As my last students of the semester work furiously to bail themselves out of their poor grades by passing my exam, I have little to do but think and think and think. However, since this is not a state mandated End of Course test, I can finally two-finger from my computer and work on the internet while I glare at the failures of tomorrow.
No, they aren't all bad. But they're bad enough when thrown together in the same room for 90-150 minute intervals.
Law School Update:
Complete at Emory, GM, Temple, and WFU
UNCCH needs a letter from my 3rd recommender that was never processed by LSAC. Direct mailing it is fun fun fun.
Not complete: GW, UNCCH, UMD, American
A few of my friends have tried to escape teaching but have failed. They find themselves stuck in a rut but unable to move into another position because in a world of increasing specialization an education degree is really only good for one thing: education. I also keep running into articles that give horror stories of people who went into law because they had no idea what they wanted to do or just wanted the big $$$ paycheck only to find the big $$$ debt instead.
I feel the need to at least get my reasoning out on paper. I don't have the numbers to get into a t14 school, and I don't expect to get a $100k job straight out of law school. To some, I would already be considered a failure. For me...
Why I Am Leaving the Field of Secondary Education
1) The Environment that Fosters a Sense of Entitlement:
As a 3rd year teacher I am by no means the best in the world, but if there is one thing I try and focus on in my classroom it is instilling a good work ethic in my students. I give my students assignments with the expectation that they do them. Even though I do not teach any advanced courses, I still give them difficult literature to take home with them and expect them to process what they've read through what we discuss in class. Unfortunately, many of my students come into class expecting to pass already. They've been given handouts and free passes ever since elementary school (where No Child Left Behind has put pressure on schools to pass students due to schools needing to meet Adequate Yearly Performance goals). Students expect extra credit. Students expect for me to look the other way when they plagiarize. This isn't necessarily because they're greedy, but instead because they've been fed through an educational environment that does not tell them no.
When I tell them no, this causes friction not only with students, but with parents, faculty, and administration. I failed 43% of my students my first year and 51% of my students my second year in English classes (numbers that, according to parents and some teachers, would be expected at a "black school" and not a good, upstanding, Christian “white school” like the one I teach at). That I give people grades other than As in Theatre is considered preposterous as well, as many people take it for the GPA boost but don't expect to have to put in the appropriate work. I can live with students and parents making these complaints -- that is the norm. There are problems when faculty and administrators make the same complaints and what they do with them. I had 16 of my failures from last year passed on to the next grade/class for "administrative purposes" (in other words, to meet AYP). Regardless of what I do, in the end I have little power. All people have to do is complain to the higher authorities and they get what they want with no consultation of my opinion.
2) Me and the Hush-Hush World
The following contains many personal accounts and is certainly biased towards my own experiences. However, after discussions with others in the profession, this is a problem at many schools and not just my own.
I am fortunate to work in one of the two functional departments at my school (in other words, departments that make their students do work). Unfortunately, there have been many cases where my class is the only class where students are expected to do work during that semester. It is a difficult adjustment for the student to make, but I can only control what happens in my classroom. However, that doesn’t stop other from trying to gain some leverage…
I have had coaches complain that I give students too much work or that I should reduce the requirements of assignments for them (one even asked if I would waive the 5-7 page research paper for his athletes that they did mostly in class by citing evidence that two other teacher/coaches had already done similar). I have had teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators question why I make the extra effort with some of my at risk, minority, and GLBT students since they'll just end up at a McJob/selling drugs/in Hell anyway. Many of them just want them to drop out. I have had influential teachers complain to the administration that my class is too hard because I do things like make my students read The Declaration of Independence and analyze its rhetoric in my English class (but they should be allowed to just read the summary in the history book!) or have to memorize a 1-2 minute monologue and perform it for the class (but they're just freshmen!). Unfortunately, when it is between me and them, the administration often requests that I bend over.
For example, midway through one semester the administration almost swapped one of my classes with another teacher because the EC (exceptional children) Co-Teacher, who only showed up around 1/5 of the time, didn't understand what we were reading (To Kill a Mockingbird). Thus (obviously!) my students didn't understand it either. The teacher that they would be switching my class with was well known for passing students and not teaching very much (ex. covering The Canterbury Tales by having students do a two week project of "Create a Knight" or "Create a Nun's Priest" and not ever picking up the text)
What stopped the class swap? When they gave me my new class roster I asked them what the hell was going on. Apparently, everyone thought I was on board when no one had even said a word to me. All the strings had been pulled behind my back because no one wanted to "hurt my feelings". No one seemed to consider the detrimental effects that switching midway through the year would have for the 65 students involved (especially the EC students)…it was all about one (cheerleading coach who graduated from the high school) faculty member’s complaint.
As a side note, that EC person is now the head of the EC department for my school system. As for me, I was explicitly told at the beginning of this year by an administrator that there were rumors that my class was too difficult, and that I should do everything in my power to make it easier or face the consequences. Consequences? Rumors? Expectations? Some teachers get all kinds of accolades and praise for practicing their putting during class while over half of their students go on to fail the state end of year test, but of course it's me who's under fire.
3) The Lack of Intellectual Stimulation
The fortunate thing about teaching English is that I do not have my curriculum forced on me. Unlike math, science, and history, I can teach what literature I want in the order that I want as long as I also teach certain skills. Unfortunately, especially due to the two reasons listed above, there is very little intellectual curiosity or interest amongst my students. Sure, sometimes they'll be attracted to the vulgarity of stories like Of Mice and Men or the violence of Edgar A. Poe, but oftentimes the majority of the class does not want to put forth the effort to read or think about the text. Sometimes this is because things are just too difficult (teaching The Awakening to a non-honors/AP group for instance...like I said, I'm not perfect), but other times there is no apparent excuse or explanation at all: they just don't do it and don't seem to be bothered when their grades plummet as a result.
What my students expect is what they get from lots of their other classes: worksheets for 15-30 minutes, maybe 15 minute of lecture on a topic, and then free time for the remaining 30 minutes to an hour. I despise worksheets because they often focus on surface details that should be readily apparent by reading (such as "who is this character" or "where does this story take place"). I want to dig deeper into works with them, and try and give them a sense of social significance and consciousness (especially since the school is in a close-knit rural community that has little exposure to outside perspectives). Since my first year of teaching, I have improved tremendously in teaching my students how to critically read texts. Unfortunately, when they try and write about them they don't use this critical knowledge unless specifically asked for it (and when it's asked for many of them leave it blank) -- oftentimes they get stuck on mundane, surface details and beg for the bell to ring to dismiss them.
Unfortunately, this is probably where my expectations DO get too high for my students. I want them to reach higher, but I oftentimes forget that they're still in high school and have little background -- they need to take baby steps. However, I get bored just talking about basic stuff. I want to dig deeper into what endings to stories like "The Lady, or the Tiger?" or "The Most Dangerous Game" say about our culture and expectations for having everything explained to us. Many of my students, for whatever reason, are either unwilling or unable to make that leap, instead regurgitating that both stories cut out a good portion of the falling action. There are always exceptions to this, and those are a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, I get the impression that it could be me or an educational worksheet robot running the class and there would be the same results.
I feel like I'm not using enough of my brain, and in a sense teaching is only challenging from the standpoint of babysitting 25-35 teenagers for 90 minutes. I know that’s part of my professional responsibility, but I have come to realize that there isn’t much more than that. I want to use my brain in meaningful ways. I feel like I have regressed as an intellectual over the past few years…I want to grow and challenge myself.
Hopefully that's what I'll attain in the legal profession, but since I've gone on for too long here I'll save that for another post. Time to grade my junior English finals...why is it that when I say, "Essay" many of them translate that to mean, "paragraph"? ON THEIR FREAKING FINAL EXAM. They've had me for long enough to know what I require in my class. Oh wait...see the points above.
Last edited by waytofailself on Sun Jan 20, 2008 1:51 am, edited 1 time in total.