I am a teacher who has become infected with an increasing sense of disenchantment. Each of my 3 years as a homeroom has been wrought with struggle. By this 4th year, I am beat down, which is so unlike me, always up for a challenge. I am in a constant state of self-encouragement to get me through the week, “You can do this.” “Friday is coming.” I have invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and emotional energy into the pursuit of teaching. It is disappointing to feel within me a growing desire to transition.
What do I love about teaching?
- The content is what drives me. I enjoy approaching a subject, mathematics, science, social studies, and using literacy to delve deeply into the knowledge. With voracity and delight, I enjoy learning and exploring in community, exchanging ideas, constructive argument, and analysis.
- The order and structure grounds me. A classroom and the larger school is part of a system that demands order. From the alphabetized class lists, neatly labeled materials, and the rows and stacks of desks and chairs, a school cannot thrive without orderly systems and procedures.
- The autonomy (most of the time). The research suggests that the teacher is the most important determinant of student success. Sometimes this leads to daily autonomy. For the most part, the teacher is able to create a classroom community aligned with her own teaching personality with limited meddling from administration. Of course this is not absolute as the teacher has to adopt the teaching models espoused by the school and modify based on student needs. Overall, though, the teacher “rules the roost” and creates the work environment they and their students inhabit daily.
- Creatively igniting a passion for learning in the students. Seeing students become excited about the content and learning gives me great gratification and joy. I can indulge in and invite them to indulge in multi-model means of expression: singing, writing, dancing, and technology.
- The two month summer vacation and other holidays off. This is a great perk. Most people don’t know that teachers are required to engage in continuous professional development so the summer is not constant lounging poolside. Given the stress of teaching, it would be difficult to imagine teaching without these breaks.
- The mission driven nature of the job. One of my gifts is helping others. Teaching is nation building as we form the minds of our future citizens. Teaching is unequivocally people centered. We meet students at their areas of need, academically, socially, and emotionally.
- The salary and benefits are good.
What disenchants me about teaching?
- The perpetually expanding demands and requirements placed on teachers with little or no tangible support. Every year. there is some new instructional practice or teaching framework that teachers are required to adopt with minimal training. Often the training is on the job without adequate opportunities to learn the new strategy/practice and incorporate it into the daily routine alongside the plethora of other required duties. A few of the new and subsequently repackaged practices are: The Workshop Model, CAFE, Daily 5, Depth of Knowledge, Word Study, Greek and Latin Roots, Formative Instructional Practices, Number Talks, Calendar Math, Inquiry Circles, Conferencing, Formative Assessment, 6 Writing Traits, Literature Circles, Word Walls, Cooperative Learning Groups…I’m not disputing the efficacy of any of these practices. It is overwhelming to implement them while new ones are introduced and some are forgotten. With the advent of least restrictive environment, teachers, are expected to deliver instruction to each student according to their individual needs whether they are general or special education. These needs might include accommodations for a learning disability, behavior/social/emotional problem, limited language proficiency, medical issue, and any other thing the child might need. There are support teachers and paraprofessionals who are assigned to assist the classroom teacher; however, barriers often push the responsibility back on the teacher or lessen the effectiveness of the support they are supposed to give. These barriers include a lack of on the job collaboration between the teachers. Often the support teachers show up and jump in as needed. Their presence would be much more effective if the teachers had time to collaborate beforehand. Additionally, the support teachers are often pulled from their regular schedules to provide assistance in other areas so they are often not there to deliver the instruction. In these cases, teachers have to be creative in providing the accommodations for these students and all students.
- Necessary Multitasking & Breakneck Speed. Managing a classroom full of students requires superhuman feats of multitasking. I am in the Autumn of my multitasking, my dendritic leaves are falling. I often make mistakes. I forget things. I am scatterbrained. This is due in large part to the required time multitasking and lack of time to think and process. When there are so many calls on your time and attention, slow purposeful thinking is too expensive. The scope of all the content we have to present ( I dare not say cover) in the small amount of instructional time provided makes teaching a daunting task. It doesn’t allow for the fun aspects of teaching and learning: experiments, projects, hands-on learning, creativity. In school we learn that we need to create lessons for every type of learning. It takes more time. Collaborative learning takes time. This is precious time you don’t have.
- The long arduous process to get a student into special education. I understand the reasons for having a multi-step process for qualifying students for special education. Too many of African American children were shuttled into special education due to the racial and cultural biases of teacher. But now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. The process is so long and paperwork driven that teachers are dissuaded from pursuing it unless in extreme cases. Students who are below grade level are pushed along with no hope of catching up. The students with serious behavioral problems who disrupt learning create a particularly stressful environment for students and teachers.
- The inordinate focus on standardized test scores. Test scores have become the marker of effective teaching in education. This is unfair and disheartening for teachers like me who have a high level of students below grade level in all areas and suffering with behavioral and emotional problems. A contingent of my class receives 45 minutes of instruction from a special education teacher. I never get a chance to collaborate with them. Those who are in special education for reading and writing are in general education for Science & Social Studies. These two subjects are heavy on reading. When it’s time to take the test, I have to read it to them.
- The emotional & idiosyncratic demands. This is where I confused my love of content with my love of teaching children. I do enjoy teaching children in the teaching moment. I don’t enjoy the job of a homeroom teacher, being with the students all the time. I cringe at how it sounds, but it is true. I would rather pop in for a lesson or activity and then leave, have concentrated time with students instead of the everyday, all day presence of a homeroom teacher. I enjoy getting to know them, but am frustrated by their individual idiosyncrasies. Most of it is developmental, I know: their need for constant attention, bent for tattling, spaciness, laziness, failure to write their name, forgetfulness, inability to use a stapler after repeated lessons, lying to parents…I could go on. I would have less disenchantment if I had more time away from them. I would much rather support other teachers like those support teachers I describe above who pop in and out. WOW, this is revealing.
Considering that every year has been a struggle for me, I wonder if one year without struggle would change my tune? I don’t know. I want to stay in education. Is the answer to teach older kids? Adults? I’m not sure. I do know I’ll have to figure it out by next year.