Sadly, I’m Not Alone. . .

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.

12 thoughts on “Sadly, I’m Not Alone. . .

  1. Matt Ledding

    Why are things tool-based instead of goal based? If you keep in touch with parents via qlubb, blackboard, sms, or face2face meetings what does it matter? As long as it gets done…

  2. Jose

    I haven’t read the comments, so excuse me, but this rings so true to me right now. I was just telling Jon, who pointed me to this post, that I don’t know a singly body whose a fellow educator, who isn’t working really hard right now. To wit, I’ve probably never worked this hard. Not even my first year was this exhausting. And in the interest of alignment, I had WAY more time as a teacher my first year than every other year. All these meetings and mini-tasks are nothing short of ridiculous and don’t give us a space to breathe. It’s not only happening in my school, but plenty of others. Even as I started my career, I just knew that our work wasn’t from 9-3. It takes nights, weekends, summers, the whole 9. And let’s not even get into those of us who consider ourselves teacher advocates, online and off. We basically live this profession.
    I wouldn’t ever want to quit. I teach 1 class, but I’m also a coach, so I’m responsible for 829 kids instead of the 90 from before, and I love what I do. I just know that as teachers the types and amounts of work is steadily increasing.
    And I’m tired. Good night.

  3. Tami Thompson

    It’s funny when I read Madrone’s post about elem having it easy. Elem tchrs actually feel secondary has it easy because they only teach one subject. True, that there are 30 students in my class. But I maintain RTI records on every content area.
    I guess it’s all point of view.

  4. Louise Maine

    Damian brings up great points. I am still a great teacher, but I used to spend time at the expense of my family. I work through my lunch and get up early (my husband already does) to get work done. I try not to keep the madness up at night. I am lucky that many of the reforms mentioned are not here yet, but they are looming as we have work that is leading up to it. After 21 years of teaching, I am not sure how much more I can take. I push my students as well as my self. It is not just the extra work we do, I am fine with that. It is the disrespect that is the problem regardless of what we do. Our country really needs to decide what we want. I want education to help our country, but really…is what we are being asked to do really doing that? There is so much wrong here…

  5. Damian

    I used to be a teacher.
    I still work in education; I’m a school psychologist now (and intrigued by the opinions folks here have voiced on RtI, but that’s another issue), and my take-home work is pretty much nil.
    I’m trying to figure out how to say this without coming across as whining, so let me just say this: having kids of my own completely changed my perspective on my job. Before them, spending hours at night & on weekends on job-related stuff just seemed like ‘the price of doing business’ – it’s what teachers did. When I realized how the demands of the job (and that includes developing new and hopefully innovative projects on a regular basis, not just recycling the same old stuff) impacted my time with my kids, I started to resent it. I didn’t want to become the teacher who hates his job but stays in it for the summers and the pension, so when I finished my psychologist training, I decided it was time to put up or shut up. The demands on my personal time weren’t the only reason I left, but they were a pretty significant contributing factor.
    My new(ish) position has demands & challenges of its own (every job does), but at least I get to spend my evenings and weekends with my kids. I seem to remember reading a comment by another teacher (maybe on this blog?) who felt forced to choose other people’s children over her own a lot of times. That sounds very familiar.
    I still get to work with kids and hopefully make some kind of a positive impact on their time in school (debatable, I guess), but I harbor no illusions that what I do on a daily basis has anywhere near the impact that a good teacher has.
    There are many days when I wonder if leaving the classroom was the right choice for me, but I have to believe it was the right choice for my children.

  6. Mike H

    Interesting. I’m a few posts behind because I haven’t had as much time as normal to keep up (new things going on, you know!) So, we have RTI coming into our county and I worry that it will be another thing to demotivate teachers. In a different county where my daughter’s go to school, they had Blackboard and a phone system called SNAPSHOT for parents to call and get homework updates. Well, they got rid of SNAPSHOT and have a new website for parents to use. My question is, why not just use Blackboard? Why two programs? It seems like everywhere, they add to teacher’s plates rather than taking things off.
    I agree, that the most stressed are probably the teachers that seek to improve their instruction, but at the same time, it seems like top down decisions are based on the new, shiny looking toy rather than reviewing current programs.
    The worst part is, none of this seems to help students schoolwide, just in isolated classrooms with the same overworked, teachers.

  7. Zach

    Here’s a question I keep kicking around.
    Can you be a great teacher (I know – how do you define “great”?) and put in a 45 hour work week?
    I think that, too often, society and teachers confuse the education profession as a calling…something akin the mission field. It’s not. It’s a profession. I got into teaching because I liked it. But I also needed a paycheck – and it’s a decent gig.

  8. Madrone

    ginnyp –
    Are you in Florida? This Response to Intervention business is crazy. Someone on our campus said last week that we’re seeing the beginnings of elementary level structure creeping into secondary teaching. My response was twofold- that I chose secondary for a purpose and that an elementary teacher has an easier time preparing and maintaining paperwork on 20 – 30 students as compared to my 120.
    I’m starting to wish that I could become one of those teachers who just turns it off at 3:30 and doesn’t think about it again until 8:00 the next day. As it is, I spent my Veteran’s Day grading and planning.

  9. ginnyp

    I am at school from 7:30 til 5:30 and sometimes later.After dinner – which my retired husband prepares- and 1/2 hour dog walk, I pull out my planning or grading and work from 7:30-10 or 11. Why so much work at home? Monday’s faculty meeting which included discussion of a new teacher evaluation plan* lasted til after 4. Today’s 90 minutes of planning time was completely taken up by a meeting with support staff about our most needy students according to Response to Intervention*. (Wed is “off” though I’ll be reading 125 student essays on Veteran’s Day). Thursday is PLT* day where we’ll discuss our SMART* goal progress and common assessments* which will leave about 30 minutes of planning. Friday I have a parent coming in to conference about her child’s progress.
    *Each “*” is next to an initiative that is new to our system in the last 12 months. What is not included is time to make copies (once I decide what to make copies of), time to review students’ tests to see who needs extra help or a push ahead. Ay, there’s the rub. Even if I had time to determine that Johnny “got it” or Susie “still doesn’t get it” there is no time in the school day except lunch to provide more instruction. I know a certain radical teacher runs a lunch-time work program but I could count on the fingers of one hand the teachers in our school willing to give up their 25 minute lunch period.
    I have only taught ten years, but I predict there will be no more ten-year-or-more veterans in the not-too-distant futures. The sleepless nights, constant pressure to provide data*, to differentiate* and document interventions* – all this with 35 kids in my class (my math teammate has 38)!

  10. Bill Ferriter

    Good questions, Jon….
    My first reaction fits with your first conclusion: I think that my feelings are generalizable to most of the motivated teachers that I know.
    Sure, there are always going to be lemons who are oblivious to change and who aren’t feeling any pressure to perform.
    But for those of us who really value what we do and truly want to see every student succeed, there’s a pressure that is unparalleled.
    And you’re right—-because the pressure is felt the most by the teachers we need the most, we’re in trouble!
    I hadn’t thought of that….but it’s worrisome times ten.
    Anyway…gotta run. I’ve got a student club to run! (Another of those extras that matter but add pressure all at once.)
    Enjoyed the thinking…
    Bill

  11. Jon Becker

    Question, Bill…
    Do you think these feelings are generalizable to all/most/some teachers? I can’t help but think that you (and your commenters) are part of a small contingent of teacher leaders who take on a lot and who, therefore, bear the brunt of the workload and stress.
    I don’t mean to deny your feelings; they are real. But, if my thinking is correct then it means two things: (1) consistent with your point(s), it’s the teacher leaders who we stand to lose and that’s particularly problematic, and (2) we might think about how the “work” of school change/reform can be better distributed.
    Or, my thinking could be entirely wrong…

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