Over the past two weeks, I've put a lot of time into creating my next unit plan. It includes an activity guide (42 pages), an assessment packet (12 pages), and a project packet (7 pages).
I did everything the way I was supposed to.
I planned the assessment first (a DBQ). Then I wrote the essay myself. Then I wrote the objectives. And finally I selected the readings, the instructional strategies, and created the formative assessments.
It's a good unit. I really like it. It's cohesive (all of the homework, objectives, assessments, and lessons are aligned). It requires the kids to do a lot of rigorous reading and thinking ("Wealth" by Andrew Carnegie, selections from The Communist Manifesto, Wealth of Nations, and Two Treatises of Government), and has some really good essential questions (my favorite is: What is the connection between urbanization, immigration, new technology, and the distribution of wealth?).
The only problem: it took me a grand total of thirty hours to complete, and my administration is not exactly ecstatic about it. Sure, they like it, but it's what they expect. To them, I'm competent - no more, no less.
Why does this bother me? Because this is not the only part of the job into which I pour outrageous amounts of energy for lukewarm results.
I'm at school from 8am to 6pm most days. I am never away from kids for more than two or three hours on any day. In that time, I'm teaching, tutoring, chaperoning, running kids down in the hallway, or leading grade-level or school leadership meetings. Grading, planning, the invisible tasks associated with classroom management that occur outside of the school day, and organizing are all parts of the job that are done in my 'free time.'
I'm not special. Teachers always complain about being overworked, but a teacher's inadequacy and workload is especially exacerbated in such a high-needs environment. When my kids don't do their homework, I have three choices. I can either give them zeros, stop assigning homework, or force them to do homework in class and then hold my regular class outside of school hours (in this sense, we're lucky at my school; the administration has done a pretty good job of forcing kids to stay after school until they're done with their work). So, I force my kids to do the homework in silence during class time and then keep them during lunch or after school to make up the time they've taken away from my instruction, which is really just more time they're taking from me.
It's within this reality that I attended a meeting with my principal today about the new rules in NYC for teacher tenure. Apparently, all the work that goes into rating a teacher 'satisfactory' (and thus leading them to tenure after three years of employment) is now on the backs of the teachers. Teachers must not only do all of the planning, grading, and instructing, but also document student learning gains, efforts toward improving school community, and attempts to reach out to parents. (Gee....where have I dealt with this before.....IMPACT. Can I please get a secretary? I guess, since I'm overpaid, I could just buy one out of my own salary.)
The documentation business, on its own, is not all that new either. Pay us 15% less than other professions that require equal levels of education, expect us to do mind-numbing amounts of work, require that we document everything we do, put us in precarious legal situations on a daily basis (any one of which could easily cost a teacher her job and possibly even get her sent to jail), ask us to work with young people whose job you would think it was to frustrate you, and then complain about how our unions advocate in our interest. Ahhh yes....all is well in the world.
But three things have recently come up that have really frustrated me, and, for the first time in my life, have me seriously reconsidering my intention to teach as a lifelong career....
1) We just got a new superintendent - some lady who was known as "The Closer" down in Brooklyn. As a educrat, and not a Mexican wrestler, she apparently made a name for herself closing failing schools in that borough. As a school with a 100% ELL and 100% free and reduced population in the Bronx, she's probably on to us.
2) One of the rules around gaining tenure requires that you pass at least 85% of your students and show student success based, in part, on Regents scores. Otherwise The Closer gets to do her job.
3) Principals are being pressured to grant tenure to teachers after three years or fire them. Extended probation is still an option, but it's not one the DOE wants to use. Either show your amazing or get fired. I guess that's fine, since we all know how easy teaching is, especially after three years.
It would be impossible to put into words the absurdity of the whole situation, but I hope it's apparent to most people. 85% of the teachers on my staff are less experienced than I am. Most of my kids are somewhere between three and seven grade levels behind where they should be. My principal emphasized the importance of passing kids based on merit and not as a means of earning tenure, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that that's exactly what's going to happen, especially when you're working with students who are incredibly challenging to educate and you have virtually no experience doing it.
NYC's DOE claims that for every seven teachers who apply to teach in NYC, only one is hired. I'm beginning to wonder what the hell is wrong with all those people. And then I remember, I was one of them. But that was before the DOE came to our school and told us they'd be giving us fewer classrooms next year even though we're an expanding school (expecting to add a new grade) because they've decided our campus has room for one more school.
I like my administrators. They mean well. But the system is too ignorant, and it's far too powerful. No matter how well-meaning any administrator may be, they're still largely tools beholden to DOE policy.
It's my impression that hardworking, experienced people who are really in this for the kids are a dying breed, and I'm not much for Sisyphean tasks. But when public teachers are made to be little more than bureaucrats, maybe that's what teaching in a public school means these days. I'm just not sure it's worth it.