Today a young, new teacher resigned from a “high stakes, data-driven” charter school. Not because of the unruliness of her students or problems in her classroom, but because she physically could not handle the intensity and pressure these schools require. This young woman; 25, recently engaged, planning a wedding, with every reason to be happy, instead was suffering from anxiety attacks, throwing up every morning before coming into work, and crying every afternoon when returning to work. Once a fun-loving, physically fit, vegetarian, this young lady now suffers from high blood pressure and sees a mental health therapist weekly, primarily as a result of her position at this school, where she began teaching in September of this year.
But all of that, isn’t even the crazy part! What’s nuts is her colleagues response to her resignation. The response ranged from shock to anger, but most admiration, and one would possibly even say, jealousy. And then the stories came. One colleague shared how his marriage was on the brink of divorce from the amount of time he spent at the school, one almost in tears sharing the story of how her fiancé ended up leaving her as a result of her work at the school. Alcoholism was noted as a popular struggle. None of them attempted to dissuade her, in fact, all of them agreed that they wished they could be in her shoes and as brave as she was for deciding to leave.
As one colleague put it, “this place is like a drug, and we’re all addicts.”
In order for these new “high stakes” schools to get the results that they do, including significant academic gains for students and improved standardized test scores (in comparison to other students of the same SES), teachers at these institutions must literally pledge their entire lives to achieving these standards. It is not unusual for a teacher to arrive at 7 am and leave the building after 8 pm in order to lesson plan and prep, only to be on required “call duty” for students and parents phone calls about homework and other school related issues until 9 pm. Papers still have yet to be graded, families not tended to, husbands and wives barely acknowledged, not to mention any other life responsibilities that need to take place. Now this would be all well and good, if that same teacher didn’t have to wake up in the morning do that all again, put on the mask required of teachers at this institution since there really isn’t room for personality in the curriculum, and on top of it all, be constantly watched, monitored, and observed in order for the administration to collect data. In addition through jumping through every legislative mandate designed to “hold teachers accountable” and try to convince teenagers why they should jump through standardized tests hoops held up by the public education circus. It is exhausting. We haven’t even considered the emotional and physical taxation of being up in front of teenagers, for 8 hours, with 30 minutes for lunch (half of which is spent keeping kids out of trouble in the hallways or helping students who need extra help or in meetings) and a 50 minute prep period, that after decompressing and having a minute to breathe, will only be long enough to put a tiny dent in the pile of never-ending paperwork that a teacher must complete.
But even that, is not what truly disturbs me. The most disturbing thing about this is the response of burnt out teachers who are at the end of their rope but choose to remain in their current torture. “Where would I go?”, “What else would I do?” “ I hate the classroom, but I hate accounting more.” “I’ve only been a teacher, I’m not qualified to do anything else.”” How do I even start another career when I have no background, no experience, I don’t even know what the choices are!”
Really, yall?? Is this our expectation for the education system? Do we really want a bunch of burnt out, non-functioning, miserable, misguided zombies training the children, OUR children, who are supposed to be our future? Am I crazy for thinking that there has got to be a better way? It’s seem like I am because everyone’s response is akin to the Kanye Shrug…..”That’s just the way it is.” “This is how school was for me, I hated it, but you get over it.” Are we not even considering the possibility of a sustainable alternative for education? Are we really just going to keep standing in front of the classroom, playing the violin as this educational Titanic continues to sink?….There has got to be some tug boats nearby! Where the hell is the educational Coast Guard?
For my teachers, what else would you be if you couldn’t return to your classroom tomorrow? Do you think you were prepared in your formative years to know how to explore various careers or to even know what options existed besides your basic “teacher, lawyer, doctor” standards? I really think teaching has become the default profession for people who have no idea what the hell else to do with their lives after college. How many Teach for America members their childhood dreaming about becoming a teacher? Teach for America is one of the few jobs that will come to campus ro recruit liberal arts student and the convenience of that is way too significant when you consider how resourceful a student must be to seek out career counseling and find internships, usually unpaid, in a random field of interest. How do we adjust our educational system so that kids who are not even aware of possibilities, know that jobs exists that will nurture their talents and allow them to grow professionally? I believe that the system we have designed that doesn’t help students explore the God-given talents or gifts, that doesn’t expose them to a wide array of career possibilities, that doesn’t connect the curriculum to real world application is creating generations of kids who don’t even know how to answer the question, “What am I good at?” much less “ What am I called to do?” So we get a bunch of idealistic undergrads who are good with their younger siblings, or had a mostly positive experience tutoring inner city kids for community service that decide to give teaching a shot, only to be sorely disappointed when they enter a classroom. After school programs and one on one mentoring programs are cute, but they are an entirely different beast than teaching a child who could give 2 craps about a No Child Left Behind or who’s achievement gap you are trying to close!
The reality of it is, we know that sticking kids in a school building for 8 hours, in rows in front of a chalkboard (or smartboard) is the least effective method for teaching. Humans learn by doing, by exploring, by playing, by sharing, by writing creatively, by traveling. If any reason is more telling that our educational system is not effective, just look at this lost ass generation of mini adults who don’t what the hell to do with themselves so instead stay in miserable, school-factories jumping through hoops for a damn paycheck because they literally can’t think of a way out ! No disrespect at all intended to my colleagues, but how do we create a society of independent, well rounded, free thinkers when the very people charged with the task haven’t learned to liberate themselves?
Am I tripping? Is it like this for everybody? Am I just so entrenched in the world of education that I don’t hear about the struggles of other early career starters? What do other non pre professional people do instead of teach? What are some other career option and what are the requirements for those positions? How do people find out about the obscure but fabulous positions? And do other positions feel this around the clock stress and pressure to perform with little or no time to even just be alone with your thoughts?
Sigh. I know this is a lot, but this is literally the laundry list of questions that run through my head all day. I would love to hear thoughts of folks outside of the educational field and anyone else who an. I’m tired of asking the questions…I need some answers!