Friday, February 25, 2011

Straws that Break Teacher's Backs

The week of mid-winter break should be a glorious interlude in the school year...the halfway point between September and late (very late...stupid snow days) June. Instead, late February turns into the low point of the year. Teacher despair hits an all-time low and this year there is more despair than usual.

There is, of course, all the problems in Wisconsin. And the proposal in Detroit. And teacher cuts in Texas.

In addition, I have been working on my national board certification, which involves approximately 57 billion words written in a specific format proving that I am, in fact, a good teacher and haven't irreparably harmed generations of teenagers, whom everyone is counting on to Save America, because the Kids Are Our Future. It's been a rough week, and while I am not exactly where I want to be, I am close.

I was talking to a teacher friend last night, a fantastic, committed, professional who has been at our school for quite a while. She told me that she is considering putting in a request to move to to a different school in our district. I asked why, and she said that she felt like she needed to take a break from the kids. The kids at my school are needy. They require a complex formula of hand-holding, coaxing, pushing, punishing, manipulating, and love that should be the job of their parents, but is in fact often up to us, their teachers. This formula is even more demanding for us. As an example, while compiling evidence for my national boards, I realized that in my 6th period, a class with 22 kids, I have 4 kids who read at the 2nd grade level, and 4 kids that read at the college level, and the class average is a low 7th grade level. How do I give them 10th grade instruction when their reading skills are so low? It's hard.

I've often wondered what would happen to my teaching if I wasn't a spinster, if I had a husband and kids...or even just a boyfriend. Teaching where I do is unbelievably demanding. It requires constant focus and effort and doesn't leave much room for a personal life. It's why teachers in low-income schools burn out so fast. Teachers in my situation don't leave because they get better offers from other districts. They leave because they're mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. My co-teacher Clark arrives at school by 6:15 am and doesn't usually leave until 5:00 or 5:30 pm. I often spend my weekends grading papers instead of going out with friends and I spend my summers in classes and rewriting curriculum.

For now, I'm committed. But it's hard to stay so sometimes.


Kimberly said...

wow. you are amazing! what a huge job you do~

2 of my kids read late and it was so hard on me those years, giving them other school work they were ready for, but was way ahead of their reading level... I can't imagine a classroom of that!

Major KUDOS to you!!

Lisa E said...

I admire you guys SO much. I know it doesn't help much, but I do.

Chana said...

I’m a GED teacher in Durham, NC-I teach similar kids, but in a very tiny class (because these are the students that have already left the school system). I can only imagine the balancing act of having a much larger class-props to you. I have recently joined Save Our Schools and National Call to Action. I know that you blog against the current corporate takeover of our public schools, and we are currently asking the “real” ed reform bloggers to join with us so that we can all speak with ONE VOICE all across the country during the month of March.

Our theme is “Waking the Sleeping Giant” (see the attached logos), which was inspired by the events in Wisconsin and other places around the country. The public is finally beginning to wake up to what’s been happening for the last few years – we’re seeing evidence of this not only in Wisconsin but in places such as Seattle and Rochester.

We are asking you to keep your readers informed by mentioning our July 30 march in D.C. and by providing a link to our website in one or more of your posts during the month of March.

If you would like to write a guest post for our website, send your post or your comments to Or if you would like to endorse our march, let us know and we will list your blog and url on our website.

Posts can also be tweeted with the hashtag #WakingGiant.