Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Recovering Teacher

I looked back at my first blog entry at my 'definition' of myself and my comment that each of the sentences in that post deserved its own entry.

I call myself a recovering teacher. I taught in our local urban school system for 19 years and...about three weeks. In that time I was mostly an elementary teacher, but I also spent six years at the Middle School that is most often in the news. In our 2006 Christmas letter, I wrote,

"I’m finding this year very stressful. I’ve taught in [this system] for 17 years, but have never felt quite as ‘at odds’ with the kids as I have this year. I’m affected as never before by the way they treat each other, they way they treat the adults who are there to help them, their lack of concern for their futures and their disdain for education. It’s shocking, sad, and frustrating."

I don't know if I'm yet capable of writing objectively about it. I continue to be in mourning for the teacher I was, the teacher I could have been. I feel sad, bitter, regretful, full of self-pity, but mostly relieved to be out of there. My husband is a teacher there also, and the stories he continues to bring home are alternately funny, pity-inspiring, and sometimes they anger me. It seems to me that it's a school system that simply uses its teachers up until there's nothing left...and then they quit, or retire, or simply implode like I did.

I occasionally sub out here in the 'burbs, and when I do, I feel sad for what might have been had I not been so determined to 'be where I was needed'. I see teachers appreciated and respected; I see education valued; I see creativity in teaching. It came to me, in my final years there, that that system didn't want creative teachers anymore. They wanted education technicians who could drill, and teach to the test... The principal at the middle school actually told us in a staff meeting that he did NOT want to see us teaching novels--that we should stick to the direct teaching scripted lesson plans we were to download every day. I had always thought that my job was to teach my students to love learning. I guess I was mistaken.


  1. I had a similar experience with social work. Unfortunately, it happened at the start of my career and it drove the drive right out of me. I worked in therapeutic foster care for a couple of years. It wasn't the job that was the end of me, though. It was a dried up social worker who was my boss. I was fresh out of college, full of ideas. And I started making improvements on cases and homes that she was getting nowhere with. And she resented it. And made it her mission to break me, to make me cry and fail. She actually ruined one of my cases. I ended up moving away from Cincy and to Indy and didn't pursue social work when I got here because I needed time to heal from her. And then life kept going on that new path. So I find other ways of keeping that part of my soul alive.

    I hope you will share more of your education experience! It will be therapeutic for you and eye oepning for your readers.


  2. Gosh, I'm sorry to hear about your experiences in social work. I'm always sorry for people who spend so much time and money training for a profession and for one reason or another, end up doing something completely different. Your boss sounds like a horrible woman. Did she have any idea of the effect she was having on you? It's a shame.

  3. Christine -

    I have just read this blog for the first time and I find myself full of conflict. Conflict because I find what you say to be true, yet I also have to wonder if there isn't something else that is wrong. Is it really the system that is at fault? Unfortunately, there are mandates that have to be dealt with in that system. Mandates that were put in place to fix what is wrong, yet the system can't fix what they know is really wrong...the families, the children, the parents, the environment. So, the system has come up with ways to help us "fix" what is wrong. Are we really fixing things or are we just putting a band-aid on problems that we don't have control over? And in the meantime, losing teachers that love what they do or did...

  4. My husband said to me once that the administration couldn't change the families, the kids, the environment--but they can change us, the teachers. So they keep throwing new programs, strategies, benchmarks, interventions, new curriculums at us because WE, the teachers, can adapt and make the adjustments whereas the kids, the families, and the environment certainly cannot.

    One of the things that happened in my last couple years was that I stopped believing that anything would solve the problems, that anything would work. In 19 years, I've seen programs come programs go. Nothing stayed in place; it was a system in constant flux. I couldn't keep up. And if I couldn't keep up, how could the kids?

    I was on the General Education Intervention team at my school where teachers would submit the names of problem students, present their issues at the meetings, and teachers would follow a prescribed problem-solving formula to try to intervene to prevent the child from failing/being placed in special ed. It did not take me long to realize that almost all of the suggested interventions fell to the teachers to administer. More work, more responsibilities, more tasks, more stress--and none of it ultimately working...

    After awhile, you start to just lose faith...

  5. As you know, administration is given a lot of the things that teachers are to do. Do we always think that it is for the best? No. Just like you, we are given more and more to do with not always getting or finding the results that we want. I don't believe that what we ask teachers to do will solve all of their problems. I'm not even sure that it will solve some of their problems. All in all, I don't believe that we can solve any of their problems. All we can do is give them an opportunity to change if they want to change.

  6. So perhaps it's the apathetic attitude and total disregard of the opportunity afforded them that is so discouraging... As my teaching career progressed I found myself to be less and less able to convince my students of the importance and the JOY of being literate, that reward lay in personal achievement, and that education was the key to a better world for them.

    The role models they see on TV so glorify the ghetto that why would they ever want to change. The role that teachers play in the popular media is disgraceful and irresponsible. It's a no-win situation. Teachers are the dog shit on the soles of society's shoes...