Why endure all that?

Education is important, right? It’s important to do the early stages of it well, not just the last stages, right?

Teaching is hard work. Teaching in a middle school is crazy hard work. A Facebook friend who just started teaching in a middle school posted an account of his third day, and gave me permission to quote it. It is, frankly, horrifying.

Oh oh. Day3 was worse than Day1. My 3-day experience of teaching has been pretty horrific overall. I estimate my half-life as a teacher, before I have to bail to live, is just a few more days. Jail would be better. (I could read and sleep more.) The amount of work involved is insane – and I’ll have an additional class from next week (and won’t get out of school tomorrow till 9pm, to sleep at 10 to get up at 3). There’s essentially no lesson prep time at all – except the weekend. I have huge admiration for my fellow teachers and care about almost all the students I’ve had, but those important positives are vastly outweighed by the negatives. In spite of all that, I was doing my very best in my second class this morning when I was ‘observed’ by the principal of my school (a man who has yet to respond to any of my first-week greetings when I cross his path). I was pleased that he was seeing one of my better newbie lessons. Soon thereafter I was summoned to his office, told my lesson didn’t conform to the ruling US ed. ‘group activities’ fashion and told that all my lessons must be documented at length (this week presumably during my regular five hours of troubled sleep). Why should I endure all that when I could be comfortable in England growing old with my family?

It’s as if the goal were to drive all teachers out of teaching.


  1. smhll says

    If it would cheer your friend up, the teachers that inspired me the most were the ones I had in Junior High School. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that I was always quiet and well behaved in class. I liked to talk.)

    If the economy ever improves, then the teacher shortage will be back with a vengeance.

  2. leftwingfox says

    It’s as if the goal were to drive all teachers out of teaching.

    All the union ones, at least.

  3. says

    Teachers have been among the most influential people in my life. I don’t know where I’d be without them; the best ones not only teach their respective subjects, but inspire students as well. It saddens me to see how they are treated and how little respect they get. They get blamed for all the problems in education while getting no support to improve the education system. And many people don’t want to talk about any other factors in society besides teachers that contribute to bad results in schools. They’re treated as a convenient villain.

  4. Rhe-el says

    A couple of things, here. I have taught at the middle and high school levels, and will take high school any day, even though the overall preparation and total amount of work is higher there–the raging hormones, smells, and emotional ups and downs at the middle level are unbelievable. But your friend hit the nail right on the head with the biggest problem in the education system–poor administrators. Caveat, I currently have a great one, but have had my share of this type. Absolutely the best way to drive good teachers out of the profession.

  5. Robert B. says

    Oh, Athe, it’s the old “I see you’re having trouble, New Teacher, so I’m going to make your prep work harder. Let me know when that helps!” trick. I know that trick. It works really well – it got me out of the classroom in just two or three months.

    And it’s not a union thing, either – I wasn’t even in the union, since I was teaching while still in school myself. (I think that was why, though I might have just never had time to join.) It must be an accepted theory among school administrators that this is actually a good way to train teachers. I don’t know how experienced educators could possibly come to that conclusion, but it seems that they have.

  6. Merlin says

    Unfortunately, it depends on the administrator and whether they are sadists who dislike retaining teachers, or empathetic human beings who desperately want quality education delivered to their charges. I have family members in education. One is currently an administrator (after teaching for half of her career), and I can say that this is not behavior consistent with her values. Then again, she is more concerned with her teachers and students to success than with maximizing the suffering and pain of all involved..

  7. iknklast says

    I thought it would be better teaching college. You know, at least a little autonomy. I’ve been threatened with loss of my job for doing it right (it seems it offended some parent, and this is in COLLEGE). I’ve got a workload that keeps me working as much as 60-80 hours a week. When we have non-teaching contract days, they assume we need to be in endless, mindless meetings or we won’t be working (because class just happens; it’s not like we have to prep it or anything). And the administrative gobbledygook – we spend times endlessly chasing our tails collecting statistics that really don’t mean anything, but satisfy some requirement of the higher ups. In between, we occasionally have time to teach, with time taken off to listen to speakers who have never stood in front of a classroom telling us how to teach. And I have had lessons rewritten by someone who does not have any knowledge of my subject (a supervisor) but believes he knows it better than I do, with my Ph.D. and my two decades of experience.

    Teaching is not only one of the lowest paid of all professions, it’s also one of the least respected. No one thinks we can do anything right, so they do all this stuff to keep an eye on us, and meanwhile, we may well be graduating out students who aren’t able to read their own diploma.

  8. Claire Ramsey says

    This post breaks my goddamn heart. In the US teacher retention is a horrible problem. A cautious national estimate is 20% turnover per year. It differs of course depending where you are. In Philadelphia PA the reported rate is 70% per year – urban school districts have the hardest time retaining teachers. Nationwide between 40 and 50% of new teachers leave teaching in the first five years. There are lots of reasons for teachers, esp new teachers, bailing out. And one of the biggest is the chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out systems in which teachers have to work, and the terrible isolation most teachers have to work in. I spent many years working with pre-service teachers (students working on MAs and MEd’s while earning teaching credentials). The worst moment for them was when they figured out that everything that they had learned about cognitive development, learning, management, adapting to different children’s needs (many w/native languages other than English) was going to be in conflict with the newest rules for “accountability.” And that administrators were going to say, “yeah theory is nice, research results are nice, but we have to spend the next 9 months preparing the kids to take the tests.” Like lots of people, I remember my teachers, esp the very influential ones. I also remember the dolts and the disrespectful ones. Teachers are so important. And they get paid shit, treated badly by administrators, and scolded by parents as if they were servants. It’s a horror. And it breaks my heart.

  9. thephilosophicalprimate says

    iknklast @6: Holy crap! Wherever you are teaching, they are doing higher education wrong. With 10+ years experience teaching at a wide variety of different higher ed institutions (an R1 research university, a small-town branch campus in a big state university system, a suburban community college, a small private liberal arts college, and two mid-sized state liberal arts universities) I’ve never had any experiences remotely like what you’re talking about (except the long hours, of course), not even as an exploited graduate teaching assistant or community college adjunct. Supervisors butting into my lessons? I’ve never had anyone LOOK at my day-to-day lessons; just reviewing my syllabi for appropriateness and reading student evaluations, and maybe sending a senior colleague to observe a class once a year. I had to deal with assigned textbooks a few times, and that’s about the most teaching interference I’ve ever personally encountered or heard tell of at any of those institutions.

    Your story does sound suspiciously like stories I’ve heard from the American for-profit college world, though… I’m sorry you wound up at such a shoddily run institution. May your next job hunt go better!

  10. says

    Claire @ 7:

    “…And that administrators were going to say, ‘yeah theory is nice, research results are nice, but we have to spend the next 9 months preparing the kids to take the tests.'”

    I sympathise completely, as one who has spent the best part of 30 years teaching sciences (junior and senior – ie both middle school and college level) in two Australian school systems.

    This thread raises many issues about education, but the quote above from your post raises one of them very clearly. Young people are having to take ‘the tests’ to see if the criteria regarding ‘accountability’ were satisfied. Considering an educational institution as being like a factory, farm, or any other component of the economy turning out products like cars, bars of soap, electric power, etc, etc, etc, the main accountability test is put on each product by its market,: mainly in answer to one question: does it perform cost-effectively? If it does, its consumers will buy it. If not, they won’t.

    So what is the product of an educational institution? Many would say that it is the graduate filing out, degree, diploma or whatever in hand, as standardised and certified good as a human can be. The consumer of this product is then readily identifiable: the employer who gives this graduate a job, buying his or her services for whatever length of time.

    That view has some validity I suppose, but I prefer to see the real and actual products of the institution as being the experiences it offers to its students. So I see the students as not the products, but as the consumers of them. It is in this light that I read all the posts above, but particularly yours and the quite moving one by Ani J. Sharmin @ #3.

  11. says

    Everything I’ve read says that teaching is worse here in England. Imagine what life is like when the national/federal government controls education, rather than a local school board. The *whole country* is on the same curriculum, there is heavy oversight and accompany paperwork, students are tested and tested and tested and then the results used to print “league tables” showing which school is best, with associated denigration of teachers working their hearts out in poorer schools, teachers begin to teach *only* test matierla, and politicians, responding to whims and caprices of the press, impose more and more work *on every teacher in the country*. First it was “the literacy hour” — a daily hour of instruction stressing literacy in addition to other work, and then it was the mathmatics hour (can’t remember what they called that one), an extra hour of math a day, but note that the length of the school day did not increase!

    Total nightmare.

  12. Brad says

    I would love to get all these ‘experts’ in education – you know, the ones full of righteous opinions about how to do education properly – into such a classroom as your friend and watch them and their preconceived notions spectacularly fail and produce nothing but chaos.

    Welcome to teaching.

    Teaching isn’t hard in any physical sense as it is difficult to instantaneously manage effectively and teach efficiently, to create a classroom students want to be in, who want to learn, who want to become more today than they were yesterday. Most classrooms are far less in practice. Achieving this environment – for a moment, for a period, for a particular subject – is a teacher’s wet dream and it’s very, very difficult to create and sustain. All the rest of teaching – the planning and curriculum outcomes and evaluation standings – falls into place when this environment is in place, yet how to achieve this environment is the most pressing professional concern any teacher will face – with so many different kinds of student temperaments and abilities and behaviours and relationships compounded by different first languages and ethnicity and religions and prejudices and competing interests, and the simmering violence that lies uneasy beneath childish behaviour and which can erupt verbally or physically at any moment, and so on – is an area of expertise that cannot be produced and/or manufactured at a teacher’s college, cannot be recalled by wannabe teachers remembering cute acronyms and bullet-point to-do lists. No learning theory offers insight into how to bring into being such an environment for disparate students except in broad and highly nebulous terminology about as useful as a poke int he eye with a sharp stick when you find yourself in the classroom as the teacher. This is where the rubber of why someone wants to become a teacher meets the road of reality. And it’s not because of pay or holidays or pensions… it is because some of us can and so we do because it is both rare and worthwhile.

  13. says

    Sons #1 and #2 are planning a being teachers. Sometimes I despair at what that will involve.

    However, I know one reason why so many teachers put up with that. It’s a profession where you touch students in ways that last for decades. My mother had former students at her funeral.

    Also, if you get through the first few years, much of your preparation can be recycled, and you get better at preparing. The workload in that regard eases.

  14. Kristen White says

    I am so, so, so, so glad my school is not like this. Of course it’s not perfect anywhere, but I hope your friend reads this and realizes that it’s not like that everywhere, and if he can get through things right now and hold out a little longer, he can find a place where he at least has time to think.

    Our budget was severely cut by the state, so class sizes have ballooned, but the rest of my job is . Our district administration is supportive, the evaluation process is fair, we have time to collaborate, and it’s not all about the test. Granted, I do work about 65 hours a week during the school year, but if I hadn’t been prepared for that, I would not have become an English teacher.

  15. says

    Let me second everyone here who is criticizing administration. I just spent four years trying to retrain (I gave up) to be a teacher by building off of a Molecular Biology degree in Austin, TX. On paper I’m qualified to get into a classroom and I was a substitute the entire time to get used to classroom management. Administration in Austin seems like it exists mostly to propagate itself as an authority and contributes nothing to where the focus should actually by, the community in each individual school and it’s unique needs.

    In many of the schools I worked in the data being collected with done in a way that frankly undermined teaching. It was common for admin to demand that students take a test on material that they had never encountered before (at district request) just so they could have their precious data. Meanwhile the students get to be demoralized over and over again by being told to regurgitate information that they don’t know, or at best learned in a 30 minute crash course session.

    On top of that there is the issue of there being no functional consequences for some students that create bad learning environments. It was common for many schools to have collections of students that were basically stored in in-house suspension and no means to functionally work with their families on behavior modification. The result is classrooms that become distracted every five minutes and a slowed teaching schedule. They are frankly expecting teachers to becomes parents as well and giving them no tools to do such. In many instances you are expected to learn to act in a “buddy” fashion with classroom bullies just to get them to cooperate at a minimum level. It’s amazing the behavior that gets accepted and support for this aspect of education is one of the first to get chopped when there is less money. I watched a teacher go three weeks with a fractured collarbone until the year was over because she could not risk the loss of progress that would have come with a long term sub and the loss of functional classroom behavior.

    I have so much bottomless hate for the poisoned social structures in our public education right now.

  16. Merlin says

    I think it unfair to categorically say that all administrators are bad. In every field, there are bad administrators. However, in education, a bad administrator has quite a bit of power to make your life hell. Additionally, all educators are painted with a terrible brush, and so a bad administrator is compounded by low pay, long hours, societal scorn, and political scape-goating.

    On the other side of the coin, a good administrator can be taken for granted. Of course they support your professional development, it a job perk, right? Of course they give you plenty of prep-time! You need it! Of course they support you when parents come to them with problems. That is what admins do, right? Of course they work with you to make changes to curriculum and intervention processes. You have a valuable viewpoint!

    It sounds like many here have had experience with awful admins (or tried to teach in states that are awful to all educators). That sucks. I have watched this happen to the other person in my family who had a bad admin team. But I have also seen what comes of having a good (maybe even great) admin. It seems fairly similar to my experiences with both bad and good teachers. When they are good, you don’t know how good they are. When they’re bad, they’re intolerable.

    Nevertheless, my heart goes out to those who have at least tried to become an educator. I already know that I do not have the patience to deal with 1/4th of the shit you guys take daily. I do not know why the US has made it so hard to be a happy educator, but it seems the country is truly committed to that task.

  17. Rhe-el says

    By now, my ideas, since they were moderated, hold no pause, but, seriously, does anyone out there agree? Because I would like to talk to you, as I am thinking of writing a book on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *