As our legislators and career DoE bureaucrats continue to ignore the real systemic failures in education, in their endless search for more funding and more inept mandates, they are doing far more harm than just destroying the education of our current generation of children. They are also condemning future classes to an even worse set of conditions by driving good new teachers out of the system.
Today I am publishing a remarkable, and devastating journal submitted as part of our “call for submissions” to be included in the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education. “Anonymous” resigned as a high school teacher in Colorado this past summer after just 2 years in the system. Her story was far too long for inclusion in the book, as is, but was so outstanding an insight into what new teachers face that I asked her for permission to publish the full story today. She also gave me permission to try to make a shorter version, based upon the last two powerful paragraphs, that I am certain will be selected by the panel for inclusion in the 2nd edition. Her journal follows this introduction.
The number of “early retirements” is staggering in urban high schools. Nearly 20% of urban high school teachers leave every year – either to quit the profession, retire (often early retirement when they give up on the system), or to move to suburban, rural, or private schools. And the one potential counter to these losses, an influx of new teachers, is being so discouraged when they see the realities of today’s urban high schools, that an estimated one-third quit by their 3rd year of teaching, and nearly half (46%) are lost to the profession within the first five years!
Overall, between the loss of existing teachers, and new teachers giving up, urban high schools are now estimated to be suffering the loss of 1 out of 5 teachers each year!
The unintended destructive consequences of well-meaning legislation, combined with the inept and conflicting mandates by career DoE bureaucrats with little apparent understanding of our classrooms, prevent our teachers from teaching today, and drive away the teachers we need to solve this crisis tomorrow. It is a self-fulfilling cycle of increasing failure for our children.
Here is the journal by Anonymous that shows why we lose so many good teachers better than any “statistic” could ever do.
Anonymous, high school teacher, quit after 2 years, Colorado
Like any baby teacher, I entered the field 2 years ago completely naïve, optimistic and enthusiastic, convinced I would model myself after every teacher who ever inspired me, determined to make a difference. I attended the New Teacher Orientation and came home so confused as to why so many people responded overly nicely when they heard I was a brand new teacher “Wow! Congratulations! It gets easier by year 3!” or “Welcome, I love your enthusiasm…let me know what I can do to support you!” I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone knew something I didn’t behind the kind and contrived smiles. Then I started noticing this strange negative attitude coming from “seasoned teachers” who seemed to have lost the spark that inspires teaching. So many comments about “hands being tied in the system”, relentless “mandatory Professional Development,” new policies and procedures that time will be wasted on –just to have them all change in another year or so, etc.
Little did I know what I was getting into.
After my first 2 weeks of teaching, I felt completely alone. I found that being a teacher means being mistake-free, a counselor, a social worker, a mandated reporter, a coach, a parent, a disciplinarian, a celebrity-who-can-never-be-off-stage-even-at-the-grocery-store, a robot-who-can-never-be-human, and a parent punching bag. If that wasn’t enough, I became a target for one insecure co-teacher hell-bent on eating me alive and pointing out every mistake I would inevitably make my first year.
There were some highs, and there were many lows. I found websites dedicated to helping 1st year teachers survive and realized – I WAS NOT ALONE. I read about how 49% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of teaching and thought “Hmm…maybe if I can just make it until year 3 I will be okay.” Thankfully, my administrators, instructional coaches, support/facilities staff, as well as the housekeeper who watched me work in my classroom until 9pm some nights saved me from walking out on my classes over the last 2 years. They knew how hard I worked, knew how much I cared about my student’s success, and saw my potential as a quality teacher. Unfortunately, their faith in me was not enough
In the past 2 years I have attended countless hours of Professional Development and submitted many justifications to many people including my supervisors and the New Teacher Induction program proving my worth and “enough-ness” as an instructor. I have been subjected to both inspiring compliments and heinous student feedback on an anonymous student survey via Survey Monkey, as well as the anonymous ‘Make Your Voice Heard’ surveys. I have received threats from parents last year (reporting me to the Department of Education, suing, etc. for holding their student accountable) to singing my praises as the teacher who changed their son/daughter’s lives this year. I have been anonymously nominated for CTSO Advisor of the year by one student last month, and I have just received an email from a student just this morning with screenshots of several of my students bragging on Facebook that they found the answers to an assignment I gave them and quoting “You know we are a family when we help each other cheat!”
In the last 2 years I have worked 60-70 hours per week developing curriculum and the ever-elusive “perfect assessment”, trying to find that perfect balance between challenging students, keeping students engaged and inspired all while sacrificing my physical and mental health, while my personal relationships suffered. I have turned down countless dates with my boyfriend and friends, vacations to see my family, walked out on family holidays and events early “…so I can get home to grade” or “…I need to finish creating a test for my students” all in the name of “student achievement.”
How “effective” have I been as an instructor? I suppose we can look to the gradebook for some of those answers. My students have A’s, B’s, and C’s, except for the students who do not turn in assignments –they are failing. Those who did not turn in assignments in all 3 of my classes and failed all 3 of those classes dropped my class at semester. I had 9-10 students drop my class in the final three months of 2013 due to my program “being too rigorous”. When I tried to address the amount of “rigorous” curriculum am mandated to squeeze into a very short amount of time, I received comments like “Well if you think it’s rigorous now, you should have seen what the students had to do 3+ years ago…this is nothing! We have already taken so much out of the curriculum.”
For the record, I am giving 3 academic credits –Elective, English-12 and Science/Anatomy & Physiology, as well as 4 community college credits for Law and Ethics for Healthcare Professionals and Medical Terminology –all of which I have to squeeze into 15 hours per week for each of my 2 classes of 15-16 students each who are also juggling full schedules at their home high schools, as well as extra-curricular activities and jobs.
So does this measure my effectiveness as a teacher? If so, I should quit.
In an email I received just last week from a student, “I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done for us. I know that sometimes we take advantage of how much you have helped us and we never say thank you because we expect for you to help us. But honestly you are one of the best teachers i have ever had and you have helped me grow so much as a person and as a student. I love how supportive you are and how much you inspire us to keep our heads up and keep trying. I know you said we will thank you later which i still will but i also want to thank you now. I have never felt so good about my work and how i am as a student until i came into your class. You never set us up to fail and you are always there when we need help.”
Or from another student who apparently nominated me for HOSA Advisor of the Year 2 weeks ago, “This advisor truly goes above and beyond. She cares about her students & always goes the extra mile to make sure that we understand what we are learning. Even after she is no longer on the clock, she is doing things to help us succeed. She inspires her students daily, & helps her students see things from different perspectives. Since having her as an advisor I can say that she honestly betters people… She pushes us out of our comfort zone, helps us grow, & helps us succeed. Everyone can learn something from this advisor. Not only is she an amazing instructor, but an amazing person as well. She always provides us with many volunteer opportunities. She gets us out of our comfort zones by showing us that we are capable of much more than we think. She encourages us to be ahead of the game and find what we are passionate about.”
So does this measure my effectiveness as a teacher? If so, I should stay.
As for my impact on “student achievement”, I have no idea. Maybe I helped these two students. And maybe a few others.
What I have learned is that the educational system is beyond repair and no amount of mandatory Professional Development will fix a broken system. I have learned that teachers can be heroes or punching bags. That students love you until you hold them accountable –and as a teacher it is much easier not too. I have learned that any incentive to being a “good teacher” -the kind that challenges students and holds them accountable is being squashed by sue-happy parents and SB191 which rewards teachers for ensuring their students pass (wink wink). I have learned that teachers need to be robots without feelings, willing to work countless hours while sacrificing all manner of health and sanity –without complaint, be willing to constantly justify their existence with ridiculous tools such as the one I am using right now to “prove” we are “good enough” and worth our meager paycheck or tiny “bonus” check for complying with countless hours of Professional Development on top of all of our “other duties as assigned”.
I have learned that I am one of those teachers that students do not forget. They either LOVE me or HATE me. I am a teacher who “kept it real” for my students which they largely appreciated. I have now realized why I received so many overly nice comments of support when I first started teaching, why the “seasoned teachers” have that negative attitude about everything, and I now understand why the system is failing. I know that the culture of teaching is ripe with “not good-enoughness” due to a myriad of subjective factors that the system tries to fix with unrealistic objective measures and comical catch-22’s. I have learned that I am not willing to run in a hamster-wheel for a self-serving system that sets teachers and students up to fail with impossible and contradicting expectations. I have learned that I am not willing to work 60-70 hours per week in the name of “student achievement” at the expense of my own physical and mental health and relationships.
I now understand why 49% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of teaching. And on May 29th, 2014, I joined that terrible statistic.