How Did I Get This Way!?!?

I finished writing my last post, and it hit me: I'm the guy I used to wish I'd never turn into.

When I started teaching, I approached it with the energy of a five-year-old on a recent bowl of frosted flakes. I obsessed over my teaching like a doctor charged with finding the cure to an epidemic.

But here I am, six years later, saying that "I am decidedly unwilling to do everything in my power to ensure every child's success." What the hell happened?

I thought about it for a while, and I realized that my blog is a pretty valuable resource for assessing how and why I've made this transformation.

Check it out.

Example 1: Here is me in June of 2009, having just been hired to teach at Columbia Heights Educational Campus (CHEC) in Washington, DC. I'm talking about how excited I am to work hard, and how much I respect my school's commitment to excellence. And then here's me again in January of 2010, right after I quit.

Example 2: Here is me in September of 2009, wondering about teacher turnover at CHEC, and resolving to work harder in the name of ensuring all students' success. And here is me in January of 2010, frustrated by Amanda Ripley's piece on "good teaching" in The Atlantic.

Example 3: Here is me detailing the amount of time and energy I spent in a day on tasks unrelated to teaching and learning. And here is me, in the same month, detailing the amount of time I'd put into a unit plan with lukewarm results.

Example 4: Here is me realizing how completely messed up our educational leadership is. And here is me ready to vomit over the way we create and use data in schools. It's become difficult to keep up my idealism in the face of harmful leadership decisions.

Example 5: Finally, here is me writing about how work-related stress impacted my health by leading to the discovery of a brain cyst, and resolving to treat myself better. I am a teacher, not a martyr.

And there you have it - a pretty decent paper trail detailing a transformation that took place over years. I wish I'd begun blogging during my teaching internship. I can hardly imagine how committed and energetic that thinking would have read.

Over the years, I've reached burnout numerous times and pulled in the reins, just enough to keep myself doing this work, because it is important work. Deep down, I am still furiously committed to equity, and I am still deeply frustrated with the systems our society imposes on the less fortunate.

However, with the vastly greater amount of knowledge regarding our public education system and the reasons it exists as it does, I am more sensible in the way I manage my time and commitment.

Is that just the jaded man's way of saying he's jaded?


  1. James. I like your stuff. Please send me an email . I would like to ask you a question about blogging. Tim

  2. There is much that is wrong with the American school system. Thank you for sharing your experiences - I've started following your blog.

  3. James,
    Is this your last post as you've written? I'd hate to see you stop!

  4. Donna: Thanks for the kind words. And, luckily, that's not what I meant. By "last" post, I just meant previous post.

  5. I never wanted to be a teacher. During my student teaching, I hated teaching. I'm now in my 7th year of certification and my 5th year of teaching (4th year in an urban setting). Now more than ever, I want to be an educator.

    Like you, I am frustrated and tired. I'm fed up with being told I'm not doing a good enough job and sick of worrying about having a job. The lovely governor of my State has a new evaluation system for teachers based on student growth (and nothing more!).

    At the end of the day, I am not a teacher for the governor, the community I work for, or the school that pays my salary. I am a teacher for the students. Each day I go in and teach them because I can't give up on my kids, even if some of them have given up on themselves. And I have my days where movies and worksheets happen, but then I have my days when for the first time in 8 months, the students finally hit that "ah" moment and understand how literature reflects life.

    If at the end of the day the administrators don't like what I do, or the governor declares I'm "ineffective," I will gladly hand over my certification and move on knowing I have done everything *I* could.

    It's May...and I think we're all tired. But September will come again.

  6. >Is that just the jaded man's way of saying he's jaded?

    Nope. I never wanted to work too hard. I wanted to have fun in my life. I would have liked to teach at an alternative school back in the 80's, but they didn't pay enough (and expected endless work). I ended up teaching community college, and have always tried to balance my amount of work with how I help my students. I agree with you that the image of the self-sacrificing teacher is a very wrong one.

    Schooling is messed up in so many ways...

  7. James - it is funny that we have followed such a similar path: UT education, internship, urban schools. Everything you're saying is what I'm feeling. We should email with each other.

  8. You articulate well what other teachers also experience. It isn't only our educational system that is unequal and unjust, but of all the institutions it is the one where inequality is most deplorable because education should be the route to equality. You, and others, are providing some light.

  9. I'm presently on example 4 and fear example 5 is only moments away...

    In some ways I AM turning into exactly what I said I NEVER would...on the other hand - I could never look my students in the eye, turn away and punch the clock...

  10. This story illustrates why the Teach for America crowd so wants to get people out of the classroom as soon as possible -- to get them into decision maker roles before they get hit by reality. That way they can continue to spout their nonsense of ed deform and almost get themselves to believe it.
    I was lucky in that I connected up with a group of teacher activists with a political perspective in my 4th year of teaching. We met every week for 10 years and became activists in out local school community and in the union fighting for equity. Working in the classroom I believe goes hand in hand with a political battle for our kids. To do one without the other leads us feeling frustrated and guilty.

  11. You grew up, you became less idealistic (as people do as they get older and/or more experienced), and you realized that you alone cannot change the world.

    It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad teacher. Everything that teachers hear now is about how we do not do enough, when we probably do more "off the clock" then about 99% of the population.

    You have come to realize what the veteran teachers around you knew, which is that a career in education is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself if you want to survive in education, and that means pulling back sometimes.

  12. I hate to tell you this but your education about education isn't fully educated yet. There's worse yet to come. There's the vulture philanthropists, that 1% who wants the big $ of the education industry. Right now NYC and LA are seeing teacher cleansing hit its strides. Soon we will be replaced with cheap TFA temps working off their student debts before heading off to lucrative private sector jobs.
    Why? You ask. Because people like Bill Gates and Eli Broad are all about the bottom line: profits. Sure they talk about s bad teachers and Oprah has their backs (she may as well be a corpulent white male at this pointy)and putting students first, but it is all bull shitaki. TFA temps are an ideal solution because they will be paid nominally and mostly with federal $ (our taxes). They will have no need for tenure, health care, insurance, pensions or unions which have to be bought off. We know 1% ers hate to pay a decent wage or give up benefits. They wont becxome advocates for students or expect recognition of contracts. This is America today.

    Walmart Waltons notoriously give most employees 39 hours to beat them out of HMOs, sick days, vacations and raises. We the people cover the Medical, the disability and assorted costs for our fellow working poor. Not to worry, they may dodge taxes and operate with lower ethics than most street grifters, but these guys are always ready with a check , those giant ones that they smile with as they take pictures for the newspapers theyve bought out.
    With their thugs installed in leadership, who can say how the money is spent? In LA, it sure isnt on educating kids. But, hey, they made a fortune from the opportunities this country and Democracy afforded them and people respect that. Proof that education failed and isn't worth saving. Hope lies in autodidactic proliatariates and prozac,
    that is all

  13. Miss Deed: I am well aware of the references you've made and have written about them extensively. I worry about your tone though. When educators sound like they're ranting - as I believe you do here - they're often taken less seriously. Rather than complain as we would to one another in private, I think we need to be careful how we talk about these issues in public. It's important that explain clearly to the public why privatization is so harmful, and why TFA is so ridiculous. When we just sound angry, and like we're only interested in saving our jobs, we only play into the other side's hand.

  14. I think that saying "I'll do ANYTHING to see my students succeed" is like saying "I'll do ANYTHING to lose weight." Is it great to lose weight? Sure. But not if that means taking laxatives, purging your meals, or exercising to the point of injury. Pursuing "good" outcomes (student achievement, losing weight) can definitely be taken way too far.

  15. James, you are one of the privileged few. Get over yourself. You write about it, some of us live it. It impacts our children of color, our teachers of color, and our communities of color. Some of us are rightly pissed off and angry that our children, those children of color, are being used as pawns in this so called teaching reform. Maybe Ms. Deed just needs somewhere to express her feelings, and your blog is as safe a place as any. It hurts to walk around your school and community with your mouth taped shut. However, you're right fighting words need to be translated into action. The revolution will not be televised!

  16. Anon at 757: I didn't say you don't have a right to be angry. I hope people are angry. In fact, I hope people are extremely angry. I agree that corporate reform is reprehensible in many ways. But unless we want phrases like "The revolution will not be televised" to merely make us feel better in the moment, then we better think carefully about how we explain our side.

    There are a whole lot of people interested in education and education reform who think corporate reform is truly in the best interest of children because they don't have the experiences to help them understand that it's not. They've been duped by the media and the polished CR talking points. If you want to tell them why CR is wrong for our children and wrong for our country, then do it intelligently, by explaining carefully and calmly where it goes wrong. Do it like a foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorist, and you should expect them to discount your point of view.

    Anger is fine, but we have to be careful it does not sabotage our purpose.

  17. James, your experience seems to mirror mine pretty remarkably. I blog at and have begun podcasting. If you'd be willing, I'd love to interview you about your experiences. I've read that teacher burnout is at historic levels, and there are many reasons for this - political, structural, etc. Anyway, drop me a line @ if interested.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts