Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Could You Make My Job More Difficult?

"I work in a small school." It's what I tell myself every time I find myself stealing staples from office staplers or drawing Venn diagrams on twenty papers before class because all of the copiers are broken. It's like, "This is why I moved to New York," which is what I say every time I talk education with a bunch of progressive educators, get tickets to see Diane Ravitch speak, visit authors' apartments for book clubs, or watch people live their lives in the Manhattan skyline at two in the morning. But one is a positive thing, and the other isn't.

In an effort to focus on the positive, I explained last week why I love working at my school. As much as it's a great opportunity for me, it's also an INCREDIBLE hassle. I think if people were more aware of the absurdities teachers deal with on an everyday basis, they might be less inclined to label schools 'failing,' or blame teachers for society's shortcomings.

In December, I wrote about a few of the things that make my job difficult. There are so many more, though. It seems like incredible amounts of meaningful work are often sabotaged (intentionally and unintentionally) at every level of education. Moreover, teachers are regularly put in precarious legal situations that would make any sane person reconsider their job on a daily basis. The result is that I complete so many tasks that are a waste of my time because of poor organizational management and political ineptitude. Here are a few examples from my daily experiences.

1. Getting paid is a job in itself.

For the first time in my career, I have to clock in and out of school for 'per session' pay - i.e. money I'm being paid for taking on additional work at school beyond my regular teaching duties. At the end of the pay period, I have to take my pay stub, fill out a form, get my admin to sign off, and hand it to the secretary. What should be a simple task often turns into a cat-and-mouse game. The admin is often not in the office when I need a signature, and the secretary regularly leaves school at 3:15pm, which is the minute I get done teaching my last period. Also, I often have to make copies of the time card, which would be no problem if our copiers weren't regularly broken or being used by someone else. This process often takes at least twenty minutes of my day.

2. Going to the bathroom is a hassle.

Student bathrooms are locked to prevent gang activity and smoking. When students want to go to the bathroom, they first have to get a key from the main office. The key is (surprise, surprise) often stolen. It's not rare that students leave my room for twenty minutes to go to the bathroom only to come back and tell me they went to three different people in two different offices, and nobody had a key. Students are told by office staff that teachers have the key; teachers can open the bathroom for them. That'd be fine if it wasn't an enormous liability for me to leave the rest of the class unattended during the school day. I could lend them my keys, but I bet they'd be stolen pretty quickly, too.

My basement bathroom
Then there's the matter of the faculty bathroom. The only easily accessible bathrooms are on the first and second floor, but they're student bathrooms. It is, of course, another liability for teachers to use them. Teachers are instructed to use the teacher bathroom on the other side of the building in the basement. This turns out to be quite the Double Dare challenge during the three-minute break we have to change classes (during which time we also have to move materials and cart textbooks from room to room, sometimes on different floors, which requires waiting for the elevator). Most teachers risk the liability.



3. Keeping classrooms clean and kids supervised is overwhelming.

Really? Pancake on the floor?
Teachers travel from room to room at my school. In a rush to make it from one class to another, teachers forget to do a lot of things - e.g. take worksheets with them, make sure kids clean the inevitable mess they make on a daily basis, or lock the door. As a result, classrooms often look awful by the end of the day. I usually spend thirty minutes cleaning this up before I can ever start any work after school.

My class after four teachers
It's a liability to leave students in classrooms by themselves. Anything they steal or break our administration has told us can be held against us, no matter what time of day it occurs. That sucks because there are non-teachers who use our classrooms. If I lock my door to keep kids out, I will inevitably be called away from a meeting later in the day to let the Bronx Arts people in, and because those people aren't on staff, they don't care so much about locking the door when they leave, especially since they don't have a key. Teachers are also liable for leaving windows open. Kids might get electronics and weapons through them they couldn't through the metal detectors.

4. Our building is falling apart.

The ceiling in our principal's office has been leaking water for weeks. Plastic was used to cover the leak up, but the office also doesn't get heat like the rest of the building. Last week, a portion of the ceiling fell on our principal while writing an email.

In the classroom, teaching can be a hassle when the building pipes make it sound like you're living in a popcorn bag. I've seen teachers yelling at students, not because students were being disruptive, but because the pipe noises required it.

And then there's the heat. On the first and second floors, it's often outrageously hot. Some kids open the windows to the freezing air outside, and other kids yell at them for it. Conflict ensues. Teaching gets harder.

5. The kids' diets are abysmal.

I often wonder if teaching the kids about the Industrial Revolution is worth my time at all when their brains are made out of Pringles. The kids do not understand, at all, the importance of healthy eating. They're not even aware they're eating poorly. A number of students have argued with me over the quality of fast food. "Mister - fast food makes you strong! It's good for you!" I sigh and try to explain to them.... It is, alas, of no use.

And whoever is responsible for the lunch the students receive in the cafeteria on the SIXTH FLOOR should be shot. Many of my students who are already going hungry at home avoid eating lunch at school because it's so bad. I keep bananas, almonds, and raisins in class to feed my kids when they can't work because they're so hungry. This, of course, takes time away from learning.

6. Technology makes my life more difficult.

Our school has some technology. We have a laptop cart and five projectors (for twenty-five teachers), but when my AP asked me yesterday why nobody was making use of the technology, I rolled my eyes and went into a fifteen-minute monologue about how technology makes my life more difficult. If I want to check the laptop cart out, I have to get it in the morning and push it to the room I'm using that day. I have to worry about kids stealing laptops and me having the pay the price. I have to somehow make sure the laptops are being used appropriately and that I get them all back by the end of the period. I have to somehow ensure a decent lesson despite the kids' desire to do anything but work once you put a computer in front of them. Finally, I have to figure out how to cart it from class to class for the rest of the day (or at least until I have a planning period) even if I don't want to use it with other classes. The same goes for the projectors, which are pretty hard to use when you don't have any white wall space in your room.

Then there's the matter of the teacher computers. As I mentioned before, the only computers teachers can use are located in a tiny teacher room on the second floor (there are usually five or six working computers for twenty-five teachers). The door doesn't lock and it's a hassle to keep students out when teachers aren't using it. The computers are loaded with viruses. A colleague of mine recently watched his work disappear from his jump drive after catching a virus from one of them.

This is to let you know that the following is my conclusion.

The saddest thing is that I've still only mentioned about a third of all the absurdities administrators, teachers, parents, and students have to deal with regularly at my school that I know about. I believe there are probably many more that I'm ignorant of and probably participate in regularly, probably quite blissfully.

To all the people working in policy whose jobs seem to entail making my life more difficult, I'm here to tell you that you're doing a fabulous job. Underfunding inner-city schools, feeding other people's kids food your dog might not eat, and writing asinine mandates really keeps me challenged.

And to all the education pundits who've never spent a day teaching in a school like mine and like to argue that spending more money on education shouldn't be part of the answer, I'd appreciate it if you extricated yourself from the conversation.

35 comments:

  1. You know, it is really important that teachers write posts like this, and kind of baffling that you don't see it more.

    Thanks.

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    1. Not baffling to me. If we respond or write one we will be sued, fired, and our careers would be ruined. Who cares we are treated like crap, get paid peanuts, and work 60plus hours a week on a salary for 10 hours. Whats really important is that we have summers off! Isn't that so many people think? Yes, I have the summer off so I can get a job to help pay my bills. Gotta love ignorance.

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  2. I literally could not have said this better myself!! You are a gift to the profession and make me proud to call myself an educator!

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  3. because, sometimes, the most rational response to the pundits is 'go fuck yourselves!' I only wish more people would use that phrase in the policy meetings where the idiocy abounds...

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  4. Reading your post today brought back memories of my experiences as a teacher out in California (where the budget crunch meant we had to literally carry our own stacks of paper across campus to use in the copier machines each day). The post also reminded me of teaching in the DC area, where the copier machines regularly broke at my school - but the machines were a long walk from my classroom, so just to FIND OUT the machine was broken entailed using 15 minutes of my prep period. Ahh, memories!

    I'm glad you're taking the time to post about these issues (it's especially important for all those non-teachers out there to understand the things that go on in a typical day in some schools). Keep up the posts!

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  5. The people outside of the classroom will never understand.
    - I know I am in Texas and not in Wisconsin or Connecticut, but I have not had a working heater for the last 3 years in my room. 30F temps on a cloudy day are rough, even in Texas. They keep telling me on the heater " you're next."
    - We have a "yellow day" in our cafeteria on a regular basis. Cheese pizza, corn, peaches.
    - I was written up earlier this year for being late to a special ed meeting. It was in the middle of a class period and my relief was 30 minutes late. I wouldn't dare leave the kids alone, and they didn't care my relief was late.
    - My classroom is right at 50 years old. I have a chalkboard that is so old, it no longer usable in spots, and they won't let me paint it.
    - The same 50 year old building has a 50 year old electrical system that when 5 teachers are using their
    computers, a printer, Have the class lights on and an overhead projector, we will throw a breaker.

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  6. You've definitely captured the frantic pace that every teacher faces during the day!

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  7. Wow, this reminds me so much of my own situation. Don't forget the random furlough days, not a cent for school supplies, staying up until midnight to catch up on paperwork on a regular basis and then waking up at 5:30 the next morning to jump right back in it, having to work a second job just to make ends meet, working your butt off to further your own education (which is also a huge expense) for a tiny $150 increase, oh and don't forget the increased medical issues that many educators have developed within the past years as a result from our stressful situations. I've even witnessed on TWO separate an ambulance arrive at my school because blood pressures were too high. Yet we still do all we can for these kids....to bad our best is NEVER good enough.

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  8. Word! I teach middle school special ed in an urban district. I'm responsible for teaching math, English, social studies, science and I.E.P. goals for 6th graders and seventh graders. There are no text books for any of these subjects, no curricula for foundational math or literacy skills, and no books at my kids' reading level in the school. I spend a lot of time printing out books from the internet and stapling them together... how are we supposed to do our jobs like this?

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  9. Thank you soooo much. I couldn't have said it better.

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  10. Go fuck themselves, indeed. On a 98-degree day in June, when dearly beloved Mayor-Chancellor BloomKlein told everyone they should stay inside air conditioned rooms or seek out "cooling centers," but refused to allow the schools to close, I had two children faint in my classroom, where it was 15 degrees hotter than it was outside. I had to bring my own copy paper to school, and then often had to cart it back home (so it wouldn't get stolen) because the copy machines were broken. I had one prep period and one administrative period per day, and if I could find a working copier, which took 10 minutes, I usually had to wait for it (another 10 minutes), then do my copying (another 10 minutes), then I had 10 minutes left to use the rest room and get back to class, so I'd have about 5 minutes leftover altogether to actually do any prep. I spent my own money on pencils and notebooks for the kids, materials, supplies, room freshener, and disinfectant. My first school had gates on the windows on the ground and first floors, but none on the second and third floors. Because it was so hot during the late spring and early autumn, those of us on the top floors often had to open all the top windws all the way, which invited pigeons to fly in. If someone else decided to use my classroom during off-hours (and they could, because apparently everyone was allowed to have a key) and they opened the windows and neglected to close them when they left the room, inevitably I would return to my classroom on Monday morning and find pigeon droppings all over the room. Yes, go fuck themselves, indeed.

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  11. Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach: A Teacher's Year in a Public School [Hardcover] - Emily Sachar

    Long out of print, but worth a read.

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  12. Had you not given the location off the school (the Bronx) or mentioned fast food I would have assumed you were teaching in a third world country. With mention of the fast food I might move you up to a developing country. This is just tragic.

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  13. If I had written a blog post like this when I was teaching, and the principal found out, I would be out of a job that day.

    Keep writing.

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  14. I acknowledge your points as very tragic as well, however your point about pringles (fast food) sparked a question in my mind for you: You mention teaching the Industrial Revolution to them. So...Why exactly should the students care about the Industrial Revolution? Most likely I'd be eating disgusting fast food and staring at the ceiling if I came from a dangerous/poor/dirty urban district and had to listen to some stranger talking about the Industrial Revolution.

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  15. and thats one of the reasons my kids never went to an US school. its either bad teachers, bad conditions, bad students, all together or i have to pay a avg persons salary yearly which i dont understand because i pay taxes.
    america has to copy what schools in europe do and how the gov pays for everything from the tax payers money.
    studying at a top university in germany cost you 600 euro per semester. the price you pay here only for the college the kid could use over there to live with a good monthly income...

    think abou it...

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  16. I worked at a rural school in the state with the lowest expenditure per student in the nation - including Guam and Puerto Rico - Arizona. I was the "lab tech" in charge of 35 computers and 3 servers in the lab and 168 classroom, teacher and administrative computers. I wasn't a teacher, i.e. "certified", rather "classified" staff. Since No Child Left Behind mandated computer skills beyond most teachers' skills, e.g. spreadsheets, database, etc, I taught the students. If the teacher needed prep time, copy time, or any other free time, she left the class in my charge - totally illegal, but accepted because everyone knew that was the only way to catch up. Also, with the number of spanish speakers 100-fold the number of district provided (and extremely poor) ESL translators, I was also pressed into service on a daily basis for classroom, administrative, private student and parent/teacher conferences. All after hours went unpaid - because district policy doesn't pay classified overtime. Also, I was encouraged to attend workshops so I could teach the teachers various pilot programs. All after school workshops, all teaching after school, all unpaid.

    When I decided to study for my bachelors degree in IT, I was advised by Assist. Superintendent that upon completion of my degree, my contract would be terminated, because the position did not call for a degree. When I applied for my professional growth stipend, the first year, I had so many credits, the assist.super. demanded affidavits from my school to show I had earned them - over and above what was required to show. The second year I brought my credits for my professional growth, I had enough for TWO stipends (plus the original year's stipend). Both the district super and the asst. super declared the school I was attending a hoax. It was University of Phoenix, well established and accredited. They gave me the stipends - then changed parameters for CLASSIFIED staff ONLY: no more than one in a year, but teachers could earn as many in a year as possible. The logic was that classified staff wasn't "vital enough" to warrant usurping professional growth money. My certified staff was ok with my three stipends since I was covering their classes, teaching their students and teaching them, therefore providing a balancing of their day, and a valuable learning experience to keep them up with state and federal standards. I should add that I was also teaching teachers from nearly every other school in the district - all grade levels, k-12.

    My point is that the teachers have it tough, classifieds are frequently treated like trash, and the students are paying the price of the idiots who say education funds can be cut and cut and cut. I was lucky to have awesome certified staff to work with, an amazing principal, and an outstanding PTA. When our district grants writer refused to write any grant for our school (too rich to be a title school, too poor to finance our needs), I wrote grants with the help of teachers and parents, and sometimes the parents even brought me the grants to write for. We had an exceptionally close working arrangement - working together for our students, in spite of our district administrators and policies - doing whatever needed to support our kids. It should never have been that way but federal and state policies forced it upon us and that is wrong, Wrong, WRONG.

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  17. Good luck - keep fighting. As a taxpayer though, "more money for education" always sounds way too broad. "No Child Left Behind" should have been "No Classroom Left Behind" - the physical conditions of all classrooms in US public schools should meet a minimum standard (electric code, internet, lighting, heating/cooling, etc). Give students a good learning environment and they will learn. However "more money for education" just means more money will go in to any budget line item that vaguely resembles "education" related topics. More money needs to be focused - ensuring minimal classroom standards would be a good way of spending extra money.

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  18. Have you considered applying for help from the ABC show, "School Pride"? I know, it will only scrape the surface of the issues you are all dealing with, but at least a clean, safe, and stocked environment would be one less distraction for you and your kids. Just an idea....

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  19. I had to sit through a talk [for "professional development' purposes] from some pompous Harvard idiot who blithely informed a crowd of high school and middle school teachers that it was important that we give students unstructured time each period "so they can be creative". Obviously this esteemed educator has never been in a classroom or had to scramble to ensure all the state standards were being addressed so students don't fail mandated state exams. I walked out on his talk when he started showing photos of his grandkids. Sorry thing is I am sure he made more in an hour that I would make for a month.

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    1. When I was unfortunate and unplanned enough to have "unstructured" time in my classroom, the most creative thing that happened was students throwing various objects at their genitalia.

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  20. We had a similar bathroom situation at our school. Turned out it was a violation of state heath codes. I filed a formal complaint with the state heath department which required them to do a surprise inspection, which nailed the school an quite a few things including rat turds in the cafeteria. Administration is still trying to find out who filed the complaint and if they ever find out I will get my ass kicked. So make sure it is clear with the health department your identity will not be leaked.

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  21. Oh I forgot to mention, regarding the last comment, there's no correlation between spending and results. Also, a lot of the districts that spend the most have schools in the worst condition. Your New York for example, let's be fair, funding there is outrageously high per student, results are terrible, faculties are dilapidated, teachers don't have enough support, and the students are graduating illiterate. The funding can't be the problem since NY spends far more than other states that get much better results. The problem is what the money is being spent on. I have no idea where it is going, but more increases won't solve the problem since the new money will just continue to be spent on whatever it is being spent on now, which is nothing that gets results.

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  22. if u know.. where i'm teaching.. indonesian teacher.. :D

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  23. Oh man! This is all sooooo familiar to sooooo many of us overpaid and lazy teacher-types. Because of furloughs we lost two of our three days to prep and when we showed up for our ONE day to get our rooms ready, we found that there had been (de)construction during the summer and our rooms were trashed and contained piles of metal filings. Of course, we had to clean them up on our own, move all the furniture back into place, prep for opening day, and attend useless yet mandatory meetings. If I were a conspiracy nut I'd think somebody was actively trying to prevent teaching from taking place.

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  24. It's really great to know your daily experiences. They can actually serve as an inspiration and guide for other people who are in that field.

    office space

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  25. kids can't vote, poor people don't matter to politicians, most teachers go into the profession because we feel a huge reward when we teach children, and traditionally teaching has been undervalued "women's work"
    so its the crux of where all the feminist, racist,
    socio economic struggles meet...and we are usually so tired by the end of the day, we don't organize or find time to read inspiring blogs like this...and can we just go the the *&^%%&(* bathroom already?

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  26. I work in a teacher credential program in a state university in California, and we're actually preparing teachers to work in precisely the environment you describe. I spent ten weeks last year trying to get a classroom big enough to hold my students. The scheduling department responded to my concern by sending "facilities" to measure the room. I'm not sure how measuring the room would make it bigger.

    Facilities, btw, is occasionally seen in the building retagging items that need repair. They actually come and change tags on light fixtures that need bulbs. They have to climb ladders to do that, so you really have to wonder why they can't change the bulbs.

    Lately we have "smart" classrooms. They're smart to a point, but you have to bring your own laptop. You also have to bring an adapter, since they're wired for PC's and most educators use Macs. When I finally got moved out of the closet-sized classroom, I got a room that had no sound. Or according to the IT department, it had some sound if you stood on a table and put your ears next to the projector that hangs from the ceiling. When I said that wasn't really useful, the asked me if I wanted "sound you can hear."

    Offices are never cleaned, the bathrooms are filthy, the heat doesn't work, air conditioning is in short supply. Water fountains are scary. Once they had a sign on them saying that the level of fecal matter in the water was acceptable according to government standards. Oh, OK, I can drink shit because the government thinks it's OK.

    We have to submit yards of paperwork for everything. It took me three weeks to get a printer cartridge last semester because we're "understaffed." That means the staff doesn't have to do anything they don't want to do, like order printer cartridges. Not everyone has a printer but there are no two the same (asset management is not a term of art at a state university) so every cartridge has to be ordered individually. Ultimately, they're hoping you'll give up and buy your own printer and your own cartridges, which is what most of us do.

    Actually, it's hard to fault the staff. Like everyone in our system, they had to take a 9.23% paycut when we were furloughed two years ago, and the people on the low end of the pay scale suffered the most. The presidents took the same cut, on top of their $300K salaries, but suffered no reduction in their housing and car allowances, or in the "special" amounts the donors offer up to make sure our presidents all love football more than they love the faculty.

    Public education is going down the drain and the effect is geometric. People without a decent education can't even see what's being done to them. The price tag on this will be staggering, but we'll all be to stupefied to know.

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  27. I face similar issues in my school. I co-teach and we have ZERO technology. We have 2 (read semi or always un-working) computers and a printer that is 150% broken. It requires a special part that needs a special code to order. That's been broken for a month now. We had an ELMO, which is hooked up to a projector to show objects on our GREEN CHALK BOARD. We used to tape white poster paper to the board, but recently the wire that connects the ELMO to the projector has been faulty and turns the image either RED or GREEN. We can't show any worksheets to the kids because of this. There are 3 photo copiers in our school for over 200 teachers. All 3 have been broken for the last 3 weeks. So I can't even make worksheets because I have no printer to print them on and no copier to make class sets EVEN IF I had a computer, which I don't.

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  28. I worked at a brand new school in Florida. We had working computers, ELMO's, mostly working copy machines, mostly working thermostats, most classrooms had bathrooms....and as a staff we were still unhappy. All of the conditions described in the original post and in the comments are atrocities and it is a shame that any teacher or student has to endure them and the challenges to learning they present. However, I still believe that the root of teachers' unhappiness is being held completely accountable for outcomes while having no control of the environment or the mandated procedures. I quit teaching after 6 years and have no regrets. Not a day goes by where I'm not grateful to be out of the classroom. I have tremendous respect for those of you still battling it out. Best of luck to you all!!

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  29. You've definitely captured the frantic pace that every teacher faces during the day!

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  30. Remember, at the beginning and end of the day, you are there to do the best for your students. Imagine what a life they lead if the utter chaos you just described is the PREDICTABLE part of their day!

    Educate yourself for the benefit of you and your students. I would highly recommend the following books: Savage Inequalities by Johnathan Kozol, The Dreamkeepers By Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit.

    The urban schooling system needs people that are passionate enough about it to make real changes! You can do it!

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  31. After reading this I truly feel lucky. While we have some of the same issues, lack of prep time, printers that don't work, buying our own supplies etc. You have it way worse at your school and I feel like I shouldn't complain anymore. I wish more people in the community would come together and help support our schools and help improve them instead of just blaming the teachers. Good luck.

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  32. Teachers do so much with so little

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