Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Bad Teacher Bad!

I spent most of my professional Teaching life dodging bullets.  To say politics and I made strangebedfellows would be an understatement and I have had some strange ones in my past so odd that I would find myself less engaged with the ability to lie and to negotiate as I was a very successful salesperson for most of the decades I was also a Teacher or studying to be one.  I actually liked it, it was hard, it was constantly changing and I worked with equally idiotic fractured individuals but they knew it and didn't have quite the superiority complex I see in "EDUCATORS." That is a much more fancier word than "Teacher."

Lets be honest most of us go on with the respect nonsense we share about Teachers in the same way we do about Police and we now call them "FIRST RESPONDERS"  But a fish by any other name is still a fish.  We need Police and we need Teachers and while the tech sect have not found a way to circumvent that need for law enforcement they have done whatever they can to eliminate the profession of teaching. 

Why is that? Well we seem to remember the bad Teachers in way bigger numbers than we do of the good.  Sorry but when you realize that from Grades K-5 you may have several Teachers, in grades 7-9 many more often 5 per year so fifteen in total. By that time you may have had at least three to four administrative changes and get to high school and even more Teachers classrooms you have passed through.  So by the time you reach 18 you may have encountered 50 to 70 Teachers due to the increasing demand for specialized instructors and of course turnover.  So let me spend time remembering every Teacher I encountered from age 5-18.  Well some were good some were not. The end.  But because it happens in such a volatile time in one's life these individuals are strong presences in our lives and in turn how we see ourselves in our future.   So it would not be surprising nerds would hate Teachers the most.  Odd isn't it as that is because school is less about academics and more about socialization and integration or as I put it - conformity and acceptance of of unspoken rules and mores that we learn from those adults who hold the mirror that reflects our soul.  Some, however, have been on their own with just a wall and a mirror which may explain a great deal.

I read this today as once again the announcements of Teacher and Principal of the Year are taking place.  What is this the Oscars for Educators?  How about a check instead given what we are seeing across the country with regards to the state of the schools.

But most of the points I can concur.  My teacher education/training at Western Washington University was hideous.  My grad/doctorate program at the University of Washington equally awful and I am glad I dropped out.  I again in over 7 years of higher education can remember maybe three Professors of significance and of interest.  That should be enough to make one wonder why anyone would pay six figures for such and at the time I was paying only a grand a year when an undergrad so why anyone would go into debt for this is beyond my understanding.  Ask yourself what did you learn that carried you through to your professional life?  I can actually say with regards to Teaching - NOTHING.

I have written about the Administrators I had and they were all at some point labeled horrific and went  well somewhere else and in twenty years that has not changed.  The Teachers that remain in classrooms for decades run the ruler of competence but I can say as Substitute I was able to see that in ways few can and in turn assess that by the way the kids conducted themselves, the lessons left and the overall manner in which I was greeted at the school to when I left at day's end.  I can list all of those and again for some that is a subjective matter as many Subs had run ins with the same people I liked. That is life and work that is neither exceptional nor unusual.

What is, however, exceptional is the bullshit associated with the profession. The overwhelming need to be all things to all people and somehow reach every single child that walks into your classroom and in turn be able to not be biased, to have cultural respect and in turn be a superior individual who will resolve all the issues in society that exists beyond the walls of the building.  It is not enough to teach math and provide fundamentals that will enable children to grow and to learn to tackle harder problems or comprehend harder texts we must teach social justice, right wrongs and somehow make this child in our presence for a hour or more a day a significant human being who will go on to adulthood fully ready to face life's challenges.  Right.

In Seattle they wear the t-shirts, host the marches, write the blogs, seek the manners in which somehow matters to make all lives something that this week is the cause du jour.  While we want to make it right for Black lives we want to make sure they use a restroom that has no gender that recognizes the plight of the Native American and in turn of course all Immigrants of all countries that practice any faith they choose or which they belong and speak several languages in the process all while learning STEM and STEAM and being fully unbiased rational members of a society that are activists for a cause, be that gun violence or income inequity or racial injustice.  This is one fucking long school day.

Why do Teachers feel bad?  All of the above. 

Why so many teachers feel so bad so much of the time
By Valerie Strauss
The Washington Post 
January 18, 2015

It’s no secret that most teachers today feel demoralized — poll after survey tells us so, and it’s no wonder, given that they feel school reformers have put targets on their backs with teacher evaluation systems they feel are unfair and support for programs that they believe belittle their profession. In this post an educator explains why she thinks so many teachers feel so awful so much of the time. The author is Ellie Herman, who took a rather unorthodox path to the world of education.

For two decades she was a writer/producer for television shows including “The Riches,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope” and “Newhart.” She wrote fiction that appeared in literary journals, among them The Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review and the O.Henry Awards Collection. Then, in 2007, she decided “on an impulse” to become an English teacher. She got a job at a South Los Angeles charter school that was 97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line. She taught drama, creative writing, English 11 and ninth-grade Composition until 2013, when she decided to stop teaching and spend a year visiting classrooms and learning from other teachers.

Herman chronicled the lessons she learned on her blog, Gatsby in L.A., where a version of the following post appeared. Herman, who gave me permission to publish this piece, was awarded first and third place prizes in the 2014 SoCal Journalist Awards given by the Los Angeles Press Club for pieces on her blog. Now she teaches reading and writing at an after-school enrichment program for students from low-income families, visits the classrooms of great teachers, and works with writers, artists and other creative people.

She has written some popular posts on this blog, including “Are you a bad teacher? Here’s how to tell,” to which she refers in the following piece.

By Ellie Herman

Every day people click on a post I wrote a while ago called “Are you a bad teacher?” On some days it seems as if an infection of self-doubt has burst across the profession, evidenced by the search terms they use, which include terms such as “I’m a horrible teacher” and “I’m a rubbish teacher” and “Why am I a terrible teacher?” So why are so many teachers agonizing over the possibility that they might be bad?

'Are you a bad teacher?'

(The Washington Post)

Is this agonized self-doubt found across most professions? Is there a dentist blogging out there whose most popular post is “Are You A Bad Dentist?” Are there neurosurgeons out there agonizing that they might be rubbish neurosurgeons? Do accountants lie sleepless at 2 a.m. worrying that they are horrible accountants?

Maybe. (And in the case of some dentists, like the one I had when I was a child, they probably should start.) But I doubt it. I suspect that teachers’ obsession with whether they might be horrible or terrible or rubbish might have to do with a variety of external factors, and these factors are important because in our national education crisis—and it is a crisis—one of the things we need to do most urgently is attract and retain good teachers.

So if it’s safe to assume from the sampling of my readers that there are a lot of teachers out there agonizing that they are not good teachers, I think we can also assume that those teachers are unlikely to stay in the classroom because nobody is going to stay for too long in a job at which they feel incompetent. If in fact those teachers are right and they are bad, and yet they care enough about their jobs to be searching for answers in the middle of the night, what are we as an educational system doing to support those teachers so that they can become better?

Here are my thoughts on what’s causing this “bad teacher self-doubt” epidemic and what we might do to help:

1. Teacher training is pathetically inadequate. My own training was a hodgepodge of useless state-mandated courses; in two years, I took exactly one useful class. The rest of the classes were, to be blunt, bureaucratic bullshit along with some helpful hints about how to navigate the byzantine, mind-numbing credentialing system. It cost me thousands of dollars—it costs far more now, thanks to funding cuts—and left me totally unprepared to face a classroom of teenagers in a high-poverty community. The first thing teachers need to learn how to do is manage the classrooms in which they find themselves.

New teachers need specific training and support depending on their community, the size of their classrooms and the age and proficiency level of their students. Nothing I ever learned in my training prepared me for dealing with large classes of students who were several years below grade level, many of whom had difficulty controlling their behavior in class. It took me two years to learn it on my own, every day a trial and error. Right now, our system pretty much makes teachers learn it on their own; the current “student teaching” system pairs a student teacher with a random assortment of whatever teacher is willing to host them, regardless of whether that teacher is any good or teaches in a community like the one that new teacher will soon face. Every new teacher should spend a year in the classroom of a master teacher in the community where he or she plans to teach.

2. Teachers get little or no support. Once you’re in the classroom, you’re pretty much on your own. You can beg a colleague to come observe you and comment, but colleagues are often so swamped themselves that they just don’t have time. Administrators are sometimes willing to help, but they’re also usually too busy—except when they’re evaluating you on the rubric of mandated standards, which may or may not be useful to you. It’s possible that some teachers feel “supported” when an administrator is going over a six-page standardized chart of numeric scores evaluating their every move. All I can say is that I have not met these teachers. But I’ve met a boatload of teachers who do not feel supported—who in fact, feel even worse. Teachers throughout their careers need a mentor who can remind them of why they’re teaching in the first place and help them work toward their dream.

3. Teachers do not have the resources to do a good job. And by “resources,” I do not mean state-of-the-art technology. I mean having enough space for the kids in your room—enough desks, enough books, a library so that they can read. If they need to use a computer, the computer needs to have keys. (I am not making this up—it happens a lot, alas.) If they need to use the Internet, the school needs a functional wireless connection. If you are expected to grade your students regularly and those gradebooks are online, your online gradebook needs to work. In a high-poverty community where many kids are facing day-in-day-out trauma from chaotic living conditions, we need counselors and administrators who can help traumatized students who are acting out and not able to stay in class.

You need to have paper to make photocopies of all the books you can’t afford to buy, and time to make those photocopies. Let’s face it, if we cared at all about teachers’ work, we would have teaching assistants to do the mind-numbing hour or more of photocopying per day. “Would a lawyer put up with this shit?” a former teacher recently asked me, referring to the conditions that had caused him to quit after two years. We need to start by creating conditions in which it’s even possible to do a good job as a teacher. Isn’t it insane that this idea should be up for discussion at all?

Now, it’s possible that even after we solved all those issues, that a teacher might still feel inadequate. In fact, there very well may be teachers who, after a year or so, realize the job really is not for them.

But right now our system doesn’t give teachers space to make a good decision about whether the career is for them; it gives them inadequate training, throws them into a classroom for which they are woefully unprepared, with minimal support and without many of the key elements they need to teach a class successfully—and then holds them to new, high standards and demands that they be excellent or deal with our national wrath.

Is it any wonder that so many teachers feel terrible? I recently visited a school where the 12th grade English teacher was the only teacher in all of the 11th and 12th grade who had been at the school for more than a year. She was the school veteran teacher. It was her second year. And she plans to quit at the end of this year because she can’t take it.

So yes, there are some bad teachers out there. I’ve met them. I am upset about them. But we have created, by our underfunding and our denial of the realities of poverty, a system in which being a good teacher is nearly impossible, in which even good teachers—probably especially good teachers—feel terrible a lot of the time. So yes, let’s raise national standards for teachers. But let’s also ask ourselves, as a country: what can we do to create conditions in which teachers are able to do the good work that matters to them so much that even in the middle of the night, they agonize about how they could be better?

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