I used to teach in the classroom. I like to say it that way because damn, between homework and life skills and manners and raising up humans it feels like I still spend most of my time teaching someone something or other.
But I used to teach in the classroom.
I spent a year teaching special education in a rural Virginia school then another two in the St. Louis school system. Burnout and life issues led me to take a five year break before teaching three more years in a private North Carolina school. But then my own kids came along and I decided to stay home with them. Bye bye, classroom.
Huh. When I look at it that way, I only taught one year more than the amount of time I spent earning advanced degrees. Good thing I’ve found that knowledge useful in other areas of my life or I’d worry about the cost/benefit analysis.
I loved teaching. Those magical moments in the classroom when things just clicked? The air was crackling with excited minds at work, making connections and drawing conclusions. It was an extremely cool thing to witness.
But I can never go back.
How do I know this? Let me count the ways…
** Too many parents have lost their damn minds. They believe their children can do no wrong. They undermine the teacher’s authority by questioning reports of classroom behavior in front of the child. They don’t support the school’s expectations by following up misbehavior with consequences at home. They foster infantile attitudes, ones that translate into it’s always somebody else’s fault or the teacher’s out to get me or it’s okay if I forget my lunch/project/homework/gym clothes, my mom will run it up to the school for me. They expect teachers to jump through hoops for their special snowflake.
Put succinctly, parents are no longer partnering with teachers. All too often they’re yet another obstacle to overcome in teaching students to grow up.
** There are some kids who believe they have all the power, and in many ways they’re right. They understand limits placed on a teacher’s authority – the scope within which he or she can work to create meaningful behavioral consequences. And if those consequences aren’t effective, either because the student isn’t intrinsically motivated to achieve or the parents don’t find ways to back teachers up, then you’ve got a kid who thinks he’s untouchable. And what are you supposed to do with that?
** Paperwork. Holy heaven above, the paperwork alone involved in teaching these days makes me want to run screaming for the nearest door.
** Administrators face a new task master – the almighty test scores. Schools are mandated to present physical proof their students are learning, but they’re required to use specific measurements to do that. It’s not that we don’t want our schools to teach kids effectively. Of course we do. But administrators are now beholden to test results over the learning environment, and that’s one of the quickest ways to crush innovation.
** As such, teachers are being micromanaged beyond belief. Do you know a teacher? Ask him or her what’s been added to their classroom responsibilities in the last ten years alone. End of year testing, retesting, remediation, followed by more testing is just the tip of the iceberg. There are regularly scheduled assessments to track student progress throughout the school year. Exams to determine mastery of material covered as well as knowledge of information not yet taught. How exactly is a teacher supposed to squeeze creative, student driven learning in between all the data crunching?
Remarkably, I’ve met several teachers who manage to do just that. I have no idea how they manage it, though, and I’m pretty sure they should qualify for some sort of education medal of honor.
So my teacher heart is satisfied by volunteering at the school, working with small groups of students on reading or math concepts. No crazy parents to handle, no belligerent children disrupting the learning environment, no incessant testing crammed down my throat when all I really want to do is teach.
I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t last a semester if I tried to return to the classroom now, so my hat is off to all the teachers out there fighting the good fight. Taking every new requirement thrown at them in stride and still managing to inspire their students to reach for the stars.
You’re all superheroes in my book.