

    So take a breath and identify what you really need to align your lessons to, and it's either AP or DCPS standards. That's all!

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  9. Karen - you pose a lot of great questions that baffle my department every day.

    I did teach an AP course that I wasn't certified in for an advisory before it was taken away from me. Nevertheless, the goal of my school is to make ALL classes AP. Therefore my department head wants us to align DCPS content AND skill standards with AP standards (as if that was really possible). In my department there are, in fact, two sets of standards: content (evaluate the impact of John Locke on the founding documents of the United States) and skills (assess the credibility of primary and secondary sources and their impact on modern historians' understanding of the past).

    Although my department head is not MY evaluator, he is the evaluator for MANY teachers in my department as he is also an administrator. My school doesn't like allowing teachers to hold positions of influence when it comes to "important" decisions. He does have significant pull with other administrators, and in a school that fired over twenty teachers at the end of last year, he's definitely somebody to listen to if you wanted to stick around (not that I do).

    Lastly, we have been berated as teachers for not making our department and school missions part of our lessons by administrators. So it'd be nice to believe that those things don't matter (and in reality, even if I do get rated lower for them or fired over them, you're right - they don't) teacher's willingness to adhere to them does affect the way they're viewed by our administration.

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