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I was 25 when I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to become one of the well meaning, but terrible teachers going into the Texas school system. I witnessed a charter school at work. I saw how business was done. Let me tell you the story of the two years that showed me I was a bad high school teacher, how I got better, and why I now instruct at the college level.

I’m going to argue that few of them should have been teachers. 12 meet ups, in which your instruction is done by a projector onto a large screen, is not sufficient to tell you just how hard teaching is going to be. Where you’re hired also makes a difference.
With my shoddy alternative certificate, I was picked up at a charter school in Texas. There was so much disastrous about this school it’s hard to detail every element, but let’s do a quick rundown.  I was the only social studies teacher for the entire high school. This meant that I had to do classroom preparations for world history, U.S. history,  geography, economics, and government. Mind you, I was certified to do this without A.) A degree in history or B.) A degree in education. I just happened to know a lot about history, because it was a passion of mine.

For those of you who are not teachers, prepping for just one course, like world history, can be time consuming and labor intensive. It requires putting together lesson plans, which are required by the state, and activities for the students. This needs to be done for each day of the week the course is taught, then multiplied by five. It didn’t help that I was trying to use Power Point to assist the class lessons, which meant that, beyond planning, I had to write it all up.

Beyond the lack of time to prep for a class, there was also an issue of how many students were being packed into the classes, often to a degree that students were running out of seating. Behavioral problems went generally undisciplined. As a charter school, this facility drew from anywhere in the city that a student wanted to come from. There were no limits on where the student might be from. Funds are given to a school based on how many students are regularly attending, which meant expulsion was out of the question. High failure rates would bring the school under the state’s reassessment as well, which meant failing a student was discouraged.  So to summarize, trouble students could neither be expelled or failed.

And there were many trouble students. Part of the problem with the type of school that this was, is that it drew on the students that had been booted from standard public schools. This turned the charter school into a school of last resorts, where a disproportionately high number of students, per classroom, were trouble students. Don’t get me wrong, I loved these guys. I tried. I worked. I slaved. I ran a Saturday School to help students. My lunchroom periods were used to help them when they needed extra study time. But, I was running off of 12 lessons of instruction done via video and, in retrospect, there’s much I wouldn’t do now.

For instance, did you know that Power Point is one of the most ineffective methods of trying to instruct students? I didn’t. Maybe it’s common sense to some, but to me, I thought it was amazing. You could use pictures, video, all sorts of things. Turns out that, at a basic human level, people don’t learn when copying information from slides, no matter how many pictures you use. It’s incredibly ineffective. That’s why there’s a heavier push for hands-on involvement of students versus copying lecture notes plastered to the wall. You have something in your brain that psychologists called a visual-spatial sketchpad, which means you can only occupy a certain amount of information at once. If you have an instructor telling you something, and the same thing he's saying is basically written on the wall, and you're expected to write it down, your brain begins to compete for limited resources. You can't process the visual, auditory and reproductive functions all at once. You can use Power Point effectively, by limiting it to images, or limiting how much you speak, but to do it all at once overwhelms the brain's ability to simply remember. I had no idea about this at the time.

But my inability to instruct went beyond the procedural. I didn’t know how to effectively situate a classroom, especially my first year. Organization, desk arrangement, daily procedures, everything plays a small part in running a classroom effectively. There’s a reason experienced instructors insist on a constant, regular daily regiment. It actually has a small payoff, and the more small payoffs you have, the larger the overall payoff becomes. Students learn better.

Of course, it's hard to understand that when you’ve never been taught beyond 12 video lessons, never had classroom training, or the like. And while I was well meaning, there were those who weren’t. Another teacher that had come in on an alternative certificate was a cocaine addict. Then again, it’s hard to expect too much when my salary was 30,000 a year. I know someone’s that was getting 25,000. This isn’t to say there weren’t good teachers. Oh no, there were. However, because the school’s bottom line was its priority, it was to its advantage to hire undertrained teachers and then pay them at a lower salary. That’s a consequence of a school’s goal being profit as opposed to education.

Want some other problems with a school like this one? It operated a computer lab where students could catch up on credits. In theory, it was a good idea. If a student became pregnant and fell behind, maybe they could come in, use the computer to do some accelerated learning and finish the semester credit in a month. It’s not ideal, but it might act as a good supplement. The problem arose as students finished a year’s worth of credits in, maybe, two months. The testing they took to pass the computer courses were easily completed because, in the final examinations, they used their phones or looked on someone else’s screen to use Google. And in no case should a year’s worth of instruction be done in two months.

So, unfailable and unexpellable students. Underpaid, undertrained teachers. An emphasis on the bottom line. That’s what my life as a high school teacher was like. I got better, don’t get me wrong. Actually, in my third year I went to finish my masters degree, but continued on as a substitute teacher at different schools. I got a fairly regular position at one, and was able to turn that class into my own. By my third year, I was actually getting pretty decent at what I did. Now, working on my dissertation and with experience and knowledge, I’m actually a pretty good instructor.

But man. That first year? Terrible. The problem wasn’t all on me, though. There was a systemic issue with that charter school, and it wasn’t an isolated experience. I could tell you about a number of other teachers at different charter schools who had the same experience. It wasn’t pretty, and it was always about making as much money as possible. Education got some lip service and, don’t get me wrong, administrators did care about teaching. However, the goal of making money, when it’s a top priority, is always going to influence decisions regardless of intent. It’s going to contour how facility decisions are made. Hopefully parents will start to realize that charter schools are not silver bullets. Also, if you live in Texas? Demand better from your teachers, but also the policies that politicians are putting in place that govern schools. Please.

Originally posted to DAISHI on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 04:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and TexKos-Messing with Texas with Nothing but Love for Texans.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Were you evaluated by anyone? (3+ / 0-)

    In your first year did you have a grade level coordinator who watched over you and did evaluations?  Did you have any benchmarks to meet at the school level?

    •  Yes (4+ / 0-)

      They came in to watch me teach three classes total, marked me as proficient a about every level, and the only criticism I got was that I needed to be better about paperwork.

      http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

      by DAISHI on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:04:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow. Not a lot of support for a new teacher. (3+ / 0-)

        I was wondering if you knew what they were advertising to parents about your school and if you ever caught their distortions of what you perceived was happening.

        •  I don't want to be too detailed (5+ / 0-)

          But the school was marketed as the creation of a local sports legend who cared for his community. He wanted to provide opportunities for, especially, minority students that underachieve or had hard times like jail and pregnancy that hindered their learning.

          No hate against him. He was the name, and the funding. But he didn't operate the school. There were good elements, don't get me wrong. Students attending could get their cosmetology licenses at the same time and essentially find employment right afterward. A few of the students I kept in touch with, that did the accelerated computer lab course work appropriately, are now doing well in fields like nursing.

          The problems is those were exceptions. Too many were just getting by the easy way. One of the biggest problems was, continuously, overcrowding of class rooms. If you have on teacher overseeing a computer lab of 50-60 it becomes almost impossible to make sure that some aren't cheating. And to be honest? No offense to the parents, but many barely had high school educations themselves. The school was sold as a way of getting your teen done with high school by 17 or maybe even 16 with its accelerated program, or a way of getting jailed or pregnant students caught up.

          The results, due to lack of investment and focus, were less than ideal. Some bright spots, too many failures.

          http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

          by DAISHI on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:14:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It reminds me of what I've heard of U of Phoenix (2+ / 0-)

            as well: I've had a lot of friends who have taught there solely as for-cash adjuncts. I've yet to hear a single nice thing ever said about it from anyone who has worked there, ever.

            Not a lot of experience teaching the younger crowd, sorry (other than a wee bit of substitute teaching), but his just seems like an epidemic problem with for-profit schools where credentials are valued over the educational process and money over educating.

            Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

            by mahakali overdrive on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:27:19 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I had a similar background (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight

    teaching college while finishing a masters, then spending two years teaching 8th grade in a low-income public school. It was a whole different world, and while perhaps part of your issue was the charter system, it seems to mirror my experience with the public system.

    And like you, by the third year I was becoming competent, but thankfully I found a college-level job I still have and love. So I have the greatest respect for good primary and secondary educators; they have a job that's much tougher than mine and get far less respect for doing it. There are bad teachers out there (about 1/3 should be doing something else, 1/3 are great, and 1/3 could become decent with more training and perseverence--imho), but taking away their benefits, reducing their job security, and lowering their pay will only ensure that the good 1/3 head to greener pastures.

    •  Low income (0+ / 0-)

      Seems related. I think the business aspect of charter schools is devious as well, though, because of how money alters the way everything is approached. High school was given third rate treatment because there was more money in recruiting middle schoolers or elementary students, and the high school became a wild west.

      Also, the alternative certification program in Texas really, really needs a fine tuning.

      http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

      by DAISHI on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:07:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Alt certification is a joke (0+ / 0-)

        I went through the alternative certification in TX; it was a total joke. That said, studies have quite clearly shown that even a teaching degree doesn't correlate with effective teaching, so clearly our entire teacher training program, traditional or alternative, is ineffective.

  •  I had a similar experience (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock

    teaching college while finishing a masters, then spending two years teaching 8th grade in a low-income public school. It was a whole different world, and while perhaps part of your issue was the charter system, it seems to mirror my experience with the public system.

    And like you, by the third year I was becoming competent, but thankfully I found a college-level job I still have and love. So I have the greatest respect for good primary and secondary educators; they have a job that's much tougher than mine and get far less respect for doing it. There are bad teachers out there (about 1/3 should be doing something else, 1/3 are great, and 1/3 could become decent with more training and perseverence--imho), but taking away their benefits, reducing their job security, and lowering their pay will only ensure that the good 1/3 head to greener pastures.

  •  I left the charter and sent my kids to a public (4+ / 0-)

    for a different reason.

    The charter teacher was excellent, one of the better teachers I've seen. I've no idea nor do I care what type of training or education she had. I suspect she had a 4 year teaching degree.

    I left because I didn't like how pushy the school was for donations, and I didn't like the lack of income diversity. The move back into public wasn't so great, but my kids have a real PE program with all the sports, plus special teachers in music and arts. I like the principal a lot.

    Some of the teachers in the public school shouldn't be there, the second year back we got one but made it through. Parents who know choose the better teachers, that's what we do now.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:15:00 PM PST

  •  Sounds like a classic for-profit school (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED, smokey545, etatauri

    Not a lot of respect for these here.

    It's not like I had a lot more training. I think most who teach at Universities learn by teaching, although we're working with adults -- if you consider seventeen and up "adult." So there's that.

    The first class I taught was with a BA. Extraneous circumstances. But I think I did a great job, this was with adults, and I think it was understood that I was learning too. And it was not a for-profit, and I have never been a fan of PowerPoint in classes. Why? Because I couldn't sit through a single PowerPoint lecture in my entire life and care enough to follow it. So I scrapped that idea from the get-go.

    Still, I had no teacher prep when I began, nor do most College instructors coming out of grad programs. But again, this was with adults, not kids. And I think it's been a great learning curve, and now I would be glad to teach younger folks and would feel absolutely qualified. But I'd steer really clear of for-profits AND the pro-tech schools (these are designed to maximize course load and thus push the bottom line profit margin, period; I've literally never heard of a single Professor outside of a few select disciplines advocate for these, and few due to pedagogical reasons when they do).

    I'm a fan of a pretty relaxed classroom though. For me, it's always helped facilitate order in a strange way. Although this is not to confuse "relaxed" with "unstructured" or "unprepared."

    Tipped and Rec'd for discussion and some general agreement.

    Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

    by mahakali overdrive on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:21:57 PM PST

  •  Lyndon Johnson went to college to (8+ / 0-)

    become a school teacher. After a year or two of college he didn't have enough money to continue, but he had enough coursework to qualify as a teacher. So he went to Cotulla, Texas to teach. Cotulla, way back then, was a really poor place, and LBJ came face to face with sweet, intelligent, impoverished children who had brown faces. They didn't have a chance. At that time he vowed that he would do something about prejudice if he ever got the chance.

    At this moment I can't remember if he ever said so in a speech, but I can remember him recalling his vow and adding something like this: "I have the power now and I mean to use it." He did. And since that time certain prejudiced people, in Texas and other places, have worked very hard to roll back the changes that LBJ made. They are still at work.

    In my view, the charter schools in Texas are not places of education but places that are against public education. The people involved in them on a day to day basis may be very sincere, but the system is designed to destroy the public school system and replace it with something different and much worse.

    I was a teacher in Texas for a while, and then had a thirty-year career in computers. After that I taught for a short time in a large Texas high school. I was shocked at how much worse things had become in those thirty years. Powerpoint was a required tool, and there were other poor practices. It is a wonder that anybody gets an education nowadays.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 05:28:39 PM PST

  •  I am a TX teacher (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, elfling, sayitaintso

    With an  Ed degree and a master's. I teach at a very diverse magnet high school, sped math.
    I think most folks have no clue how it is. The legislature wants everything for nothing.

  •  When I subbed at a High School (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    smokey545, Alexandra Lynch, elfling

    I got to sit in on coaching sessions between a couple of new teachers and their mentor teacher. I got to sit in on them because the school didn't allow them any prep time for this coaching, so the mentor teacher did her coaching during lunch, and I happened to share the lunch room with them.

    One of the new teachers stressed about the enourmous amount of prep-work involved in her classes (iirc, she had English Lit and something else.) Her mentor's advice is classic:

    "Pick one day a week, not Monday or Friday, and prepare an outstanding lesson for that day. The other four days: wing it. If you can stretch your outstanding lesson over two days, that's fine, but don't worry about it. Instead of spending time writing plans for the other four days, which you really don't have time to do properly, reflect and make written notes on what worked and what needs fixing in your good lesson plan."

    "Invite administrators and other outsiders to visit your classroom on days when you are presenting your great lesson. They will see good teaching and will not spend time bothering you on other days. Your students will quickly get into the routine and will both appreciate the one good lesson each week and the relative slack time the rest of the week."

    "At the end of the year, you will have a set of great lesson plans for one day each week. Do this for four more years, and at the end of five years you will have an entire year's worth of great lesson plans, administrators who think you really know your profession, and students who love coming to your classes."

     

    "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

    by Orinoco on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 06:50:08 PM PST

  •  Did that charter school provide pension plans like (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Southern Lib

    public schools so you are not eating cat food  when you retire?

    Charter schools are just a way to destroy public schools and teacher unions IMHO.


    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” --Gandhi:

    by smokey545 on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 07:32:16 PM PST

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