So, if you read my last post, you know that I switched schools. The transition has been interesting, though, according to my reviewing administrator, painless compared to the transition of most teachers new to my current urban school.
However, I feel like I’ve hit the proverbial teaching wall…you know, that one that most teachers hit when they decide to leave the profession. Usually this happens within the first five years. This year is my sixth.
So, why am I just now hitting the wall?
I suppose that there are a number of reasons. First and foremost, all of my years teaching have been in high-poverty, low-income, under-funded schools. That means that not only are my students affectively needy, they are needy in the educational sense too. They have various - and significant - learning gaps. They need an incredible amount of support - in both senses - to move them from their current level of achievement to, well, not where they should be, but somewhere better. Why not where they should be? Because I am human. Because I cannot, no matter what the storybooks say, increase a student's achievement level more than one grade level in one year.
At this point, someone might say, "Well, if you were a good teacher, you could." No. I am a good teacher. In my last school, over half of my Diploma Programme Language A (English) students scored high enough to earn college credit on the exam. Granted, they had been with me for two years. I'd had two solid years to develop their writing, analysis, and critical thinking skills. I was helped, and this is very important - by the fact that they wanted the score, and they worked hard for that they wanted.
Now, though, I have two classes of AP Language students who were essentially forced into the class. They didn't want to take it. Many of them tried to get out of it at the beginning of the school year. In the history of the school, only one student has passed the AP Lang exam. One. To give you a better perspective, here is a short summation of the characteristics of my current AP students:
1) Generally, they don't like to read.Compounding the student ability and effort problem is the struggle we face, in general, as teachers. In education classes, one constantly hears instructors say teachers should not work harder than their students. However, here is a comment from a colleague at a department meeting today (we have one every day):
2) 90% of them don't even want to be in the class.
3) I've won them over and they work hard, but their ability levels are, in some cases, extremely debilitating.
4) Some of them pay more attention to and remember more about "Sharkeisha" (apparently a Facebook phenomenon for teenagers) than they do their homework (if they even do their homework).
“As teachers we’re doing it all. And we’ve never been more trained or working harder, and I know it looks great on all the [checklists], but what are we doing to make sure our kids are doing SOMETHING. If we don’t get them to do it, it’s not going to work.”The funny thing about this is that my colleague managed to say exactly what I was thinking without him even knowing I was thinking it. What was heartbreakingly sad, though, was our administrator's response:
“Yeah, I hear you about the rigor…maybe at our next meeting we can do some mapping of that in preparation for next year. What I also want to bring up is the ACT practice data. We have a few kids busting into 20s but there are still some students scoring 10 and 11."I wish I was making that up. I really do. Instead of actually responding to the teacher, the administrator brought up data. DATA. That's all it's about anymore. How much can we move students? How can we make sure we're meeting all of the aspects of the proverbial teaching checklist? Oh, that's right, we track the data.
My husband and I constantly have the conversation these days about whether or not I am going to stay in teaching. His perspective is that, if I do, I need to teach more affluent kids; in other words, kids that are on grade level and receive consistent support and reinforcement from home.
But do I even want to fight this fight anymore? Do I want to work so hard at planning lessons and differentiating them and providing language and other supports, just to have students ask me, "Miss! Why didn't you watch Sharkeisha last night?!" Yes, I do joke with my students, and that is part of why they work hard for me - but that relationship only goes so far in situations like this.
I'm not sure what I need at this point - better students? better school? better ideas? I look at my Twitter feed sometimes and am even more disheartened by the technology accessible to other schools in more affluent communities, districts, and states. They have 1-1 iPad access; they use the iPads to enhance instruction. They have ready access to laptops for typing papers and research. They have, well options that I don't.
So of course the next question I have to ask myself is, "What other skills do I have?" and "Am I really done?" This, to me, is worse than the usual teacher "October slump" that we all experience. After all, it is December, and we just got back from Thanksgiving break (for which, mind you, I am extremely grateful).
The conversation keeps coming up. I keep thinking about it. I keep having doubts about whether I am where I'm supposed to be, and whether I have the stamina to work so hard to make up for student learning and ability deficits.
And so, really, maybe I'm just done. In the hallway today, another teacher - who was not at our department meeting - looked at me and said, "I'm tired of wanting [their education] more." Maybe I'm not the only one.