Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dear School I Work At,

Sometimes I so badly want to abandon you. You are an old school building; you remind me of a bomb shelter from the World War era. Your classrooms are oddly shaped, your exterior is dowdy, your courtyard is full of weeds, and the paint color of your bathrooms probably couldn't be much more unattractive. Furthermore, your desks are outfitted for elementary school children, your heating and cooling are ancient, your stairwells too small, your lockers too easily jammed, your lights automatic so people don't feel the need to turn them off on their own, and your bathroom sinks are poorly designed. You are not fit for the large population that travels within you every school day.

But, I know all you really need is a little bit of love. Your bathrooms could use a fresh coat of paint, your hallway decorations could be updated for personalization and your courtyard needs some flowers. I said during my Chicago Teaching Fellows interview that I didn't believe we needed supplies, really, to teach (except for science, perhaps). I still believe this, so the fact that you are a school building in desperate need of TLC, does not bother me much. I want to help make you over and give both students and staff a pride in the school we operate in, but I haven't receive much of any support from the higher-ups. The point is, though you are not the best that you could be, you are not my biggest gripe.

Dear Children I Work With,

Sometimes (often), I don't want to come to teach and work with you. It can get frustrating that I plan and prepare lessons, but you all talk over me or don't talk at all. However, you all are the most pleasant part of my day and for that, I am thankful. I am thankful that I know that I love working with students and that I want to do it as a career. Even if I don't stay in this profession forever, let it be known that I think that this is the single most influential profession in the world. Except for maybe a tyrant who makes all decisions, and quickly. (When will there be a tyrant who dedicates large sums of money to developing education and not firearms?) Anyway, what I'm saying is, kids, we have our good and bad days, but there are definitely more good and even when you all are at your annoyingest, I still feel grateful for every single one of you. I feel very lucky to have taught you all this year and I appreciate each one of you in different ways. Please know that I don't dread work because of you. I come to work because of you. I want to see you all grow as much as possible before you graduate and I have so much that I want to share with you all. You are certainly the reason that I come to work. And certainly the reason that I enjoy it.

Dear Readers (or Reader!),

Sometimes, I want to leave my school. But it's not the school's fault. And it's not the students' fault, either. You've heard me complain about this before, but it's time for me to get it out again. Before I do though, let me say: POTENTIAL TEACHERS, if you are thinking about going through alternative certification or teacher certification in general, (and if you have no other doubts besides whether or not it'll be worth it) I say, DO IT. This has been an immense year of growing for me. I have never learned so much before about others or myself. This experience is GREAT. Prepare yourselves, though, the toughest part of working in a lower performing school (and maybe even higher performing schools)/working in PGCPS is the adults. The children, well, they'll be children. They are only partly responsible for the horrors that they can be. Often, they are good kids though. However, adults should have no excuses for the way they act and treat people. If you can, find a supportive school to work in. It's so important.

And onto my rant. It's 3 am, so I'm going to make this quick and possibly confusing so I can get to bed.

Last month, I was called up to my vice principal's office during my co-teaching (which, please later note, is reiterated as a place I need to be present). I was expecting to meet with my vice principals, but during my planning period. We had been exchanging emails prior to this meeting. She had expressed concern for my being on time to school, begin on time to co-teaching, being at co-teaching, and being on my post of duty. Another vice principal was also present at this meeting, though she didn't make many comments. The "main" vice principal of this conversation said that she was in my co-teaching 15 minutes after it had started and that I had not yet arrived. That particular day, I knew that I had arrived about 10 minutes after the bell. She continued by saying that my students were not receiving their services since I was not present. I replied to the email by saying that I am not regularly late to school, I never skip co-teaching, and that I was told that I did not have "duty" as I have a portable classroom (outside) and that is what my principal shared with me at the beginning of the school year.

Let's start with co-teaching. My vice principals said two things: 1. I am often significantly late to co-teaching and 2. Sometimes, I skip co-teaching. I agreed that I usually arrive to co-teaching about 5 to 10 minutes after the bell has rung and acknowledged that I should be getting there more promptly after the ringing of the bell. However, I rejected the statement that I skip co-teaching classes. I have never, ever skipped co-teaching without permission. (SPED teachers at my school are allowed to have off co-teaching on pay day Fridays in order to complete pertinent SPED paper work.) Though I previously took off pay week Wednesdays instead of Fridays, because I like to end the week with my students, I later only took pay day Fridays off because it was stated that Fridays were the only acceptable off day. Our vice principal said that this way, she could know to send a sub to stand in for us in co-teaching. To my knowledge, this doesn't actually happen. Despite stating that I never skip co-teaching, my vice principals insisted that I do. Let's please remember that this meeting is going on during my oh-so important co-teaching MOD!

Moving onto getting to school on time. Yes, I am late sometimes. Usually when I am late, I arrive no later than 9:05 AM, five minutes after duty time has begun. The days that this lateness occurs, there is unusually high traffic on 95 South and I leave at the same time pretty much every day. Anyway, I am not regularly or often late. And certainly not more so than any other teacher at my school. Since the meeting (about three weeks ago), I have noticed that I have been earlier than 2 of my 4 administrators every single day, except for two. I fully accept that I need to work harder to be on time as much as humanly possible (but life does happen every now and then). What is the kicker for me, though, is that my vice principal was basing her opinion on my arrival time on her observations of me from her office window. (She is located on the second floor, I am outside on the first floor; however, she can only see my room and not my parking space and not the school doors that I enter/exit from.) She stated that after 9 AM she will look out the window and see me arriving to school. ...or what looks like arriving to school. What exactly constitutes as someone looking like they are arriving to school? Carrying a school bag? I carry that around all morning. Having a sweater or a jacket on? It's cold sometimes. I felt that this method of judgment was highly subjective and unfair. Furthermore, once previously she had voiced a concern with me getting to school on time for a particular day. She stated that she had looked out to my room and did not see me in the window (= me being late). That day, I arrived 30 minutes ahead of duty time and -shocking, I know- was inside the school making copies.

Finally, we discussed being on duty where teachers stand outside of their classroom to monitor children. During the first few days (maybe even weeks) of school, I stood duty outside of my room. However, I noticed that the other teachers were not doing the same. I asked my principal if teachers in temps were supposed to stand duty. He said no because it gets cold outside. I stopped standing duty for this reason. My vice principals stated that they did not believe that my principal would say such a thing. They continued to say that I do not appear to care about the safety of the kids because I am not on duty. I voiced that I would be on duty, but I thought that I didn't need to be. They rebutted by saying: "We didn't know that we had to tell you where you needed to be, every minute of every day..." Look, had I not been blatantly told that I didn't have post of duty, I would be on my post of duty.

After this long conversation, which ate away at over 20 minutes of co-teaching, my vice principal went onto say that along with these concerns, she has seen my lessons (through formal observations) and didn't think that this was the job for me. She asked me what program I was in and advised me to contact the program staff to ask for other options I could seek for next year.

This is when I started to cry. I have spent countless hours working on school materials and poring over the students' progress and behavior. I love teaching my kids. I feel that I'm good at it and that I want to do this for a long time. Previously, I felt that she was focusing on my timeliness (though in a questionable way, because it didn't appear that there was any objective records taken), but now she was attacking my instruction and passion for teaching.

Forward to present time and my wonderful mentor suggested that we meet with my vice principal in order to discuss how I should go about recording and documenting my timeliness. I care about what I do and want to be able to display that by taking corrective and proactive actions. My vice principal responded to the idea for discussion with a no. She said that she didn't have the time to repeatedly revisit past issues with me and that it was my professionalism, not my instruction, that was being attacked. I was boggled. My vice principal told me that through observations, along with these other issues, teaching was not for me. How is that not an attack on my instruction? Anyway, she said that she and the other vice principal will handle the monitoring of my timeliness. How are they to do this when I arrive to school before them and park in a different lot? Shouldn't I somehow be involved in keeping these records and being knowledgeable of my progress?

I am frustrated, because I am obviously showing an interest in making sure that I eliminate concerns about myself as a teacher, but am told that there isn't time to discuss this and that basically, my vice principals can record anything they want on me, even if it's nonsense.

So that is the silliness of adults in education sometimes. Please beware of it as a new teacher. I know that I want to continue to teach, but I cannot do it at this school where I am being targeted and not supported whatsoever.

I hope that all teachers will one day work in supportive environments where the higher ups realize that teachers are often not the problem. We're not the enemy. We are working the trenches to the best of our ability and it is simply not acceptable for a school leader to say, "Well, you knew that teaching was hard and you still signed up for it, so deal with it." (This is not an actual quote from my administrators, though two have said something very close to this before.) These are the sentiments given to us teachers. What the higher ups should be saying is: "We know you're doing an immensely difficult job. What can we put in place to support you to make sure that you are doing this difficult job in the best way possible for you and the students?"

Haven't you heard? Effective teachers are the single most influential in-school factor that increases student achievement. Treat us better. I'm not a rockstar or the president, but I am a person working every single day to positively influence young minds.

Oh, support... Only in my dreams! Or at a KIPP school...