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10/29/11

a rant mcranterson

There is no other purpose in this post except to give a short rant, based on a book synopsis I read while browsing Barnes and Noble online. Seriously, that is what this is and I understand if you want to skip.


It is the end of first quarter, and I am exhausted. I'm teaching three different grade levels this year, co-advising National Honor Society, and trying desperately hard to meet the needs of all of my students.

But despite my best efforts, I cannot reach all of them. Of my six classes, my smallest is a class of 27 sophomores. My largest is class of 40 seniors. Take a minute to imagine how long grading essays takes.

This is not to say I hate my job. I like/love my job. I do, most of the time. I feel like I am a good teacher, and each year I improve. I want to be better every year. I may not be able to reach each student, but I feel like it is my obligation to try.


I am however, tired of books and movies (sometimes written about or by teachers) that tell me my obligation is to give up my entire life in order to teach. Apparently, in order to be a good teacher I am supposed to give up on my marriage and my family, spend every waking moment focusing on teaching, and sacrifice any sense of personal self. For less pay than the manager at McDonalds.

Furthermore, these books/movies never seem to tell the whole story. An elementary school teacher at a charter school has all 19 of his students reading on the college level. Fantastic, but how many of those kids were severely special-needs? Or learning English as a second language? Also, ever notice how long these teachers actually teach? Two or three years before they quit to write their teaching memoir.

Even if the teacher has a class-load similar to mine, and just as many students, with just as many disabilities, is it unreasonable to still assume that every situation is different?

I believe in high standards for teachings. I'm angry at bad teachers for the same reasons you are. It denies students a right to a quality education, which they deserve. It puts an added burden on good teachers to catch up students after a year with a lousy one. I get it. Along with higher pay, I'm entirely fine with raising and maintaining standards for educators. Also, as a side note, if you want me to personally tutor each and every student every day, you might not want to give me 27-40 of them per class. Just a thought.

So next time you read a book, watch a documentary on some teacher who has their students over at her house every night doing practice ACT exams, remember that there is a difference between high standards, and committing emotional and physical suicide for your job.

I won't be able to be a good teacher if I burn out after two years because I'm living at my school. I help no one if I'm angry all day at school because I stayed up until midnight in order to grade essays the day I receive them. I'm a better person, and teacher when I wait a day to grade and spend some time outside instead. Outside! Can you believe it?

Last Tuesday I came to school at 6:45 am. I left at 7:20 pm after teaching all day, grading all afternoon, and putting on the NHS Induction Ceremony.  Unusual? Yes. But fairly indicative of how much work goes into working at a public school.

 Despite all this effort, some of my students still failed this quarter. I truly believe there was nothing I could do. Especially for the student who came to class three times last quarter, and earned 9% in my class,

But if you believe the "inspirational" movies and books, I should have been at that student's house every morning, driving him to school. I should have spent every day after school re-teaching my entire curriculum, so that this student could pass. Then I should have held his hand every day and walked him to each class, and made sure that he stayed and turned in all his assignments. In between classes, I could maybe wipe his nose, and tie his shoes.

And at the end of the quarter he would have passed all his classes, and Ivy League colleges would want to give him scholarships. He would stand dramatically on his desk on the last day of school, and pledge his loyalty to me, "Oh Captain! My Captain!"

And then I'd return home, to my husband who I haven't seen all year, burnt out and exhausted, and deciding to quit teaching after two years to write my inspirational novel, where I lecture other teachers on creating  Freedom whatsits, or how to teach with their hair on fire, or wait for superman, blah blah blah.

I admire teachers who make a difference. But not as much as I admire the teachers who make a difference and have a life outside the school. Why? Because those teachers stick around. Thirty years later*, they never have a book deal, they've failed some of their students, but they are still there. They are good teachers, getting better every year, and making a difference a thousand times over.

If no one stands on their desk reciting poetry in my honor, I'll survive.


Rant over. Thanks for playing.





*I know that time teaching isn't an indicator of greatness, I've worked with crappy 30 year teachers. But I do think that a good teacher who makes teaching part of their life, but not their entire life, becomes a better long term teacher.

Now I'm really done.

For real?


I hear that one inspirational teacher with the book is kind of a bitch in real life.


Just kidding. I'm done.

29 comments:

Jackie Norris said...

Totally agree. I remember the first time I watched Freedom Writers. She did great things for those kids, but did she really have to work 3 other jobs and sacrifice her marriage? That just made me sad. No matter what our profession, I think we need time away from it. I'm a full-time mom, and if I did all mom-stuff all the time I would go INSANE. I need girls nights. I need dates with my husband. In the long run it is better for all of us.

Sandy said...

i am a big believer in taking care of yourself and taking on responsibilities (jobs, family obligations, whatever) in a measured way to ensure you can do your best in the long term. burnout is a huge problem in my profession and it's hard not to feel like i'm doing my best when i'm not working insane hours. i know if i do that, though, i won't be willing to do my job for more than a year. i'm an attorney, which is obviously not like being a teacher in a lot of ways, but there's certainly no shortage of aspirational portrayals of the lawyer sacrificing everything for a good cause. there doesn't seem to be a demand for films about regular people doing their best within reason to support their families/create a long-term fulfilling career. i take comfort in the fact that my life is not the stuff of memoirs, though. there's too much trauma in a life that is.

lindsey said...

This is spot on. I spent six years living and breathing my teaching career. Because I moved from overseas during the middle of a school year, had a baby, and moved twice, I have taken the last two school years off (from teaching school).

Although I absolutely know that I will return to it sometime in the very near future, but I've been working in Marketing and have secretly enjoyed (and definitely needed) actually leaving work when I walk out the door, and you know, not working 10-12 hour days every.single.day.

You really hit the proverbial nail with this: "remember that there is a difference between high standards, and committing emotional and physical suicide for your job." The sad this is, that's what the majority of society expects from teachers BECAUSE of those movies/books written by teachers who only lasted 2 years. No one can understand what we're bitching about because, you know, we have summers off.

Be glad that you learned this now, and not two years from now. I almost quit after my forth year because I was so tired. I hung in there and, like you, I was a better teacher when I started leaving work undone and walking out the door after a respectable 9 hours a day instead of 12. Also "for less than the manager at McDonalds."

Good luck! I found eating a lot of junk food helps too.

MJ said...

Amen. Thank you for working hard to be a great teacher, and for keeping your sanity by having a life.

It's up to the parents to hold their child's hand, and if some kid shows up 3 times and gets a 9%, that's something the PARENTS need to address, not the teacher. You didn't give birth to these kids, and although it is your responsibility to give them the best education you can, it's the student's responsibility to work just as hard.

Now, there may be something wrong with said kid who only got a 9%; s/he might have a disability, or might just need a swift kick in the ass, but it's still not your job to fix it. It's only your job to help fix it, and only if the parents/kid are trying to fix it.

LovelyLauren said...

I completely agree. Furthermore, I think that the image of teachers like this is another way to put the entire responsibility of educating kids on the teachers instead of the kids themselves. As a teacher, you are not responsible for your students' success, you can only give them the tools they need to be successful.

Mormon Spinster said...

Testify! Every now and then a friend will say to me, "Have you see/read Freedom Writers? It was amazing! It was inspiring! It was--" the point at which I want to punch them in the face.

I know these people honestly think that I will appreciate this inspirational yadda crap bladddah story, but the thing is that I stopped taking guilt trips when I moved out of my parents' house to go to college. Why would I deliberately watch/read something that is going to go out of its way to make me feel inadequate? Why would I deliberately compare myself to a person when I have neither the capability nor the desire to live up too their unrealistic standards? Teaching is hard enough without setting myself up for failure like that.

My personal life may be kind of pathetic, but I do have one. I am not going to give it up because one teacher one time made a difference for one class. I do what I can to be a good teacher, and I think a lot of the time I am successful. I won't be made more successful by reading a book that will only make me want to throw it down the nearest well. Or, more productively, at the head of the teacher who makes the rest of us career educators look bad.

Kayce said...

I just graduated in the Spring with a degree in English Ed. I'm not using it right now but plan to in the (hopefully not so distant) future. I think we need more realistic input like this in teacher education. They get students all hyped up to be the best teachers on the planet and then send them out to student teach...uh, yikes. I had taught before so the shock wasn't so great. But the image of the "perfect" teacher is killing teachers before they even make it to the classroom. I chose not to teach right now because I didn't think I could balance the demands of full time teaching and family and do either justice. That's unfortunate because (if I do say so myself) I'm a good teacher. I think the public school system is losing out on me and others who are choosing to not teach or wait to teach till we can find a balance and deal with the pressure.
Ok, you don't know me, and I didn't know I had so much to say. So I'm going to stop now. Thanks for the post. I would be happy to have my kid in your class and even happier if h/she failed if h/she didn't go to class. I believe in choices and consequences. Really done now. Thanks again.

Class Schedule said...

My sister-in-law sent me this article knowing that I would like it. I totally agree with you. It's my second year as a teacher. I'm currently teaching 5th grade and I love it. I do feel like the world expects too much of us. They see a movie or read a book and then they say, "I want that for my kid. Why can't you be more like that for my kid?" The truth is no other job has these expectations thrust upon them from every one in the nation. It's very demoralizing when you see public debates and forums that only talk about how to improve our failing schools and teachers that seem to be the worst in the world. You wonder why people burn out so quickly and why the "brightest" minds don't enter the profession.


A side note, there is one author in there that you point out that I actually admire and find as my source of inspiration. The guy who wrote "Teach like your hair's on fire" is a great guy. I've actually been to his class several times and done a lot of research on him. Yes, he goes above and beyond anything that is ever expected of him, but the thing I like about him is that he still teaches his class of 30 inner-city Los Angeles 5th graders everyday and has been doing so for 25 years. The two pieces of advice he's given me is that we aren't going to reach every kid, some of them will be left behind. Sometimes we can't control that. The other piece of advice is that to become a good teacher, the most important thing to do is focus your energy on something you are passionate about and don't give up. Anyway, he preaches a lot of the same stuff you are ranting about. I think you might actually like him.

Stephanie said...

@ Class Schedule

I think I need to look into the "teach with your hair on fire" guy more. He was lumped in with some authors I hate, but lots of people have emailed me saying he is awesome...

AzĂșcar said...

I get angry when I hear about teachers working after school and at home.

Until teachers STOP WORKING FOR FREE no one will ever pay you more.

I would love it if one year ALL the teachers left at their contract time. What an eye-opener it would be for parents and communities. People just expect teachers to do this. It's wrong. We don't expect any other professions to do the same thing.

J sold one of his preps back this year and has spent afternoons and weekends at school working to catch up. It's STUPID.

Stephanie said...

@Azucar

I agree. I agree and try to quit at my contract time until my lessons start sucking. The stockholm syndrome sets in and I'm willing to work a little longer to be a better teacher. Then I get angry because I don't have a life.


It sucks, but I keep doing it because I hate phoning in lessons. It is the stupid kids fault, really.

The profession demands to much. Period.

Ru said...

Haha, love this. Sorry you're so stressed. Want some lunch on me sometime in the coming weeks?

I think the real issue with things like Freedom Writers is the way it takes personal responsibility away from kids. Yes, some kids need extra attention and may not get it, but for the most part, kids who don't try also don't care. Inspirational movies/books perpetuate the myth that you can make someone care in addition to providing a minimum of 13 free years of education.

My favorite inspirational teaching movie is "Stand and Deliver" (mostly because I was so miserable the year I took AP Calculus, which is when I saw it), and if I remember it right, the teacher challenges the kids and gives them extra study groups leading up to the AP test, but he *doesn't* sacrifice his personal life for them. (Or at the least the movie is silent on that issue.)

For some reason, though, setting high expectations isn't good enough any more. You have to actually MAKE kids meet your expectations. It's the Michael Bayification of the teacher movie.

@ Azucar and Stephanie

My boss (I'm government attorney) is fond of saying that infamous "movie rule" applies to all professions -- "Our office can be cheap, fast, and good. Now pick two."

Unfortunately, everyone in society wants teachers, attorneys, healthcare professionals, etc. that are inexpensive, quick, and phenomenal, but it just isn't possible. One of the three areas has to give. Unfortunately, when it comes to teaching, it seems like society's number one priority is "cheap." But as long as people aren't willing to pay professionals more (or hire enough professionals to meet demand), they will have to choose between efficiency and quality.

Don't blow your brains out trying to be the exception to the rule. It's a rule because it's true. Just accept the Zen.

Jessica said...

Amen! It sounds like you are the kind of teacher we need more of. You can't and shouldn't hold every students hand. They need to learn to step up have some accountability for themselves. If you are following them around to collect assignments and wipe their noses, they will never survive in the real world. Let they see some failure now- that will hopefully lead to a change in attitude when the consequences are less severe.

I don't think anyone should be asked to give up their life for their job, teacher or otherwise. We all benefit from "away" time and come back better employees. That's the idea behind paid time off.

bunkersdown.com said...

I alternately want to hug Rafe "Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire" Esquith or slap the crap out of him. I can't make up my mind. I love that he is so devoted to his classroom kids but I sit and wonder about his poor wife and step-daughter. Did they ever see the man?

Personally, I really enjoyed Esme Raji Codell's book "Educating Esme" concerning her first year of teaching. Very realistic, entertaining, and eye opening. I also liked Donalyn Miller's "The Book Whisperer."

Chin up. When all this high expectation garbage becomes too much, just remember that I think you are freakishly awesome for not bringing a bat to school and beating teenagers like they were in a wac-a-mole game. Honest.

Cortney said...

THANK YOU. I love this line "remember that there is a difference between high standards, and committing emotional and physical suicide for your job." I think that is why "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire" was so depressing to me, in the end. The guy has been in the same school for almost 30 years, so at least he's not a 3 years and out make a book kinda dude. But good grief! He works 12 hours a day, year round, sometimes 6 days a week?

If that is how one much be "successful" at one's job, when, as you said, the job pays less than a manager at McDonald's, there is something seriously effed up about the expectations.

This whole post is how I feel on a daily basis. And I'm still just student teaching.

Cortney said...

Oh, and it doesn't help that my grad program in education is constantly preaching about "research based" strategies, and approaching teaching human beings as though it is a science. If I hear about how "teacher efficacy is the number one predictor of success, more than any other factor, including socio-economic status AND race AND family situation!" I'm going to just swan dive off of the building into the parking lot. I'm not cocky enough to think "If I'm just AWESOME enough it will all be totes fine and I'll have angel babies with stellar grades and a passion for learning!" Don't get me wrong, I try my hardest, but at some point all the "just do a and b, and c will follow!" advice is really disheartening. Because, of course, when c doesn't follow, it's my fault, for not being effective : /

Joni said...

AMEN. Freedom Writers makes me want to throw small puppies into stakes, and then take those stakes and put them in the yard of the people who suggest that it is the solution to teaching.

Teaching is hard, and there isn't one solution to any problem, and there are hundreds of ways to inspire students and classrooms to do great things. The sane ways to inspire mean that a teacher has to practice what they preach. As an English teacher, that means that if I'm going to continue being a good writing teacher, I need to take time to write more than a lesson plan. It's good for me. It helps me enjoy my job more.

You know what else would help me enjoy my job more? If all the teacher meetings they made me go to that are 75% "You should feel good about yourself" and 20% "This is why what we're doing works" and 5% "Just try this in your classroom" were only focused on the 5%. There is almost nothing more in this world I hate more than going into a teacher's lounge and seeing the lyrics to "Hero" by Mariah Carey. Puppies. Stakes.

Stephanie said...

@ everyone: Don't teachers make the BEST/funniest comments?

Puppies on stakes? Swan dives?

I feel so honored to be in such great company...

Brighid Irene said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile, but i feel the need to comment on this post.
I'm not a teacher, but I completely agree with you.

You should never have to sacrifice the rest of your life to be a "good" teacher. You seem to be an excellent teacher, and I believe that especially because of the kid who attended class a grand total of three times. Making all kinds of special exceptions for this kid to get them to pass doesn't teach the kid a lesson at all. I had teachers do that for a fellow student of mine in high school, and I felt it was categorically unfair that I put in the work and effort, attended class, and the kid who was never there got some special assignment and got to walk the stage.

At a certain point, the student and the parents need to take responsibility for the education of the student. The teachers can't always do everything, nor should they be expected to.

Wendy said...

Well, this made me feel better about the grading I'm neglecting this weekend!

I'm learning to keep the job boundaries in place and reserve time for a life without being consumed by guilt. And while my employer is part of the problem with the workload assigned, at least the school gets that the job is incredibly busy. I am completely sick of all the jokes from "outsiders" about working 6 hours a day with summers off. Some people have absolutely no idea how much time it takes to prep for a quality class, or to do a good job of grading.

I think anyone who has taught probably gets your rant. It really can be a thankless job from the outside - do you wonder what kind of crazy we all are to love the job anyway? :)

Kallie said...

STEPH! I am doing a student teaching practicum right now and completely feel this way! I am glad I am not crazy for being a skeptical towards my professors who expect me to spend 4-6 hours per lesson I teach. Thanks for the encouragement.

Stephanie said...

KALL

That is so exciting! email me or call me if you have any questions!

It is a great job, but we are nuts to like it.

ChristyLove said...

This isn't a sarcastic commentary on your post. In fact it's completely unrelated. I just figured that if you're like me, after being irritated for a bit, you need to laugh:

http://thebloggess.com/2011/06/and-thats-why-you-should-learn-to-pick-your-battles/

zuniga family said...

A-freakin-men!! I work in California, as a high school English teacher and it is getting worse! The blame is getting put on the teachers and there is no student accountability!! Speaking of freedom writers, I grew up in long beach and have friends and family members who work in that district and they have said that the teacher was whiny and complained when she didn't get her way! I think if I had the same students for 4 years, I could accomplish a lot as well! She probably was a great teacher but why isnt she teaching anymore?

Fabulous post!!

Please excuse my spelling and grammar, I am doing this from my phone!

Mrs. Clark said...

You need to have a life, and it is not your fault when a child fails--he needs to bring something to class, and his parents need to make sure he is where he is supposed to be and doing what he's supposed to be doing. Which brings me to a question: Is education a public or a private act?

Frankly, I believe at heart it is a private one, which we have increasingly been leaving to the public sector. It is a teacher's responsibility to make sure the material is presented, and even to encourage and inspire students, but it is ultimately the parents' job to make sure the child is taking advantage of the education offered. Do some teachers suck? Yes. But most do not. They are not babysitters or replacements for parental supervision and ultimate responsibility.

That said, I was perturbed at my daughter's 2nd grade teacher, who had a sub 10% of the time (yep, an average of a day off every two weeks) because she wanted to be with her own kid. Excuse me? I do not think it is fair for one to shirk his or her job responsibilities to my kid to parent his or her own. I thought my kids were more important than working, so I didn't work outside my home! This teacher needed to find a different job that respected her priorities.

Stephanie said...

@ Ms. Clark

Danger, Will Robinson. While I completely agree that a person who commits to working should work, I do not agree, and frankly, find it narrow-minded to assume that working Moms think work is more important than their kids.

Working moms work for a variety of reasons, some of them think it is very important to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter their kids. No point in being a SAHM if those needs go unmet.

Some moms are just different than you, and the needs of their family/kids are different than yours. I know lots of wonderful working moms. I am honored to work with them, and I think their kids are lucky to see strong women balancing the seemingly impossible. I also know lots of great SAHMS, and I feel honored to know them, and think their kids are just as lukcy to see a Mom balances the impossible a little bit differently.

That said, I also know a lot of Stay-In-Bed/Online SAHMs, and a lot of Moms who don't make kids their priority.

The point is, great moms come in all shapes and sizes, you included. You can celebrate the choice you made without condemning or assigning values to the choices someone else makes.

April said...

There should be a "like" button for the above comment. One of the best moms I know is a full-time ESOL teacher. She beats me, a stay-at-home-mom, hands-down, in the parenting department. She's just that awesome.

Liz said...

I love this. I love this I love this I love this (getting progressively faster). The reason i dropped out of my education major is because my teacher told me that teachers would sacrifice anything for their students, including their marriage. That, in combination with seeing Freedom Writers the following week, scared me enough to switch my major to communications. I don't regret it, but I hope to return to education someday. Good for you for being realistic about your capabilities, while still giving as much as you can to both your students and your family. Three cheers for amazing women!

amy said...

Three cheers for Dead Poet's Society references. I love it. I also think it is worth mentioning here that what is so great about that story is that those guys owned their own education and didn't have to have their teacher wipe their nose or tie their shoes. He taught, and they learned. On purpose.

soo..Carpe Diem. that's all.