Teacher Oppression: An American Epidemic

In November of last year, the high school where I teach at got a new principal. The previous principal, the one who hired me, was loved by all of the staff. He was easy going, wasn’t a micro-manager, and was one of the most approachable principals I’ve even worked with. As our new principal took over, the staff seemed uneasy and unsure of what the following year, this year, would bring. The new principal didn’t make any major changes last year and sort of just went with the flow. Things were good.

Oh how the tables have turned.

This summer our new principal brought in new assistant principals that were moved up from the middle school where she’d been the principal earlier. I call them her cronies.

And now I am currently living in micro-management hell.

For the past three months, I have felt heart flutters and a crippling pressure on my chest. I dread reading emails and get depressed on Sunday night knowing I have to go back to that place.

I  do, however, have WONDERFUL students this semester. I’m not even being sarcastic for once. They are wonderful. They high five me when they come to class, they seem excited to be in English class, they do their work, they eagerly discuss the literature with gusto and enthusiasm. They aren’t jerks. I’ve only written ONE referral. They are an English teacher’s dream.

They, of course, will  be awful now that I’ve said good things.

Anyway, as I was making copies yesterday, one of my fellow, veteran English teachers came into the planning room. We started talking about the school year, our students–you know teacher-talk and he said, “We’ll get through this.” After he said this, we sort of joked and headed our separate ways. I got in my car and it really hit me, the mood at school among the faculty is that of an oppressed nation. We get late slips for being a minute late–not an exaggeration, I’ve received five of them– we get emails about how to write referrals, in faculty meetings we are show videos of “high caliber teaching,” (a post to follow on the video and the late slips to follow) and we are constantly being treated like a bunch of uneducated, moronic monkeys.

This type of oppression is very common among public school teachers. My father, a teacher for forty years, consistently complained about the issues he dealt with as a teacher. The complaining definitely increased over the years. He was so relived to retire this past summer. In the wake of the Chicago teacher strike and movies like Won’t Back Down and Waiting for Superman, teachers are often given a bad rap–some of it is deserved–but should teachers–or anyone really–be forced to work in such oppressive conditions?

It is very easy for administrators to forget what it is like to be in the classroom and have unrealistic expectations for their faculty. The teachers are in the classroom everyday dealing with the variables that are often ignored by society and administrators when it comes to student performance. Teachers have to cope with variables like students from broken homes, homelessness, negligent parents, and hunger–just to name a few. We are then shown footage of teachers team-teaching in affluent schools with classrooms with less than twenty five students. I have three classes of over thirty five students, and I teach in an urban school where affluent is a far reach. Frankly, these kinds of expectations are insulting to those of us who teach students whose last priority is school and first might be helping their mothers pay rent. It is insulting and patronizing to know our leaders–our administrators think we are not planning engaging lesson plans. Oftentimes, I create awesome lesson plans that blow up because half of my students do not do their homework or talk through the instruction beforehand.Also, engaging lessons with thirty seven kids is very challenging. It’s frustrating.

Administrators forget because many of them only taught for two or three years before becoming principals or assistant principals. Oftentimes, they are handicapped by the district to have certain expectations of their faculty. Although, this year with our administrative changes, it is very evident that our leaders have no faith in us. The administration dictates to us what needs to be on our white board, where it needs to be placed, how to write referrals, how to structure our ninety minute class, and on and on.

It’s depressing as hell and frustrating. The little bit of creativity that I have is being completely stifled and my contributions, all those extra hours I spend being a teacher beyond what my contract pays for, are not appreciated. When I get to my work thirty minutes before I need to, but am them one or two minutes late to a duty post, publicly shamed for not being at that duty post, then leave two sometimes three hours after my contract day ends, it makes me feel like not showing up and forgetting the whole thing.

If America wants good teachers, there are some things society needs to consider.

1. Treat your teachers how you’d like to be treated.

2. Appreciate them for all those extra hours they spend being teachers after the school day.

3. Stop treating them like they don’t know what the f*&! they are doing. They know what the f*&! they are doing.

4. Remember that teachers spend every damn day with the kids: not the principal, not the assistant principal, sometimes not even the parents spend as much time with their own children.

5. Remember that teachers are educated. Stop treating them like kindergarteners. They are professional adults. They are already under paid college educated adults, how about treating them like they’ve earned that degree?

6. Stop wasting their time with extra bull crap. Let. them. be. teachers.

7. Remember that they are human. Just like you are human, they are human. They have feelings, families, struggles, and challenges, just like you do.

8. Stop vilifying them for the under achievement of the students. Teachers are not the villains: the broken homes, absent parenting, and disrespect by the media are the villains.

9. Instead of making changes to education every five minutes, wait ten and let the teachers show you what they can do.

10. Let the teachers do their G-ddamn job.

 

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7 comments

  1. Last night when – feeling thoroughly dejected – I googled “why am i a bad teacher” I discovered your blog. I love how you say what about a million other teachers are saying.

    1. I haven’t been teaching for very long, especially in comparison to my father who taught for 40 years before he retired. Still, I think it is easy to feel like you’re doing a bad job. Teachers are always being blamed for the bad behavior, the under achievement–okay everything. Sometimes I have to just think to myself, I’m doing the best I can with the skills and resources that I have. Keep you’re head up! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Not only in America. The disease has spread to Australia. Each state has its own accreditation board, known as “College of Teachers” or “Institute of Teachers” or some such. The purpose is not to validate teacher qualifications but to create endless hoops through which teachers have to jump in order to maintain their accreditation. It’s not as though these hoops do much in terms of value adding. The stated purpose is to “help” teachers maintain “currency of practice”. Unbelievable! What was good teaching practice 40 years ago is still good teaching practice. What has changed is the nature of syllabuses which have changed from being guiding statements to mountains of mandated mire. What is being mandated is often too difficult for students, in terms of cognitive development levels, and the time for teaching and consolidating the basics is used up with “higher order thinking”. What I am suggesting is that authorities in charge of syllabuses appear not to know much about child cognitive development which is evident in their lack of interest in the basics. One example is the teaching of various “text types” in elementary schools. Such knowledge is desirable but pretty much a waste of time if your students can’t yet put a simple sentence together coherently. And by basics I simply don’t mean something like “let’s go back to teaching phonics”. The problem with this approach is that it is thought phonics is the first step in teaching children to read. I would suggest that phonics is essential but not the first step. There is much learning to take place before teaching phonics can be successful or even useful.

    It all adds up to this. Current teacher training practices are inadequate. They must be or you wouldn’t even consider “accreditation boards” for newly qualified teachers, let alone teachers with many years experience under their belts. In my day it took 2 years to train a teacher. The training was basic but it was thorough. Not long after I started teaching it was extended to 3 years. Was this better? No what we did in 2 years was now being done in 3 and not as well. When the teachers colleges were subsumed into universities and the training stretched to 4 years nothing improved. Now we have a situation where it seems teachers are so poorly trained they need to be continually accredited by jumping through hoops whether the hoops make them better teachers or no.

    Years ago supervising teachers played a significant role in guiding and mentoring beginning teachers. Many a teacher who started with difficulty owe their career to the patience and wisdom of well experienced supervisors. Nowadays they can’t get to the Managing Unsatisfactory Performance program quickly enough so they can show them the door. Why is this? Because many of the supervisors today owe their positions more to knowing the right political moves to make to climb the ladder than to a sound understanding of teaching theory and practice so even if they wanted to help, they couldn’t.

    1. My father talk for forty years before retiring this summer and says a lot of what you’re saying. It’s very frustrating trying to licensed in the states. It’s one of the reasons I want and need to work harder at becoming a college professor.

  3. I expect there is a concerted effort by education authorities to rid themselves of older teachers who still remember how things used to be when teachers were respected and education was served by administration instead of the other way around. I worked in one primary school of 19 teachers where at least 12 of those teachers were either under an improvement program or threatened with being put under one. Can you believe in such a school that over 50% of the teaching staff would be incompetent? No, and neither can I. In point of fact the best teachers in the school were under such a threat. The incompetence lay in the principal who felt threatened by the competence of the teachers she was attempting to control. I was moved to 3 different class rooms with my class of children with intellectual disability. She and one of her lackeys would visit my classroom, unannounced, on the pretext of inspecting features of the building or the furniture or some such. But I knew what was going on. My self confidence and professional autonomy were under attack. It didn’t work.

    All this sort of rubbish and the work of the accreditation boards is really aimed at creating a frightened group of employees who are compliant and less likely to buck a corroding system.

  4. “Administrators forget because many of them only taught for two or three years before becoming principals or assistant principals.”

    How can you become an effective administrator after only 2 or 3 years in the classroom? It takes years of experience to develop the skills of a classroom teacher to the level where you can lead other teachers. After 7 years as a classroom teacher I took charge of my own school, with one other teacher to supervise and a part time teacher. After 2 years there I was promoted to a bigger school as a deputy master. It was an awesome task, leading younger, less experienced teachers and I put the emphasis on leading. These days the emphasis is on driving. A very different proposition altogether.

    After a number of years I gave away this kind of work and returned to the classroom. I found I could more effectively lead less experienced teachers by example and in an informal, collegial way rather than get involved in the messy paperwork and boss management that I was expected to engage in.

    Not long ago I was asked to mentor a beginning teacher who had not less than 12 other so called professionals pecking on him. I was the only one who could see this young man’s potential as a teacher. He was given one of the most difficult classes in the school which a high faluting consultant, brought in at $3000 a day, couldn’t control. This young man was moved to another school and then retrained as a high school maths teacher at state expense. They put him in another very difficult school, put him on an improvement program and eventually showed him the door. He got some casual work in the Catholic system and eventually gained employment in a Catholic School and hasn’t looked back. The stupid state system lost a gifted maths teacher, whom they retrained at great expense ($30000+ full wages) because they have nobody who knows how to effectively lead and manage inexperienced teachers. They don’t know that leading and driving are two different activities.

  5. Greetings from California! I’m bored at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, great site!

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