Cranky Blogger Warning: You know the rules, here. I’m blowing off a bit of digital steam in this one. Take this post for what it’s worth—which might just be nothing by tomorrow morning.
Look, I understand exactly who I am: A sometimes-articulate, full-time classroom teacher who gets discouraged every now and then and believes that glasses weren’t made for being half-empty or half-full. They were made for shattering against the wall in brief moments of emotional meltdown!
That leads to some brutally honest reflection here on the Radical—and brutally honest was what I was trying to be when I wrote about the torrid pace of change in schools. I’m honestly exhausted, y’all, and I don’t mind making that exhaustion transparent.
And if I were the only teacher slodging through a miserable November, I’d chalk this whole strand of digital misery up to sleep deprivation. I do have a beautiful baby girl, after all. I love her times ten, but 3 AM feedings got old months ago!
But check out some of the comments that my readers left on last week’s post. They seem to suggest that I’m not alone. Renee wrote:
This is my fourth year and I am so overwhelmed, still, when things are supposed to be improving for me. I look around at the veteran teachers in my department and realize they are all working hours and hours and hours with the expectation being that we will somehow find the time to transform ourselves in the next generation of teachers.
Renee’s comments should be particularly disturbing to decision-makers who are trying to see schools change. Fourth-year teachers are the lifeblood of reform. They’re generally idealistic and hardworking, and they’re looking for ways to lead. More importantly, they’ve got their best professional years ahead of them, now that they’ve figured out how to manage a real live classroom.
When we chase away Renees, we’re hurting our future—and that ain’t good!
Susan’s equally exhausted, writing:
Teachers in my elementary school and in the schools throughout my district feel the same way. We are overwhelmed and are burning out fast. Something’s got to give and what it seems to be so far is the quality of our teaching.
Susan’s pointed out why the torrid pace of change in schools should bother parents: When teachers are overwhelmed by a dozen different change initiatives, the quality of their teaching suffers. We spend less time grading papers, less time planning lessons and less time contacting parents because we’re stuck in more and more meetings designed to improve our schools.
Kind of ironic, huh?
The core tasks of teaching haven’t changed, y’all. It’s just that teachers have less time to do them. And considering that the only time we completely control is the time we spend grading papers, planning lessons and contacting parents, is it any surprise that those tasks end up rushed or pushed aside completely?
Simple message here: If you want us to reform education, work in new ways AND complete the same kinds of tasks we’ve always done, you need to find us more time. If you’re not willing to pony up the cash that it will take to release teachers to do all of this work, something’s got to give—and right now, that “something” is the quality of our instructional planning and student feedback.
Are you okay with that?
Then Elubis wrote:
I have reached the point where sleep is minimal at best and often restless. the never-ending lists of to-dos and to-don’ts run through my mind at all hours and my pursuit to keep abreast of the newest and best techniques leaves me in the dust before I even start.
Add to that the responsibilities of maintaining licensure with additional degrees and inspiring new learners year after year with no compensation and decreasing respect in the community and I can’t blame you for wanting to jump ship. I’m right there with you.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: EVERYONE’s working hard in today’s economy, aren’t they? There’s probably not a single professional job in America where people aren’t putting in long hours and constantly trying to stay current in their fields. That’s comes with living in a country wrestling with economic collapse.
The difference is that we’re depending on schools to help dig us out of the financial mess that we’ve gotten ourselves in to! It’s the kids in my classroom today that are going to make-or-break America’s bajillion dollar Piggy Bank. If we want our country to be strong 40 years from now, we need schools to be strong TODAY.
Which means that we’d better do something to attract our best and our brightest minds to our classrooms—and we’d better do it quickly. If we can’t guarantee that our students have access to accomplished teachers, we’re done for. Period.
(Question for reflection: Would YOU voluntarily teach after reading Elubis’s mind?)
Finally, Mary—who is one of the most compassionate teachers that I’ve ever met—said:
At last someone is speaking truth and reality to one of the most important and abused professions
Powerful words, huh? When teachers are feeling “abused” –an emotion that Elubis hints at when he talks about “increasing disrespect in our communities” –we’ve got a serious problem. Ask most teachers why they chose their profession and you’ll hear a list of altruistic reasons a mile long. We’re not in this game for the cash. We want to make a difference, and we know that’s still possible in our field.
But altruism doesn’t go very far when your buried under increasingly large piles of critical emails and surrounded by negative messages on the nightly news. Constant criticism makes our paychecks look smaller than they really are!
Does this make sense? I guess I’m kind of hoping that someone might just listen and embrace the idea that we can’t just keep asking teachers to do more.
Anyone got Arne on your speed dial? If you do, tell him I said that being important in the life of a child is definitely an incredible reward. It’s probably even better when you can be important in the life of YOUR OWN child while you’re at it!
Unfortunately, many of us classroom-teacher-types wouldn’t know: The professional grind of full-time teaching often sees us working late, doing more and coming home to our own families emotionally empty.