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Monday, January 2, 2012

GBE2: Work

This week's GBE2 writing topic is work. For better or worse, here's my take on it:

For over twenty-five years, I've taught intellectually gifted kids in an affluent suburb of Memphis. I've seen dramatic changes in what and how I teach since the eighties. Don't get me wrong, the kids are great other than the fact that they never grow older. They will always be around nine or ten even though I've aged twenty-five years. Yet their parents have grown younger. When I first started teaching parents were old people, so how did they get so young? Scary!

As for gifted curriculum, it used to be if the kids were happy, the parents were happy, and administration was happy too. I only was responsible for meeting the IEP goals which I wrote. Not anymore. It's all about test scores and achievement.

Gone are the days of paper-mache´ puppet shows, fancy tooth pick bridges, or spending 100,000 fictional dollars on the stock market. Today, teaching is all about curriculum. My math lessons follow closely to what the classroom teacher is doing yet tougher. I teach reading lessons, with reading groups that cover novels. At least they still let me pick my novels–sorta. We have a list of board approved books.

I still love my time with the kids, but I miss egg drop competitions that plummeted raw eggs with goofy faces and silly names down shoots into kid designed landing pads. I can do some of the fun stuff, but by golly I better find an SPI objective before I do.

I used to start each class with a Shel Silverstein poem; now, I begin with Daily Grammar Practice. Sounds awful, but it's not bad. The kids' ability to diagram complex sentences is even impressive.

But teaching means unbelievable pressure. We've heard of teachers cheating to raise their students' test scores. I certainly don't condone this behavior nor would I ever cheat on a test; but honestly, I understand where this is coming from. It doesn't matter if you have a Doctorate degree or how long you've been teaching, it's getting to the point that your students better show growth or you could be out of a job.  Do you know of any other profession where a person's bread and butter is dependent on fickle kids?

In Tennessee, every public school teacher has a minimum of three (was supposed to be four) evaluations every year. These evaluations involve massive time commitments and paper work as administrators who are stretched thin enter classrooms to watch us teach. Plus, the same folks are scouring over value added scores. This is a comparison of students' growth on tests from year to year. Mind you, I teach gifted. This means that even though my students' test scores are already in the upper nineties, I need to show growth! However, when it comes to other measures of student achievement, I'm scored on the performance of the entire school. Ie., kids I don't even teach.

Please remember, I love the kids! I love the delight when they understand something new. And I love hearing them laugh when I inject humor into my lessons. However, I'm ready to retire because I'm tired. Typically, I arrive at school between 7:15 and 7:30 and leave sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the evening. Many times, I bring my work home with me once I leave. Sure I just had two weeks of vacation, but I spent several hours of it completing special education report cards, writing IEPs, making flip charts for my Promethean board, grading writing, and re-reading chapters for discussion this week. Unfortunately, the pressure on us is so intense that the fun has evaporated. In fact, when my college age daughter took a career placement test to help her find a major, the counselor said, "Be a teacher."

I said, "Don't you dare!" Those who are eligible to retire are doing so in mass... and this is supposed to improve education? What has the government done to my profession? I know my teachers from the 60s and 70s never worked as hard as I do nor did they get blamed when I misbehaved. We are one of the most disrespected professions and have even been blamed for the weak economy because we have too many benefits. I pay for my insurance, and it's not cheap!

November 1, 2017, that's when I'll be eligible to retire... unless our lovely legislators raise the retirement age.

24 comments:

Binky said...

Teaching doesn't sound like very much fun anymore.

KAT said...

I spent 5 years working as a teacher's aide back in the 1990s so I know exactly where you are coming from. It was bad then and I know it is much worse now. It is a very stressful job.

Jo said...

This is so sadly true and I am one of those who realize that as much as it is nearly impossible for good teachers, it is the students who are losing. I am certain I received a much better education than any of my grand children are receiving today. That really makes me sad.
You have my ultimate respect Miss. ♥

Artful Communication - k~ said...

Sans the benefits and up the age in the learners... I am just beginning. It is a lot of work, but when I see the love of words grow in another, and their self-esteem and efficacy reach new heights... it still feels good. I hope it will continue to!

Artful Communication - k~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
danneromero said...

Oh, man, do I totally relate. I have lesson plans sitting on my kitchen table waiting for me to do something with them. I pay way too much out-of-pocket for insurance?.. And many teachers in the staff room are looking forward to retirement.....

I snuck in having students make huge stuffed with paper hippos... Just because I wanted them to enjoy a break from total curriculum....

I'm very dedicated to teaching, while, like you said, many people have no respect for the profession....

Aside from all that, I hope the rest of the year always more fun in your day....

Shauni said...

Yeah teach to the tests.. I know as a teacher that has to drive you insane. Especially since we all know it isn't working. Somehow you are challenged with beaurocrats that know best.. *snort*.. keep it up.. As a mom I appreciate every teacher that has passed my way.. even the ones my kids didn't like (maybe especially those)

BTW.. what caught my eye on this post was the Stock Market Game.. one of my all time favorites

Bonnie said...

I live in Louisiana where we are tied with MS for last in just about everything including education. Do not get me started on those tests esp our Leap tests. My son gets to take this lovely test this year. Oh joy! He has SPD and needs breaks due to his anxiety, but is he getting them or any PE. Nope because he has leap tutoring instead. I just had a huge IEP meeting about this before the break.

I love his teacher, but I see all the baloney the teachers deal with as I have many teachers in the family. I thought about becoming a Special Education teacher for all of a second. I refuse to play that game, and instead am thinking about advocating. I know there isn't any money in it, but I'm looking to do more like consulting. I empathize and this is why I refused to go into education.

Traveling Bells said...

As the mother of two GA teachers, I feel your pain b/c I hear some of these same gripes from them. If only teachers could just be teachers w/o all the BS involved!

Robert Bourne said...

it's a tough job...and not getting any easier..it's a shame you can't freewheel a little and add some fun...

silverthoughts2 said...

I remember writing an opinion piece for the school newspaper on teachers and students being forced to learn from a predetermined curriculum. I'll have to find it. It's ten years old now, but still very apt.

Steven said...

So what changed since the 60's and 70's? Why is there more emphasis on test scores now versus then? I ask because I'm unfamiliar with the U.S. school system. Could this also be a reason why more parents are choosing to homeschool?

Amy McMunn Schindler said...

Both of my kids carry IEPs and one carries an IHP along with his IEP. The coordination it takes for their teachers to really LEARN who they are and what their needs are and then to lead the rest of the professionals on their teams takes much more time than they have in a "normal" work day.

I'm just a mom, struggling to make a future for my boys. All I can say to you is that there is no way possible my kids could have a chance if it weren't for their educators. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate every effort made from those in the academic environment to share what they know, to lead my kids into tomorrow with the tools they need to succeed.

Thank you for all that you do.

Jennifer Wilck said...

Teachers are awesome! You sound like a great one.

Word Nerd said...

My oldest is a teacher. She is enthusiastic and optimistic, and has managed to maintain her inherent idealism, something I hope she never loses. She adores those kids and puts her heart into her work.

Yet there is the flip side. The endless hours, stacks of paperwork, and hoops that must be jumped through. And yes, her future and reputation dependent not on her performance, but on the performance of her students. Ridiculously unjust.

It seems to me that such a system could be easily manipulated, too, making it even more unbalanced. If administrators were so inclined, they could easily assign favored teachers classrooms full of high achievers leaving the remainder to the teachers who may well be spectacular at their jobs, but simply aren't the best buddies of the decision-makers.

Anna said...

So sad that creativity has been minimized.I'm glad there are teachers like you who still love the job and care for the kids!

Laura Rogers said...

I also am a trained teacher in Catholic schools and public k-12. It is all so sad. Why does not our culture see how important this is to our future.

Mike said...

Your complaints are so valid,and echoed across the country. The saddest part is the kids aren't getting smarter from the layers of crap they are piling on in requirements. They are memorizing things instead of learning things. Being taught what to think instead of how to think. We have an upcoming Wednesday column on the DoE, I'm researching things now. What they've done to the teachers is a shame, what they've done to the kids is criminal.

beachlover said...

I agree with you completely! We need more creative teachers. Shel Shilverstein is a popular poet in our house. Santa brought "Everything On It" to my little guys for Christmas. Hope you get to enjoy your well deserved retirement!

pbquig said...

I love your posts, humorous or not, and I understand what you're saying as I was attorney for the Prov. School Dept. and saw some of these changes instituted. Providence, however, has a very, very strong teachers' union and things changed slowly. Although, I was always on the "other side of the street" from them, I was sympathetic to the teachers' problems.

My grandson seems to be taught "to the test" and although his teacher is quite creative, it doesn't feel the same as when my kids or I were in school. (Is this comment long enough???)
Pam

Rhonda said...

I have known you for a long time and I was sure before I read this that you are an awesome teacher. Sorry circumstances are sucking out the fun. Sounds like good advice you gave your daughter.

Mojo Writin' said...

Oh, Joyce... I spent ten years teaching at the other end of the spectrum to you (my beloved and always challenging 'special' children), and you have voiced every reason why I will not be going back to the job. It's all about targets, being better than the other school, and there is no time left for fun, even at the youngest levels. I taught maths with sand and water, English with dough letters and art with finger paints, but now it's 'Sit, listen, don't waste time on fun'. It's not the reason I went into the work, and I too know droves of teachers who have given up. Good teachers, the ones with character, imagination and a genuine love for the children they teach. Our kids will be worse off for the way they are educated these days. (My son couldn't even tell me where in the country London was the other day... and he's nearly 18!) I can only hope that the swings and roundabouts of life bring us back to the position where learning was fun and teaching it was moreso.

Jenn said...

It is funny--because I home school my daughter through an online public school. And they are constantly pushing us learning coaches to teach them to the test. "Log in to Study Island Daily, they will have better test scores if they log on daily."

But you know what? What good is that going to do her in 6 years when she graduates high school? I want her to understand and grasp her subjects and explore and learn hands on to really understand what it is she is learning. Some of us don't learn by taking tests or being taught to them--we learn by doing--and this is how she is. My one kid who thoroughly enjoys science because I make her do hands on lab experiments. Or when we read about Ohio history we took off and visited some of the places we were talking about. It helps her connect. Well anyway--just my thoughts.

Kudos to you for sticking it out--for hanging in there. I can't imagine it is easy...it takes a special kind of person to put up with all that!! Great post :) Jenn.

Selene said...

When I was in school, I remember learning more when I thought I was having fun more than when I knew I was simply being taught something. Someday, my little child will be going to school and I hope he will have a teacher who would want that for him.