(Yesterday, I wrote about why teachers have to give so many tests, why students have to take them, the many recent changes to teaching and learning in Florida, and what happened when I had to give results that many 3rd graders and their parents considered life-or-death.)
I wasn’t an education major when I stepped into the classroom. I’d spent the past 12 years helping put on the news at TV stations. (Truth be told, I did look into teaching in Philadelphia, 2000-2001. I observed a middle school class but didn’t want to go for a master’s degree, and ended up at KYW). Years later, when I was producing Web sites for WFOR-WBFS-WTVX in Miami, a family friend (Lois) said she’d always seen me as an elementary school teacher. I looked into it, and it’s pretty easy in Florida. You need a college degree in anything, and have to pass the fingerprint test. The rest can be taken care of over three years.
I got my start when a teacher went on maternity leave in early 2006, and went to work halfway through the school year. It wasn’t easy. I knew how to photocopy and the other teachers helped me with plans and discipline. (That year, the administrators decided half the class should be good students and the other half, the opposite. Either the high achievers can help the low, or it was a recipe for disaster.)
I came to realize the teachers I respected the most, those who’d been doing it for 30+ years, were frustrated. They didn’t know what they were doing because of so many changes, and they freely admitted it (Sheila). I told a friend of the family (Kenny) who’d recently retired that I was starting to teach, and he asked, “Why?”
There’s not enough time to teach effectively. I totally understand fire drills but have problems with dances in the hope that students will do well (rather than as a reward for doing well) and going ice skating because the Winter Olympics were going on. Students need more time to meet tougher standards, don’t you think?
In many cases during my eight years of experience, the parents were part of the problem. Many didn’t show up at conferences. They didn’t get their children to preschool, so students started kindergarten with zero background. Often (again, from what I’ve seen), they’re too busy with their hair, tattoos, and cars to get their kids to school on time, pick them up on time, or make sure they do their homework — as if the teacher wants more papers to review.
The problem was the opposite at the private religious school where I was in the fall of 2013. It was a class system and it didn’t have anything to do with education, but money. Too many parents thought their kids were perfect and wouldn’t accept the truth. (And that’s why a lot of the kids went there.) I was forced to endure too many get-to-know-you activities, do-overs for bad grades (on teacher-prepared tests), not marking tardy if there was a train on the tracks around the starting time and, of course, Miami Dolphins Day. The list goes on because parents pay a fortune (at least to most of us) in tuition. Then, these students are pushed with after-school activities. They’ll never make it in the real world under these circumstances. Private schools can get away with almost anything. I respect people who choose to pay for religious instruction, but not those who pay to take the easy way out because their children have issues and wouldn’t make it in public school.
By the way, money is the name of the game at all schools — public and private — and all levels of government. Don’t forget that. Look for bond initiatives and contracts for building and buying.
Unions in Florida are weak, because the land of sunshine is a right-to-work state. About half of the teachers take their union-negotiated salary and benefits without paying any union dues. Things would be better if unions could teach legislatures a thing or two. The United Teachers of Dade tried hard to recruit members. The Broward Teachers Union didn’t.
I taught 1st grade most of the time, but also 2nd and 3rd. We do what we’re assigned, and that could change in the middle of the year. I was lucky. One coworker (Cindy) had to move to a different classroom four times in six years!
Some folks think teachers are lucky to get summers off. No. They’re planning the next year based on new standards, and taking new classes or tests to teach subjects they’ve been teaching successfully for 30 years. That includes one Ph.D., right Dr. G?
Some don’t like teachers getting paid more based on their experience. The thing is, they don’t get extra vacation time based on seniority like in the real world. New laws limit opportunities for tenure and seniority. Right now in Florida, new teachers won’t see a contract for a period of more than one year. Who would work under that?
Bottom line: I’m past teaching. Over it. Totally. Many of my students were nice and tried hard. Some of their parents were helpful and considerate. Even some administrators. I wish them all the absolute best and wish I had answers, but let someone else do the teaching.