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View Diary: Another Saturday morning - I am still learning about myself (19 comments)

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  •  My Chicago experience. (3+ / 0-)
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    texasmom, LWelsch, ER Doc

    I am retired now, and I spent some years doing part-time college teaching, but about half my working life was spent in Chicago's most difficult schools.  Those years were off and on, because, although the student populations were similar to what you describe, the ways the schools functioned varied from unbearable and unproductive to ones where I felt very good about what I was accomplishing.  

    In those years, teachers were "bumped" from school to school based on enrollment, and head counts were taken at various times during the year and resulted in class closings and students being shifted around. Teachers like me who had not taken Chicago's certification exams (which were usually not even offered in some subjects, like mine,) stayed with low pay and no seniority for years and were the ones moved around a lot.  So I saw many schools. Even after I got certified I was still the vulnerable new person who could get bumped.

    In general, the schools where I felt I was really teaching and the students really learning were schools with a supportive administration, ones where you were encouraged to be creative in finding ways to individualize and reach everybody.  It sounds like you are at that kind of school.  The schools which drove me to look for different employment were ones where asking for removal of a disruptive student, even occasionally, would get you a rating on your permanent record that said you could not control your class.  At some schools I was told I had superior class management skills, and at others I was reproached, but the difference was really in the school atmosphere.

    If kids didn't show up, you couldn't work with the administration on the problem, because you would be blamed and considered a bad teacher if your attendance was low. So many teachers ended up lying.  I didn't, and I didn't have good attendance in my final school, where I was by that time certified in science areas.  I was required to cover the state curriculum in biology, which these days focuses on complicated cell processes and is much harder than in the days when it was all about plants and animals.  Many of my students could barely read or write and quickly fell behind and stopped coming to class.  They didn't even bother to come for class tests or for schoolwide tests, and in fact, it was well known that if kids who didn't attend didn't take tests, the school would look better.

    Although you seem to be in a situation where you are supported rather than threatened, I think that the emphasis on testing makes it harder today to help kids to make progress from wherever they currently are, because if they are very far behind in their skills, it seems so hopeless.  And I don't know if you face the problem of micromanagement from the district of every aspect of what and how you teach, but that also makes it much harder to help individuals.  If there is an order from above telling you what you have to cover, and how, in each day or week, there is no wiggle room for doing what the kids actually need, and you have to move on without the students being actually ready for the next thing.  And that's when the class gets so lost they stop coming.  I'm hoping you have enough freedom to plan for what needs to be done and not just what you are told must be done.

    When you reach students at these difficult schools, you really do change their lives for the better, and it feels great.  But it does take a lot out of a person, and the failures are hard to accept.  I hope you make the right choice for you.

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