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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Utter Frustration

I walked into 'my' room (four other teachers also use it) yesterday as a colleague of mine was finishing his lesson. He was sitting on a desk. His hair, sleeves, and tie were disheveled as usual. He was finishing work with a few students, and I could tell from the look in his eye as he glanced at my entrance that his day had not gone well.

He hands me two sheets of paper. "Check this out," he says as the students leave.

I looked at the administrative plan that detailed all his requirements for the rest of his semester.  I'd seen something like this before, and that look in his eye now made sense, not that I didn't know this was coming.

Among other things, the plan required....

- Meet with an administrator every day to do lesson planning
- Submit unit plans two weeks in advance
- Document student progress and review with administration on a regular basis
- Attend a professional development on UBD
- Submit lesson plans for every day and an objective calendar for every month

His signature was at the bottom with the date.

I knew exactly what this was, where it was coming from, and exactly how he felt.  In many schools this kind of letter may as well have said, "We intend to fire you at the end of the year."  A long, stressful conversation followed.

"I have no life," he says.  "I feel guilty even going to the gym.  I'm so frustrated trying to plan, I don't even know what a damn objective is anymore.  How the hell is it different from an outcome, aim, standard, or learning goal?  How am I supposed to teach anything when I can't even figure out what they need to know."

I know exactly what he means.  Planning with no direction is the most frustrating thing in the world.  I did it for about three years. I still put a ginormous number of hours into teaching, but I'm confident it's all going somewhere useful now. When you spend ten hours coming up with two lesson plans and they're both utter failures, it makes you want to quit fast.

"I don know, man.  Maybe I should just go get a PhD and teach college.  It's exactly what I always wanted to avoid, but if they're going to fire me at the end of the year, obviously I shouldn't be doing this."

I tell him he's wrong. I don't know if he believes me.  We'll get together to plan this weekend.  Maybe it will help.

12 comments:

  1. That's so depressing how your colleague is being treated by the administration. You should let him know that all schools aren't this difficult, and just because one administrator things he's "in need of improvement" doesn't mean that he wouldn't be an excellent teacher in another locale. That said, if he really is miserable, he shouldn't beat himself up about trying a new profession. After teaching for several years I left and went to law school, and I'm (usually) very glad I did.

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  2. I agree completely with Attorney DC. It takes wisdom to realize that it might be time for a change, both for you and for your colleague. As Attorney DC says, another teaching position in a completely different environment could very well mean an entirely different outcome. For me, that change meant going from fifth grade, where I was "average" at best, to first grade, where I found my niche. I also worked as a reading specialist while my sons were little because that position is MUCH easier than classroom teaching.

    In your last post you mentioned the fact that an administrator told you that there are many applicants for very few openings in NYC. That's basically the fact that is making your job so difficult: The administration knows that they can be very particular about the teachers they keep. They might even be hoping to replace you in order to keep costs down. This is a recession and we're all in it.

    Here are some specific suggestions for you and your colleague:

    Utilize the teachers' manuals. They will help you cut down the amount of time spent on lesson planning.

    Find a teacher who seems to be very successful without spending hours outside of school. Ask for her help. Observe her lessons.

    Consider teaching high-achieving students in the suburbs. It's a lot easier.

    Consider becoming a speech therapist. You'll have your pick of jobs.

    Consider a completely different grade level. First graders will love you. College teaching will offer more autonomy and much more professional respect.

    Don't lose heart. You're in a very difficult position at the worst possible time for public school teachers.

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  3. Linda: Well said. I couldn't agree more. These teachers should take heart: There are other schools, other administrators and (if necessary) other careers out there that can bring them professional happiness and success. Don't give up!

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  4. Attorney DC:

    Both you and I made changes until we found a career choice that felt right. RE and his friends are still at that difficult age when they are searching for a position that affords them the professional satisfaction that they seek and deserve. I agree with you: They should not give up. RE is obviously very intelligent so I have little doubt that he will find his niche.

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  5. Linda: Well said!

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  6. If you MUST teach, then do so. If not, get the hell out. I am at 30 years and my last. I can't do it anymore. I am so unhappy. It isn't the knucklehead kids who I love ( and I teach 12th graders). It is the administration, the new curriculum, NCLB, the parents of 2011.
    Look, do like I did, I was a "gypsy" until I found the right school district. I in the Houston area, the Ft. Worth area, the Corpus Christi area until I found the "right" school. I taught in suburbs, I taught in inner-cities schools and small city schools, and finally I found my niche in a poor rural school. I have worked with academic teams, NHS, student government, the speech events, the play, the prom, graduation and I loved every minute of it....Look you may have to move several times before you find "your" school.

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  7. RE, this guy you're writing about might as well have been me. I actually just wrote about a similar situation I'm going through. :(

    I hope your colleague has better days and I completely agree with what everyone else has said. Finding "your" school is really important; a place that supports your efforts to support children is SO important. I had no idea before this year how vital the meshing of the entire staff is.

    Hope things are well in NYC :)

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  8. For Fear the Fellow, I have read your blog and would just like to say as a new teacher I commiserate. I would also like to add, that it is easy to criticize other teachers from the outside looking in, when we have not yet experienced or been responsible for a claasroom and the teaching and learning of 100's of young minds. I too am at fault. Before I started teaching I was "one who read articles in the paper" and thought there really was this core group of uncaring/lazy teachers out there. Now I realize, yes there are a few but the majority are overwhelmed, unsupported, and quite frankly "beat down" by the system. The kids are a products of their environment and the years of schooling in the craziness called the DC Public school system, and the students, teachers, and other staff deserve a medal for surviving. Quite frankly, if I was a student at my school I would either "hide in the bathroom all day, skip and stay at home, or "go loco" in the hallways as as others do because after a while the madness becomes the norm and is the only way to retain your sanity.

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  9. FedUpMom: UBD stands for Understanding by Design, which is a vey popular planning model schools these days. I like it a lot, but it's not perfect.

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  10. I believe the teacher should come on down to DCPS. A dose of the environment here will raise his spirits and help calibrate his self worth.

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  11. Marvin, it is that way in most large city schools. DCPS, NYC Schools, Houston ISD, LAUSD, all public schools are at the crossroads.
    In 5-10 years public education is going to be in a wild whirlwind with so called experts trying to fix one mess they made for another....and trust me, they are not fixing it.

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