Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The separation of teacher and teaching...

From the time I was old enough to understand the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", my response was always that I wanted to be a teacher.  My dad even asked me when I was little why I didn't want to be a doctor or an engineer (he always wanted a son who was an engineer, to follow in his footsteps.  when he didn't have a son, he wanted a daughter who was an engineer.  he ended up settling for a son-in-law who's an engineer...).  I always told him, "Dad...who do you think teaches those people how to be doctors and engineers?  I want to be a teacher."

Now I wonder...what was I thinking?

I love to teach.  I waffled through my adolescence on my degree of choice, of course.  I bounced all the way from entomology to pharmacy to chemical engineering.  But somehow I landed back where I started those many moons before--education.  I never changed my major, and the only time I even considered it was when I thought of switching from secondary education to elementary education.  My passion is learning.  And I have a passion to share my knowledge by teaching.  I just love getting to witness that "ah ha!" moment, especially knowing I helped create it.

Then I spent three years in the classroom.  And that's when I began to wonder what I had gotten myself in to.  See, today's classroom is barely if at all centered on teaching.  It is centered on testing, meeting state standards, inclusion, discipline (or rather lack thereof), creative and cooperative learning, technology, and paperwork.  The learning environment is being smothered as too many missiles are being fired at the teacher.

Now, I know that in any profession, there are many layers unknown to those outside the field.  But how many professions have gotten the reputation that teaching has?  It is considered a job for the less talented--the "those who can't do, teach" philosophy.  It is considered an easy path in college.  The pay in most schools is just plain meager.  My dad and husband made even made fun of me through college--oh you poor teacher, you have another day off of work; Oh you poor thing, you got off at 3:30; Oh you poor thing, having to write lesson plans.  When I actually got in the classroom and my husband was able to see how much I worked and heard the stories I came home to tell, he didn't make fun of my job anymore.  I don't doubt that most of the people who claim that teaching is an easy job that anyone could do would be able to last a week in today's classroom.

Teachers are expected to be not only educators, but also parents, disciplinarians, nurses, counselors, coaches, chaperones, committee heads, event coordinators, office managers, receptionists, and on and on.  The lessons must be planned to meet innumerable state and national standards.  The curriculum provided must be followed verbatim, but you also need to differentiate it to meet the needs of each of your students individually.  Behavior and educational modifications must need to be met for each and every child--11/20 of whom need to sit near the teacher.  But isn't the teacher supposed to be moving around the classroom at all times, so where in fact does one sit in order to be seated near the teacher?  IEP's must be filled out repeatedly, parent contact made more than frequently, failure reports, grade submissions, accommodation/modification reports, lesson plans typed and submitted, copies made, preparations made for each subject taught, papers graded, tests made (and modified), centers and cooperative learning opportunities developed..........  and all of this must be individualized to meet the needs of 140 students (at the secondary level)!!  But anyone can do that, right?

Teaching is not a 7:30-3:30 job, as most people tend to think.  If you find someone who is a good teacher and is able to accomplish everything within that time period, give them the crown and slap me silly.  It is a job that is never ending.  Breaks are a must--they give the teacher a chance to catch up on the mountain of paperwork which I can guarantee you he/she is behind on; and it also gives them a small chance to revive their spirits in order to deal with your children for another long stretch of time.  You know that teenager you have at home?  The one you complain about being hormonal and moody and incredibly difficult, sometimes just flat out defiant?  Multiply that one child by 140.  And then add trying to teach them something on top of that.  Getting a glimpse of what it's like?

Oh, and I forgot to mention one major thing in today's classroom.  Take away most of the disciplinary action the teacher ever had.  Remember those spats on the hand with a ruler--to get your attention and make you remember who's in charge?  Yeah, those will get you fired now.  The paddling in the principal's office?  Puh-lease.  A counseling session and a chance to work on your classwork in ISS replaced that.  Suspension?  That's a no-no word these days.  And on the rare chance that it does occur, the student is usually allowed to make up any work that they missed--so all in all, they get a day at home for free!  Suspend me on those regulations please!

We have classrooms now that house students who: are sexually active--leaving many girls pregnant, have and continue to use drugs and alcohol, go home to no parents, live in highly abusive situations.  The stories these kids have to tell will give you nightmares if you sat and listened to them.  And we're supposed to expect them to care about passing a test?!

Where did the passion for learning go?  It's buried in that mound of paperwork on the teacher's desk.

It saddens me to my core to see the number of teachers who are so burnt out--and it usually doesn't take them long to become that way these days.  Many of them love to teach, but are still doing it only because it's a means to provide.  The joy has been smoldered by the legalities that bind every inch of our schools. It also scares me to send my children into such an environment to learn.

Students are not held accountable--for their grades or for their actions.  The teacher is usually the one to blame.  And this blame comes from the student, their parents, the administration, society, and the government.  Well obviously, if this child is failing, the teacher didn't do something to meet his needs.  We can look over the extra tutoring offered, the parent contact made, the extended time for an assignment if the situation warranted it, the in depth explanation given multiple times.  What we really need to focus on is the fact that the teacher didn't meet the needs of this child.  We'll also overlook the facts that the student never came to the tutoring sessions; the parents either did not respond to the contact or did not discuss the matter with their child; even after the extension, the child had no work to present; and the fact that the student was texting, talking to friends, or simply refusing to pay attention when instructions were being given--multiple times.  Or let's say a rule is broken.  It is usually not the child's fault he broke the rule.  The teacher was picking on him.  Or the student had a bad day at home and couldn't help it.  Or poor little thing is just special and he struggles; let's bend the rules to meet his behavior instead of the other way around.  It's just disgusting really.  These kids have no accountability--and they're the future of this country!

So, next time you think about that teacher...really think about him/her and what all their job entails.  Granted, this country does have some poor teachers.  I agree with that completely.  But we're also losing the good ones by suffocating them with legislature and red tape.  We need to simply allow them to teach.  You cannot truly understand the depth until you step into that world.

I'll step off of my soapbox.  For now...


  1. Abhor, I couldn't have said it better. You have a great way with words and speaking your thoughts . this is one of those articles that people need to read nationally :)

  2. Love this! It is so very true, as I am a substitute teacher and am in the school system looking at everything and talking with the is a very sad situation. It really needs to go back to the days of long ago, until then, this is why I home schooled my 3 C's. :)

  3. Don't forget that the teacher usually is also a spouse and parent. So they must spend time with them along with all the extra work they do at home for their jobs.

  4. You have touched on so many truths of education. As a 20+ year educator and mother, I thank you for your well written piece.

  5. Wow! You have spoken the truth young lady! As an educator of 35 years, I have almost seen it all. I used to have kids that didn't want to move on to the next grade because they loved school and loved me. Now, I have kids that back talk, speak to me as if they are my equal and parents who think the truth is somewhere between their child's story and mine. No ma'am it's not. The truth is what I have told you. Some want a day's notice before their child is reprimanded because they want a chance to discuss it with their child who has disrupted my class all period. Heaven help the kids that have been raised to respect the teacher and take education seriously and who are seated in the same classroom as those who don't.

  6. IF ONLY we could get the NEA and AFT to go to war on these principles. I am now a trustee in a major US city and I can do almost nothing about any of this.

    And on the other side we have the US Chamber of Commerce drooling to get what little money we have left.

    It's time for action.

  7. I am not a teacher, but I have a daughter, a son and a daughter-in-law who are teachers and I agree with everything you said.

  8. You should send this to Gov. Jindal and every La. legislator.

  9. Very well written!!