Sunday, November 23, 2008

Does anyone have cheese to go with my whine?

Prepare to listen to a teacher whine.

I know that there are some teachers who don't work very hard. There are some teachers who never have, but there are others who have burned out, and there is a reason for that. Teachers who want to do a good job sometimes get so much thrown at them that it's tough to keep the fire burning.

I began my teaching career in Mt. Iron, Minnesota, and that school district did it right--at least for high school teachers. I had two classes to prepare for--American History and World History, I had two prep periods (meaning that I had two free periods during the day to prepare for classes, correct papers, etc.), and my classes never contained more than 25 kids. I spent a good deal of time at my job, worked hard, and I had a chance to try to be creative, but I wasn't overwhelmed.

Then I moved to Warroad. Before I came here, they didn't have two prep periods, but there had been an understanding that each teacher would have one study hall in addition to their one prep period. Since one generally doesn't have to "teach" during a study hall, this would enable the teacher to do things like correct papers during that time. Four years before I came here a new high school had been built, and the rooms were designed to handle 25 kids in a class.

Somewhere along the line, the study hall understanding went by the wayside. Then there was an understanding that teachers who taught advanced placement classes would have a second prep period for that. Then we started making cuts. That one also went by the wayside, replaced by an understanding that all advanced placement teachers would have a study hall. Guess what happened to that one? Now I have four different classes to prepare for, including an advanced placement class; I have one prep period and no study hall, and I began the year 33, 32, and 31 kids in my regular American History classes so that I am literally tripping over people as I walk through the aisles.

I can do this. Yes, I can do this. I've had to get to school about an hour and a half before classes start, come back every night for about an hour, and spend much of my weekends there, but I can get everything done. The problem is that I feel like Crabby Crabberton so much of the time, and I don't like myself when I feel like that. Some kid comes in and "interrupts" me early in the morning to make up a test while I'm scrambling to stay caught up, and I feel like I'm ready to bite his head off. A parent calls during my cherished prep period to discuss their child, and I feel resentment that they can be "so stupid" as to take me away from what I'm doing. I almost always restrain myself from reacting the way I feel like reacting in those situations, but as I said, I don't like myself very much when I feel that way. But it's tough not to.

Believe it or not, the purpose of this is not to enlist anyone's sympathy. I can read the minds of some who might be reading this (Three months off in the summer!). There are two points, however, that I do want to make. First of all, when school districts decide that there are no consequences to increasing the workloads of teachers, they are wrong. There are things that I would like to do that I can't do. I always feel guilty that I don't have my students write more, but nothing takes more time to evaluate, and when I'm already feeling overwhelmed, there is no way that I'm going to have students doing any more of that than they already are. I would also like to be able to do more to reach out to some of my students who aren't doing well, but there is just no time. There is no question that I could be a better teacher if I didn't have so many classes, and so many preps, and so many kids, and so little in-school time to prepare.

My other point is that while many people have justifiable criticisms of teachers' unions and their insistence that things be written into contracts, there is a reason that teachers turn to them. We do have a union in Warroad, but it is a rather "nice" union, so we have tended to trust our school board and administrators when it came to those "understandings." Besides those "understanding" that have gone by the wayside, in the round of negotiations that were completed last year, teachers in our district received a one-percent raise while our administrators, who negotiated after us, received several times that. Our being nice and our being trusting have gotten us where we are, and besides making us feel like a bunch of saps, I'm not so sure that it's been good for the education that is taking place in our school.

13 Comments:

Blogger ms-teacher said...

Dennis, I'll commiserate with you. This year I have five preps and even though my student contacts aren't nearly as great as yours, I'm feeling more than a little overwhelmed this year!

Our District is looking to increase our student contacts from 160 to 175 and increase class sizes from 33 to 36. Of course, they aren't willing to look at limiting the scope of courses taught.

Finally, over the past four years, our school district received 22% COLAs, of which teachers received 4%. The number of administrators have more than doubled during that time and yet, the District is unwilling to maintain the status quo on health benefits or even consider any type of raise.

11/23/2008 9:48 AM  
Blogger andbrooke said...

I'm right there with you too. I teach three preps, six periods, and I see 194 students daily. I have one 45-minute prep. I consider myself lucky if I can leave work by six o-clock. Mostly I leave work by 8 or 9.

I don't know if it's possible for me to keep up that kind of pace. I did last year pretty well (with no prep and 221 students) because I thought, "I can do anything for one year." But this looks to be the way our school will be run from now on.

I don't know if it's possible for any teacher to keep up that kind of pace. And I don't think you can have a great (or even good) school when you're working teachers into the ground.

11/23/2008 10:05 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Teacher & Andbrooke, I knew when I wrote the post that I wasn't alone and that there are a lot of teachers out there who have it a tougher than I do. You have reaffirmed that point to me. I try to be careful about repeating things that I've heard and can't document, but in a workshop a number of years ago, I remember the presenter saying that when foreign teachers come over here to observe, they are amazed by how hard American teachers have to work. American education gets bashed a lot, but I think it's safe to say that any problems we have aren't the result of laziness on the part of American teachers.

11/23/2008 10:33 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Dennis, I think often parents are NOT mindful of what teachers are doing behind the scenes and the workload they carry. I hope to be a parent who can thank the teachers who do an extraordinary job with my older children while being critical of the system itself (which allowed for another child's abuse).

I'm thinking of one special-ed teacher in particular who helped me figure out what on earth was going on with G's wrestling team. I didn't even know who on earth to call... G can't relay messages or papers like most reg. ed kids, you see.. I'd call the school, leave a message and the wrestling coach would talk to G instead of me about what he needed and I'd never get messages (arg)... but she helped me. THAT is technically outside her line of work, and I understand that the sports teams don't have to make accomodations for G's language or other difficulties that arise from his autism.

THAT special ed teacher is one of the big reasons he's in public ed right now. Right now, there are staff that care for him. Later on, if we see that staff just let things go and can't do an extra thing for him here and there (which he NEEDS, really), things may be different.

You know what? On paper, it doesn't matter what your IEP says. If your staff person is crummy or great with your child, THAT is what makes the difference.

OK, now that I'm in the middle of my novel, can I tell you something even sadder? These teachers that do these things are WAY UNDERAPPRECIATED at the jr/high school level (Maybe OVERLY so at the elementary. There, I said it). It shouldn't be that your child's teacher calls you to thank you for sending a small gift certificate to the book fair, and is overjoyed that after SEVEN YEARS in the school, that she finally gets one. SEVEN YEARS.

I'm so sad that I don't have the money to mega-thank every teacher like that. I try to do three teachers per kid, per year, so that the gifts I give aren't some stupid apple candle or something cheap from the dollar store, yk?

11/23/2008 12:53 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

"You know what? On paper, it doesn't matter what your IEP says. If your staff person is crummy or great with your child, THAT is what makes the difference."

Mrs. C., I think you hit a nail on the head with that one.

And by the way...you're wonderful! Speaking for myself, if you appreciate what a teacher is doing, the gift doesn't matter. Words mean so much. Whenever a student or a parent writes a note telling me that they like what I do....that more than anything else is what keeps me doing what I'm doing.

11/23/2008 2:52 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Awww... thanks, Dennis! But I still think it's sad that elementary teachers literally get the class to fork over $100 gift certificates through parent involvement at Christmas AND get big end-of-year pressies and volunteers galore... But in high school, a teacher can work for SEVEN YEARS with zero financial present. Even a little one for the book fair? That she spends on her students anyway?

Sorry. Think that's unfair. I don't think we should mandate presents but maybe just a little thanks from parents and children in jr/high school would be in the realm of politeness? Especially since this age can be quite trying to teach.

Ms. Teacher... 36 kids??? Per class?? Good grief.

11/23/2008 4:16 PM  
Anonymous rita said...

Dennis, I can definitely relate to your frustration with lack of time to prepare, but allow me to make you feel a little better. I work in a district where I don't have a prep at all. The district went to "common prep" 3 years ago for middle school teachers. This is a "prep period" in the morning before student arrive. However, our mornings are interrupted with a variety of meetings: special ed meetings, grade level meetings, department meetings, staff meetings, students making up tests, etc.

I bring a lot of papers home as well as arriving earlier than most in the morning. I also stary quite late on Friday evenings to work on grading and inputting my grades on our computer grade program.

Another thing I can relate to is a union that keeps taking it from our district office. This year we will receive a 2.25 cost of living increase as compared to administrators receiving a 15% increase in their salaries. I am extremely frustrated and yes, most of us are as crabby now in November as we usually are in April or May. And, let's face it. We are just plain worn out!

11/23/2008 4:25 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Even though we have this week off, I'm spending much of my time grading papers.

Then I wonder why I'm having problems with headaches!

11/23/2008 5:40 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rita, thanks for your comment, but that does not make me feel better. As I said in an earlier comment, I'm aware that other teachers have it worse than I do, but no teacher should find consolation in that. There is always the danger that other school boards and administrators--maybe even mine--will look at that and say, "Hey, if they can get by with that, why can't we?"

11/23/2008 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those of us in the private sector have it so darn easy. Nothing ever goes wrong for us. I wish we could just quit complaining and be strong like you teachers.

Is that cheesy enough, Dennis?

11/24/2008 11:02 AM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Dennis,
What I've always respected about your blog, and myself have tried--though not always successfully--to emulate is a balanced observation of our profession.
Most teachers who have not burnt out yet have watched their time be devalued by administrators who hold to the idea that teaching is some type of missionary work, one which the teachers ought to "do for the kids."
Sometimes, truthfully, the time and emotional energy we give to other people's children is not worth it.

11/24/2008 12:36 PM  
Anonymous sunny said...

I am luckily in a great situation, but I do know how you feel. At what point is the good of the students and teachers more important than the bottom line financially? How does a district/school balance the two? I guess if we knew, we would all be so wealthy that we wouldn't HAVE to work each day???

11/27/2008 3:20 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Mahoney said...

Dennis, in a recent post you mentioned that you are considering moving to a Catholic school. As it relates to the topic at hand, you are likely to be piled up with preps at a Catholic school. I teach 6 preps (7 on some days)--science and math--and this load is not uncommon in Catholic schools, which are generally small and underfunded. Meaning one teacher is doing the work of two (or one and a half). Smaller class sizes and better student behavior do help, however.

1/28/2009 5:31 PM  

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