There’s no denying that the word ‘crisis’ is a powerful word, nor that it’s often overused. But when people start talking about the teaching crisis in Georgia, there is no mistaking a major problem is beyond the boiling point.
When I graduated from college mid-December 2008, I knew there was a near impossible chance of my getting a full-time teaching position, especially during a time when there were far more teachers than there were positions. Being the passionate, on-fire-for-educating-children graduate I was, I landed a job almost two hours away from home right away. For 3 years, I never knew if my job would be secure or not. Last one hired first one fired (or in the education world RIF’ed) loomed over my head constantly. Thankfully, my principal fought for me each year, signed me up for endorsement classes in order to make me more marketable, and encouraged me by telling me she would write glowing references anytime I needed them. My job security might have been grave, but my morale was astronomical because I was more than appreciated, I was valued enough to be defended.
Years later, after having two little girls and cancer, I really needed a break to revive the fire. I took a year off to get better and enjoy being a mom. During this year, I volunteered teaching at a weekly after-school Bible club, taught Sunday school to elementary students, and started a little side business for my embroidery hobby. Finances were tight, my heart was full, but I couldn’t stay away from teaching in some capacity.
After that year, our family decided it was time for me to return to teaching full time, but this time I would be picky about my job since more jobs were available. I wanted to only consider schools in the county I lived. Within 36 hours of applying, I was contacted by the principal of the middle school districted for my house. In less than a week, I had an interview and a job offer. I was exactly where I was meant to be.
That first year back was exhausting, but the fire was roaring. I was nominated for teacher of the year the first year there—and I wasn’t even eligible. Parents were supportive. Students were dedicated. Administration was on our team.
The next year, the state fully implemented the new teacher evaluation system and some alarming directives on how to evaluate the teachers. I was determined that with my heart for teaching, this would not change a thing; teachers have to be flexible and adapt after all.
Any guesses on how long it took my roaring fire to become ashes and soot?
Less than three months (and that’s being generous).
How could this happen to me? I was born to teach. How could I, who at 7 years old taught her little sister how to read and write, add multi-digit numbers, and even states of matter all before sister was old enough to be in pre-school, transform into a person who can’t fathom the idea of toughing it out until the end of the semester– let alone the end of the school year?
I couldn’t get past the fact that I felt my career identity had been demolished, and more importantly, my heart experiencing such a dramatic change in a glimmer of time.
Here is part one of a series on my reasons for why I cannot continue to teach in public education (and, I suspect, why others can’t either):
- Every day is spent playing defense.
When you are naturally talented at what you do, it can be difficult to hear about your own shortcomings or mistakes. The teacher evaluation system, however, went beyond pointing out flaws. Of course I wanted feedback about how to improve! I will never claim to be the best, the image of perfection, the role model for all. I know I have growth areas. What I don’t need to do is defend every decision I make.
Literally. Every. Single. Decision.
Have you ever had to justify why a colleague needed to stand in your doorway while you ran to the restroom after 6 hours of holding it? What about an explanation for why a student, who has failed every subject nearly every year, is currently failing your class? What is it you are not doing that this student is absent so frequently? Why did your class sit at this lunch table instead of that one? Why did you give this student a silent lunch? Follow up: We need a written statement explaining your reason for our files. Did you use data to decide on that homework assignment?
Teachers know all too well that it truly doesn’t matter if a problem is out of your control or not; you will be held accountable for an explanation and a solution.
I always received good marks on my evaluations, until the state trickled down a complaint to administrators saying too many level 3s were being given and they expect more 2s instead (which is considered a “not-passing score”). Coincidentally, I received my very first 2 on one category the next evaluation. When I exercised my right to complete a written response to the score and posted it onto the state platform, I immediately received a private email from my evaluator suggesting a conference. I declined. What was the point? Did I really need to waste my already thinly spread planning time to have someone who barely knows what goes on in my classroom tell me what I already knew? “We can only score based on what we see in the snap shot of time we are in your room.” Of course, the safeguard for that was supposed to be the incredibly detailed lesson plans I have to have posted outside my door each morning. God help you if an unexpected change causes you to do something that isn’t specifically outlined in that plan either. So, why was it that when I pointed out while the administrator did not observe this particular component during his segment of time in my room, the detailed information was provided in the lesson plan that I had to write to ensure my marks were not lowered due to lack of observance? I have a suspicion that the administrator felt a little defensive, like I might be suggesting he wasn’t doing his job thoroughly. WELCOME TO MY WORLD, BUDDY.
Now, an “outsider” to the education world may think, “Maybe the problem is you. Maybe you really deserve those marks.” To be realistic for a second, teachers talk. And talk. And talk. We are surviving these trenches together. So, when something like that happens we start investigating as to if this is a personal issue or yet another blanket injustice. Every teacher on that hallway that I spoke to about this matter also received at least a 2 in one category on that same evaluation round, most of which had never received anything lower than a 3 before. Sorry, the common denominator here is not me.
How would you feel if you had always dedicated yourself to doing the best you could possibly do, have superiors recognize that fact, only to have some mystical state level person dictate your score and they probably have never even driven through your county, let alone sat in a classroom under the same expectations as you are right now?
Seriously, you’d be angry and offended. And don’t even get me started on how the evaluation scores will directly impact the amount of money I receive on my monthly paycheck.
What you wouldn’t feel is motivated. Why bother? Here’s another great non-educator response to this dilemma: “You do it for the kids, of course!” Those people clearly have no idea what they are talking about. The evaluation system is so far removed from what is best for kids that it’s disgusting.
I don’t write my standards and essential questions on the board each day and then redundantly type them on my lesson plan, and then ensure every child hears me mention them at least twice during the period because it’s best for them. They will have disposed of that information by the time they walk into the next class period- and I know that.
I do it because I am told I have to and it will be evaluated.
I don’t sit down to look at the scores of every single student I teach on every assignment I give, then use those numbers to justify my reasoning for deciding on the next task and then ensure that I write a detailed narrative component on my lesson plan and mention it during collaborative planning and log that information as well to prove the decision I made about next week’s lessons is data based because that’s best for my kids. I could have looked at my gradebook and known the same— but if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.
I do it because I am told I have to and it will be evaluated.
In fact, what I consistently don’t get to do, is exactly what I know to be best for my students.
I DON’T get to sit down and listen to them cry about how their parents are getting divorced because of an affair, and now they have to choose who to live with. If I did, I wouldn’t be “using instructional time wisely.”
I DON’T get to allow a girl, who is leaving for a week to go to China to meet her new adopted sister, to complete an alternative authentic writing assignment because it doesn’t align with the county required prompt that they use to analyze district-wide data.
I DON’T get to use teachable moments to impress upon the students the importance of honesty, integrity, work ethic, kindness, or any other ideals that are “not in the standards.”
When children are no longer viewed as children, but rather a number, a piece of data, a risk factor for my student growth model based on the state test, children are no longer the reason education exists. Education should not be a business, nor a competition, nor a data mine, nor an overall dehumanized semblance of infrastructure.
It’s supposed to be a place where mistakes lead to growth, where children discover themselves and their talents, where practice makes perfect, where character development is critical. These are things you will not see in a public education facility anymore. These are things that have no value in the state’s eyes. These are things that drive quality teachers out of this field with hurricane like force, and I am just not willing to board up the windows and ride this one out, because it’s like I’m saying I support these practices as best for children. Educators should not be attached to that abysmal lie.
And this is only scratching the surface…