Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be teachers

Yep.  I said it.  When my daughters mention wanting to be teachers, I tell them no way.  I encourage every teenager I know that loves children to find another "profession" to work with them - occupational therapy and speech therapy being the two most often recommended.  I LOVE children, and watching them learn and grow is exciting.  But public school teaching has become "bad business".  I know that if I keep up my crusade, there will be a shortage of good teachers.  That's going to happen anyway, because the good ones are going to retire, or leave.  About 30% of teachers are looking to other professions now.  I have good reasons for my campaign.

Today's current political climate and involvement in education has really brought me down, and apparently, according to the newest MetLife survey, I'm not the only one.  Teacher job satisfaction is at the lowest in two decades.  And before those of you not in education brush this off as another "whiney teacher" post, please understand that this is not just about money.

The government really knows nothing about teaching, and yet, we are subject to the whims of those in charge.  The idea No Child Left Behind sounds like a great thing.  Honestly, what teacher wants a child left behind?  We chose this profession, contrary to popular belief, because we love children and want to be involved with their growth.  GROWTH.  Would any human being look at a doctor and tell him that if he can't have a child born paralyzed running by the end of 180 days his job is on the line?  We don't expect children in wheelchairs to earn the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.  Police officers aren't fired if they don't have 100% solved crime rate in 180 days. Fire departments aren't punished if they don't save every structure. Sure, these would be great, but somehow along the way, it became expected of teachers to perform miracles. 

As a kindergarten teacher, I am presented each August with students whose range of abilities, knowledge, and exposure make the bell curve look like a straight line.   Many parents are "in the know" and are working very hard to have their children ready for kindergarten.  Which, coincidentally, used to be my job.  Kindergarten of today is first grade of 15 years ago.  The ages for entering kindergarten haven't changed, educating parents hasn't become a priority, and no doctor has yet to eradicate developmental delays or find a way to ensure all children mature at the same rate.  I give major props to the parents that have this figured out, and preschools that are working hard, both private and governmental.  I recently spoke to in-home, public, and private daycare providers and preschools.  They were shocked when they learned the kindergarten expectations.  Many parents are beyond distressed in March at pre-registration when we tell them what their child needs to know by August. 

I am being asked to do something I disagree with philosophically
I am a firm believer in learning through play and involvement on a deep level with real life experiences, and students developing at their own pace, especially in kindergarten.   However, when I have a one inch binder document telling me the essential knowledge and skills they have to acquire at the end of their 180 day race to the top of kindergarten, it's difficult to manage that.  I have asked myself time and time again - do I teach in the way that I feel is best, or do I teach them in the manner that will prepare them most for first grade?  For some students, this is not mutually exclusive.  I can let them be children, learning through play and involvement, and design activities and experiences that will give them a deep knowledge of the material.  But there is no time to waste.

However, let's take the child that started off behind.  In order for me to help him/her catch up, I need an intensive plan that usually requires parents to work a lot at home, lots of one on one time, trial and error to find out how she/he learns best, and quite a bit of assessment to find out where he or she is. This is going to translate into a five year child that pretty much does nothing but work all day. I need to find out why this child is not "ready" for kindergarten.  Lack of exposure in the home or no preschool experience?  Is there a learning disability?  Is there a medical issue that I'm only guessing about and can't diagnose?  Or, God forbid, is the child five years old and not ready for the race to the top?

There are simply not enough hours in the day
In order for me to feel like I am doing my job correctly, I am constantly evaluating and assessing not only the children, but myself and my instruction.  I need more time to work with the children in small groups or individually.  More time to allow them to explore and play.  More time to create materials and activities.  More time to research best practices.  More time to write communicate with parents.  More time to educate the parents, starting at birth, on how to raise a child ready for school. More time to talk to the pediatricians, to tell them what I wish they would tell parents.  More time to work with preschools and daycare facilities to help them help their students. More time to hound the government until they realize that factory model education producing cookie cutter students who are prepared to memorize facts, take tests, and work on a clock will not work in the 21st century.  More time to assess students and create plans that will address all their learning styles and levels.  More time to document every step I make so that my evaluations reflect my hard work, not because I need the recognition, but because I need my job.  More time to grade papers, write lesson plans, take classes for re-certification, enter grades in the computer, answer emails, decorate and organize the classroom, fill out paperwork.  More time to write grants to try to get more resources.  More time to beg for volunteers, and then train them, to help me make sure no child gets left behind.  More time to collaborate with other teachers to solve the issues, get ideas, and get support. More time to help children learn conflict resolution, problem solving, critical thinking, social skills, self control and regulation, fine motor skills, large motor skills, appropriate ways to express emotions, procedures, self-help skills, and foster their creativity. More time for art and music, play and movement, interaction with nature, exposure to the world around them.  More time to celebrate holidays.  More time for children to learn more about what interests them.  More time to take a few deep breaths and gather my strength for the next section of the day.  More time to let them do the same. More time to reflect on what is and is not working, and why.  More time to go to the bathroom. 

Don't take this to mean I am in favor of a longer school day.  My 5 year olds spend enough time there as it is.  If I did my job in the way that I feel comfortable, I would never, ever, ever leave the room or sleep.  I get up at 4am as it is. I read an email years ago stating teachers should be lucky enough to earn babysitting wages of $5.00 an hour per child, times 20 children, at 5 hours a day (no need to pay for more hours than that), for 180 "teaching days" a year, which would equal $90,000 a year.  I've been teaching for 15 years, have a Master's Degree, and I make less than half that and work WAY more than that!  That little idea has a lot to do with the big picture of teacher job satisfaction as it applies to respect for the profession.  I have doubts that teaching is even considered a profession any longer.  Forget having a family, in order to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished,future  teachers should plan on having no life outside of the classroom.

I used to encourage people for whom motherhood was important to go into teaching, as it does allow for more time for your children.  You do have similar schedules.  There is summer vacation, winter and spring break to look forward to.  Yes, I understand that I don't work as many days as other professions, and my salary reflects that.  However, the reality, for me, has become that the pressure of my job makes me a much worse parent than if I were not a teacher.  By the time I get to my princesses at the end of the day, my patience, endurance, stamina, energy, creative thinking, personal space, and reasonable thought are gone.  My children get the leftovers.  I know this could be said for any job, but dealing with children all day, on a level in which you invest as much personally, emotionally, and physically as the teachers of the young do, is depleting to the extent that only those who have done it can relate. 

Now, I encourage people for whom motherhood is important to save as much money as possible before they have children so they can either send them to private school or homeschool.  I would love, love, love to homeschool my youngest.  Then, and only then, could I teach the way I think teaching should be done.  Or possibly go to work in a private school in which I could have more autonomy in my profession.  Is this blasphemy?  Maybe. 

Much has been said about making sure we get the best teachers, increasing the quality of teacher education. If this is the case, teacher prep courses need to change their direction and help teachers learn the system and teach them where to go to find their kryptonite, or whatever substance is needed to ingest so that teachers can do it all.  I do believe in teacher accountability, and that teachers that haven't found their way through the quagmire should be helped to better themselves.  I think the methods are wrong.

As if the expectations aren't enough, throw in a whole lot of people saying you earn too much, they could do your job better, all you do is babysit, you aren't doing enough, you have no right to complain, they pay your salary, all you do is whine, and you should be able to turn water into wine, and a few who will find fault in your every move.  Teachers are being held to the standard of perfection that no man can attain.  I foresee a mass exit of teachers from the profession very, very soon.  I wish I could be one of them.  But see, I have two precious little girls that mean the world to me.  I have to be able to send them to college, feed them, and clothe them.  In today's economy, there just aren't many jobs out there.  I am LUCKY to have one, and not foolish enough to throw that away. 

It has been said that children are our biggest natural resource.  I venture to say that we are treating them like we do our other natural resources - polluting them, wasting them, and neglecting them while the government battles who should control them.  I heard a politician from another state say "You don't eat your seed corn.  We're eating our seed corn."  And, folks,  while we are eating the seed corn, we are destroying the farmers that plant it.


  1. I just found this posting and thank you for your sincere pleading. My wife works for a kindergarten teacher that doesn't disagree philosophically with what she is doing. In fact, I think she loves her 1-inch binder. I was particularly taken with your section on not enough hours in the day because everything you mention that you do not have time to do sounds like a wonderful learning environment. I am curious what % of teachers in your school FEEL the same way? My wife's biggest barrier to change is the lack of support among the other teachers to change the philosophy of the school

  2. So glad you found me! I would say that pretty much all of the teachers in my school realize that the standards have gotten out of control, and the kids are the ones suffering. Most feel like the pressures of testing are crazy, too. Now that the government is making it a requirement to tie your evaluation to the test scores, and the tests are getting harder but the kids aren't changing, many are seeing the light. I feel like many are realizing that the standards are including so much content that the kids aren't getting time to really learn the basics well. While the disgust over standardized testing is growing, I'm not sure how many really take time to think philosophically. I know I really was caught up with the day in and day out requirements until I recently went back to school for my master's degree. Once I was forced to think, and truthfully exposed to some alternative teaching styles, my discontent grew larger. I would venture to stay that in my pre-k-7th grade school, the vast majority teachers are dissatisfied with the pace and content of the standards. Maybe about 1/4 would like to change the philosophy, and the other 3/4 are content to stay in the "old way". Of that 3/4, I bet MANY of them would jump on a new philosophy if they had time to think about it and absorb it. As it is, I am thankful (since my daughters are in this school) that the majority of the staff tries very hard to involve the students heavily in their learning. My school is full of GREAT teachers who are stressed out and overburdened. It would be interesting to do a school survey on teaching philosophies and see where everyone falls, I might have to do that - thanks for the idea! The reality (according to me, ha!) is that until the government swings the pendulum in the other direction and stops moving in the WRONG direction (and realizes they are at fault for "failing" schools with all of their rules and regulations) not much CAN change. In some ways, I wish I hadn't had my own awakening, because now I've seen the light of how things could be. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Clap, clap, CLAP! Thank you for verbalizing the burden that has been on my heart for several years now. The demands of teaching on your time, body, mind, and family are astronomical. We are the farmers who plant the future, and yet we're dreadfully underpaid, looked upon with disdain, and used up to our limit. I feel like the government and admins are out of touch. It's easy to sit in an ivory tower and drone on about what "should be", but they're not in the trenches with us, battling mouthy, disinterested kids and a spastic curriculum. I think I'm out after this year.