And the Survey shows…..

Well, the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher is out. Always an informative read, but this year shows some of the most disturbing statistics ever.

As I scanned the document this morning over coffee, I became more and more disheartened. There are many statistics presented in the survey and I have provided the link for anyone who would like to read any of the 120+ pages in the report. However, the one section that stood out the most for me is the fact that, apparently,  the profession has become a kind of landing pad for teachers until they can find something else to do with their lives.

 I suppose this was the one section that upset me the most because I am closing in on the end of my own career as a teacher. In 5 years, I will be gone from the classroom. I would like to think that a dedicated professional who sees teaching as his or her calling will be there to step into my position. At one point in time, I could be assured of this. Obviously that is not to be the case.

I have heard it from the young beginning teachers in my own building. Some of the first year teachers I have mentored have asked me how I have been able to “do it” day in and day out for over 30 years. I have always answered them honestly – I do it because I love it. I have always told them that if they don’t love it, they should get out before it is too late. Unfortunately, many stay when they shouldn’t.

One of my former students came back to our small community to teach. I was so pleased when she chose teaching as her path, and thrilled beyond belief when she chose to come home to do so. Anna is a phenomenal young lady and she was so excited and full of creativity when she walked into her very own classroom. She has been with us for only two years, but in that short time I have seen the passion and joy she had on that first day slowly drain from her.

I ran into her in the office before Easter and asked her how things were going. She told me that over the break she was going to be meeting with one of her friends who works in advertising. If things worked out, and she was sure they would, this would be her last year of teaching.  Her.  last.  year.

There were two other young teachers with Anna at the time, and they shared that they, too, were looking for something as far away from the classroom as they could get. I was shocked, to say the least. These three girls were wonderful teachers!

I remember my first 5 years. Challenging? You bet. Frustrating? Without a doubt. Thrilling, satisfying, wonderful? Most assuredly, yes! I would have never considered leaving during those first years of a career I knew would be the only one I would ever love.

So, what is it? Did these young ladies not love the idea of teaching for the rest of their lives? I don’t think so. In Anna’s case, I know so. Therefore, it had to be something within the system that so soured them that they would be willing to throw away the chance at having the most rewarding and wonderful career I could imagine.

So why does this bother me so much? It is really very simple. When I leave my classroom for the last time, I want to hand it over to someone who will cherish it as much as I have for the last 3 decades. I want to know that the person who fills the position I leave will take care of the students who will be sitting at those desks, just as I have for so many years. I want to see the passion, and I want that passion to stay with them for the length of a career, not just a couple of years.

I don’t want to spend my hard-earned retirement years agonizing over this. I want to leave knowing that I did the right thing……

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Educating Parents

Ok, I don’t pretend to know what happens in the home of every child I teach, but I can say one thing for certain – since the beginning of public education, parents have always said that their kids act differently at home than they do at school.

I have participated in conferences for students who misbehave and have heard every excuse under the sun from parents who just do not want to have to deal with their child’s misbehavior issues. And I think that’s it, in a nutshell. They are in denial because they either see their child as perfect or they simply don’t have the time and energy to work with the school to correct the problem.

I will give you the most extraordinary example. Years ago, I taught in a self-contained high ability classroom. I had a student who was also – gasp – the child of a very good friend. I know, it is certainly not a good idea to have the child of a friend as a student in your classroom, but my friend’s daughter was gifted. Therefore, she was automatically put into my classroom. And what could I do but accept that? To be fair, there was no other place to put her.

I knew Susan (not her real name) to be a very kind and loving child. And Barb (not her real name) was the most supporting and nurturing mother. They had a very tight bond – an almost sisterly relationship – due to the fact that they were the only two “girls” in a house full of “boys”. I always thought their relationship was cute … until I saw a much different side of it.

In school, Susan was what we call a “mean girl”. Seriously – it was like night and day. I have never really understood how a child can be almost angelic at home and have so much devil in her at school, but it was a fact. I refer to this as the “Eddie Haskell” syndrome – those of you over the age of 50 will understand this reference.

I spoke to teachers who had Susan as a student in the past and was warned not to call “the mother” in for a conference because all I would get would be a woman who is seriously – almost pathologically – in denial about her child. This shocked me. Barb and I went waaaaay back, and I had never once heard about her having a problem with school in regards to Susan’s behavior. I decided that I would deal with it at school and correct the behavior, while appealing to Susan’s “outside of school” relationship with me.

What a nightmare. I started receiving calls from Barb almost weekly about how we needed to talk. When we would sit down, she would share with me how hurt she was over my picking on Susan. Each time, Barb would share something that Susan had told her I said or did that offended or upset her. And each time – each and every time – I would gently relate the truth of what really happened. I would get that look….the one that screamed, “I don’t believe you.”

It got to the point where I would refuse to talk about these issues without Susan present. And we did so on my turf. If Barb had a problem, I asked her to come in to school to speak to me, and I made sure that Susan was present. Barb would tell me her issues and I would look directly at Susan and say, “Is this true, Susan?” Without fail, Susan would look right at her mom and say, “I never said that to you!” It only took two of these kinds of conferences to get the point across. Her daughter was, for want of a better word, a liar.

Having called Susan out on her behavior in front of her mother damaged the relationship between Susan and I a bit, but I didn’t have one problem with her lying to her mom about me from that moment on. She knew that she had been caught, so she was smart enough not to do so again. And my relationship with Barb? Fine…..like nothing had ever happened to threaten it. Strange, but true.

As Susan went through middle school and on to the high school, her behavior only got worse. Being a mean girl in elementary pales in comparison to being a mean girl in high school. As before, Barb never shared with me any of the problems Susan had in school in the years after I had her as a student. However, knowing Barb and I were friends, her teachers did. Apparently, it was the same thing over and over again. Barb would defend her cub as any Momma Bear would do, only to find that it was her daughter who was lying, not the teachers. One would think that Barb would have the presence of mind to start believing the teachers and take her daughter to task for her behavior. Sadly, this was never the case.

Barb is not the only parent who I have seen behave like this over the years, and she most assuredly will not be the last. Unlike when I was in school and my parents sided with the teachers first, in this day and age teachers will always be wrong until it is pounded into some parents’ heads that their child is not perfect…….and they are brave enough to admit it themselves.

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We are all a part of the system

I have started this blog as a type of catharsis, for lack of a better word.

Those of you who teach may understand the points I will bring up. Or not. Perhaps some – or the majority – of you will wonder why I remain in teaching if I am so disillusioned with the system of education.

But, you see, that’s just it. I am disillusioned with the system. I am not disillusioned with my fellow teaching professionals or my students. I am not questioning the need for an educated society. There are just specific things in this age of standards and accountability that don’t wash with me as an educator of 30 years. There are things that stick in my craw, so to speak.

I suppose the worst of all of this for me is that whatever happens in the world of education in this day and age seems to be my fault as a teacher. Teachers are at the bottom of the food chain in education – the last in line, and the ones who deal directly with the students. This makes us an easy mark; the whipping boys of a system that has taken all control from us. While I find this unfair, that is the least of it. I find it harder each day to defend what has happened to education. To love what you do at its heart but to despise what it has become is the hardest thing of all.

The job of a teacher has always been hard. I have always welcomed the challenge. However, what is happening in the classroom today is not what I call teaching. In fact, it is not what I would call learning. Our students are being short-changed, and there is nothing we can do about it. I understand the need for accountability, and I agree that it does have its place in the educational system. It should not be the main focus, however.

I praise the grassroots efforts of those small groups of parents who want to see less testing and fewer textbook companies scripting lessons for their children. I appreciate that they want their children to love school or, at the very least, love to learn. There are far too many children who are disillusioned with education. It is not enough to tell students that it is important to learn this and that – we have to show them. Unfortunately, there is no time for showing in education anymore.

It is time to give the art of education back to the professionals, where it belongs.

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The art of education

I am a teacher.

At this point, that is really all anyone needs to know about me. No one needs to know my name, or what or where I teach. Quite simply, in this day and age there is little difference between school districts and teaching positions. We all come under the same fire. We are all held to the same standard. We are all experiencing the same frustrations. Daily.

So why do I share this blog anonymously? For the simple fact that I want to be able to say what I need to say without fear of retribution. That’s right – retribution. You see, education today has become a sort of “fall into line and do as you are told” world where the opinions of the experts – in this case, the teachers – are unwelcome. There is always someone who knows much better than you what is best for the students. Unfortunately, those people aren’t in my classroom to see what really is best for my students, nor do they see the outcome of their misguided policies.

There are so many things I want to say about education today. If you are not in the profession, you probably wouldn’t understand. Those who walk into a classroom every morning will understand. They will feel the conflict between wanting to do what you know is right and having to do what you know is not.

Most importantly, they will understand what I mean when I say this – I love my job. I love the kids. I just don’t love what education has become.

And that is unfortunate.

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