By: Dani Langevin – December, 2015
I used to love my career. I was proud to be an educator. I woke up every day looking forward to the curriculum I taught, the students I got to inspire, and the colleagues with whom I collaborated. For 20 years I knew I was making a difference in thousands of children’s lives. For more than half of those years I was doing what I loved most: teaching history. Between 2004-2014, I was teaching a grade I loved: grade 8.
I was more than good what I did; I was excellent. I immersed myself in my career as an educator and in the subject of history. Personal vacations were planned to places that were connected to my curriculum so that I could teach through experience. I went to Mayan ruins, Taino villages, English castles, and Roman ruins to name a few. I couldn’t even go away for a two-day weekend without looking for some little treasure to bring back to my classroom whether it were something tangible or simply informational to enhance a lesson. I was quite literally in love with my career.
That changed last year. Because of the federal and state mandated testing that is now tied to teacher evaluations, the system I work for dissolved all the history teaching position at the seventh and eighth grade levels. Why? Because history is not on any of the tests so, how could my evaluation be tied to them? I’ll tell you: attach history teachers’ evaluations to the language arts scores. We teach reading, writing, and all aspects of language arts through historical events. How can administrators not see that? They either didn’t, couldn’t or refused to and ripped history teachers away from their passion and relocated them. I was moved to grade 5 and told I had to teach two 90-minute blocks of language arts, two half hour classes of social studies, and one half hour of a class called “enrichment”. The career I love instantly became a job I now barely tolerate. In fact, every one of my history teaching colleagues were taken out of teaching the subject in which they are passionate experts.
The dissatisfaction in what is being done in classroom across the country is not limited to the random history teacher. Walk into any school in any state and speak with any teacher. You will see a micro-managed, over worked, under paid, under appreciated, highly educated professional who is angry, resentful, and probably a little more than bitter.
In a vocation where we are demanded to provide clear objectives and expectations for our students, demonstrate what it is they are expected to accomplish, give exemplars, and make sure we differentiate for every type of learning need, disability, and interest, we are treated the exact opposite by administration. Example: Last year the Lucy Calkins writing program was adopted by my system. It is has four units consisting of the writing of a personal narrative, research paper, persuasive essay, and memoir and yes, that is at the fifth grade level, too. Teachers were given a box of 7 books that covered this writing curriculum along with what is called an “Atlas” that outlines the timeline of when each unit is to be taught and for how long. We were not trained in the new program, but simply told, “Do the best you can.” That’s it. No objectives, demonstrations, time to practice the craft or collaborate with colleagues, and certainly no exemplars on how to differentiate were provided. The only information offered was to make sure you followed the Atlas timeline and make sure that student scores increased on the MCAS. This is method of instructing teachers is contrary to everything an educator is trained to do within his or her own classroom. We were being treated with monumental less respect than our students.
The workload placed upon educators is devastatingly overwhelming. Besides constantly teaching to the test, every teacher must pre and post-assess; conduct mid-workshop check-ins; analyze data; determine where every single student is in regards to the common core; find strategies to reach every single student; create lesson plans that differentiate for every single student; teach safety, respect, and responsibility; communicate with parents, guidance, and administration; fill out forms for students who misbehave, don’t follow directions, can’t concentrate, or don’t do classwork or homework and that is only scratching the surface. Not only that, all of this is done every day with an allowance of a 60-minute prep time when students are in their non-academic classes. In the last month I have graded/assessed, by my calculations, no less than 1,000 various assignments. There hasn’t been a weekend I haven’t brought work home.
Adding to an educator’s frustration and indignation is that “homework” for us, is expected. One weekend, I was reading and planning the next unit of Lucy Calkins because I, a history teacher, am not educated in how to teach writing so I was training myself. It actually said in the teacher instructions, “-plan on spending 3-4 days (and nights and weekends, hopefully). . .” YES! The implication to that statement is that we should not have a personal life-at all. No matter how hard we work, how early we come in or stay late, we are made to feel that we are not doing enough and what we are doing isn’t good enough.
Speaking of personal lives, teachers do have them. Some have great ones, others not so much. I know of many colleagues who are dealing with devastating personal challenges then have to come to a job that beats them up daily and expects them to eat up their personal time with work.
Why don’t we leave you ask? We can’t. Veteran teachers would never be hired outside our system because we make too much money, yet it’s still not enough. Another school system would rather hire two or three brand new teachers, who are probably going to quit within the first 5 years of their career, than hire one veteran teacher who is damn good at his or her job and will stay because they don’t want to lose their retirement. We can’t go from the public to the private sector because that is exactly what will happen; we’ll lose our retirement.
I don’t know of any teacher who loves their career right now. We are all rattled to the bone and stretched to our limit. I used to love what I did, but it was all stripped away from me because of standardized testing. Thankfully I have a loving, supportive, and fulfilling personal life. I have a wife who loves three wonderful children, a terrific extended family, and me with terrific siblings, nieces and nephews, and even a few grand ones. Without them, my job would most certainly destroy me.