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Thursday
Mar182010

Job Insecurity

Lately, my posts about education are getting more and more frequent. There is also, of course, the creeping in of posts about pregnant girls that lead naturally back to my own pregnant teen years. It's hard to miss that the word "years" was plural. The more I do that the more I get questions (via email or messages) about whether or not it's okay that I write about my work. I've been called "gutsy" and "brave" for writing about my job and people wonder how I fly under the radar at work. Truth be told, I'm not under the radar. Plenty of people know about my blog and read it. Including the superintendent. I mean, I don't think he hangs on my every written word, but he brought it up to me recently at a dinner with book publishers we both attended. Every boss I've had knows about it because I just go ahead and throw it out there.

Hey. I write. On the Internet. With readers. It's very Internetty. Don't worry if you don't "get it". I also write using lots of parenthetical statements, so just ignore me if that's not your thing. (But don't lurk forever.) (Lurkers who never comment freak me out just a little bit.) (Especially if they only like to email me their comments.)

I've been asked recently if I'm worried about losing my job, but not because of the writing. Just because of all the things going on in education. For instance, there's the Rhode Island superintendent who just fired all the high school staff due to low test scores. Or the letter from Bill Maher calling for the firing of parents, not teachers. To say that education is a battlefield right now is not giving the issue its due. But parents are pissed. Teachers are scared. And students are, as usual, getting shortchanged. Our own district has proposed budget cuts that calls for 50-some teachers not being offered a job again next school year in their current positions and having all administrators (including yours truly) take a salary freeze.

Personally, that last one will hurt. Quite a few people are dependent on my salary including my children and my mother who is without health care - the other hot issue at the moment. Apparently, some people think I make too much money but that's not really the point of this post.

Whatever option comes our way out of the four that are proposed by federal government (1. closing the schools, 2. using a restructuring/transforming model by replacing the principal, 3. firing all staff and rehiring up to 50% and 4. becoming a charter school) will hurt. It'll be a hard pill to swallow because we don't choose to leave students behind. Many of them come to us already behind and our job, without the aid of the community or any planned social structures, is to bring them up to speed.

I could go on and on about how teaching is hard. There's no doubt about that. Some stories help spur me on like the Englewood Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Chicago because it's about digging in and doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to make students successful. It's not beyond our reach, it's just that we, the collective "we", don't want to do that work because we get caught up in protecting ourselves.

This is not a popular opinion. I'll get lambasted for saying it because it will appear like I'm insensitive to teachers.

If you're in this business of schooling students then I hope you know we're in this together. We get what we get. Parents aren't keeping their better children at home. They're sending us the best they have. What we see when we get them isn't what we'd like to see.

If you're going to go into teaching you'll get unmotivated, hard to like students who have short attention spans. Your content that you teach won't be relevant to them. They won't care one iota about it. They'll be disorganized and selfish. When you mention that you have to get through the body of knowledge and standards and benchmarks their faces will turn blank and they'll just keep blinking until you say something that matters to them. The fact that you have units to get through and tests to give are not what keeps them up at night. Your lesson plans are not their concern. Your homework will be completely uninteresting to them. Your lengthy lectures will not necessarily inspire them to turn their lives around in a split second.

I'm terrified that schools are doing business the same way and expecting different results. Or maybe they're not. Maybe they're resigned to the fact that the blame starts and ends with the students and their parents.

I'm absolutely worried about my job. Probably not in the same way you think.
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Reader Comments (24)

Great. now I'm scared to be a teacher. Ugh there goes making a difference in the life of a young person. Oh well! Maybe I can be a stripper!

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeLaMi

All of this, but the last three paragraphs especially? That's what we ought to be debating on the Internet, so I appreciate your take on it.

But you know I'm biased. And also furloughed this year, most likely. COLA freeze, for sure. No merit. No new ones of us although we're at highest enrollment ever because we are an economical choice.

It all concerns me. I don't like to think about where it will end up but I just keep hoping it will get better.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

I love you!
Yet again, seems like we are on the same page and me being a lowly teacher and all. ;)
I'm very much scared right now, b/c my board is one of the lowest in the province and we have been told shape up or we take over. The sad part is that a) some teachers appear not to care and continue the 1930s style teaching, or b) teachers haven't really been told the seriousness of the situation. I'm scared b/c not only do I teach in a testing year I am also a literacy coach (and I won't say my true thoughts here!) who is not seeing enough change going on to help our students.
Yesterday I wrote about being crazy enough to propose longer hours and student-friendly classroom set-ups that don't have wallpaper on them. Who was I to think that one?
And sadly, your final line...I hear that one WAY TOO MUCH!

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Teacher here. Scared teacher--pink-slipped in CA for the second year in a row. Looks serious this year, and with 30,000 of those lovely slips having been handed out, there are no jobs.

Scary thing? I've just been in the classroom long enough (4 years) that I feel like I'm figuring out how to make those standards I have to get through somewhat relevant or interesting. And in CA, those who have been in teaching positions 5 years or less (not just new teachers, but transfer teachers) have very little hope of staying in ed. In some districts, layoffs are going back 10 or more years. And those coming out of ed school this year or in the next several? Forget it.

No fresh blood, no new teaching techniques. For year. Scary.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

For years, not year. :)

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

Excellent, Kelly. There is so much wrong, but I love that you always remind me of what's RIGHT with public education. It's teachers and administrators like you. I have no answers, just a rowdy thank you for ALL you do for your students.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeadless Mom

Thank you, Kelly, for your passion for educating and your concern for the future of your students. Says the Canadian lurker who never comments, but also, never emails you either. So, not too weird, I hope? ;)

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

I'm still going to school to be a teacher. I've waited too long for this. I'll just have to do my best. :)

love you, girl. You inspire me every day. You have no idea.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShash

As usual...excellent post.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSha

I'm a lurker who's read your blog for a couple of years now (hmmm, is that creepy?) coming out to say how much I enjoy reading your writing. I'm many years out of school, and have no children of my own, but if I did I'd want them all to be like you. You rock!

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarleah

I don't mean to lurk and not comment; honestly!

Looking back it's surprising how bad my education really was. I mean my schools were safe and bully free but my parents taught me a lot about math and history because I wasn't getting it at school. And when I took the Iowa Basic tests I always tested in the top 10 percentile and I did excellent on the ACT and SAT without any test prep; but that wasn't without a lot of effort on my (blue collar, barely graduated high school) parents part. I hear people gripe about teachers getting dumber; but I think parents have just checked out a lot of the time. They're too interested in getting Johnny into league play for soccer or Janey into the best cheer camp.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy in StL

Hey Kelly,
I appreciate what teachers do! When my family first moved to UP in 1979 from Cal Park it was for a better education. And a better education we all recieved. Do you remember when we had gym 5 days a week, and not just gym but actual balance beams, the horse and uneven bars, like a real gymnastics class? We had to know how to really master these objects. And what about the obesity rate in this nation? The budget cuts that are in place is another tragedy. To cut gifted and programs. I mentioned gifted programs because my daughters are in gifted programs. To put them in reguler classes would have them be one of those students sitting in class bored to tears. Those cuts have not yet reached our area. But I am keeping a close eye on the subject. Much prayers are sent your way. Tell your mom I said hello and I will be praying for her as well.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngie former 201U

Thanks to the de-lurkers. Y'all rock.

Angie, I totally remember all that and took my education for granted when I was in 201-U schools. We had symphony in high school! Kids don't even know how to identify a cello these days and we had SYMPHONY. We didn't even go to what's considered a progressive school, but it was really good.

These are great comments. I'm really enjoying reading about your experiences.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

You've made me want to know more about education, to understand it more.

My child is not being well-served by her very hard-working teacher and efficiently run school. I respect all the people involved. And school is a huge drag for her. She's not learning much. She doesn't like school. I'm a parent who reads my kids at least 5 books a day. I'm not neglecting her, she's not disadvantaged, you know? She's got discipline and structure at home, respect is a word she hears all the time, no TV ever except on Fri. and Sat. night, parents both married, a calm environment. It's not the home that's the issue.

I am BAFFLED. I suspect it is the curriculum--some kind of crazy rigidity that is crushing her creative spirit--but what the hell do I know? I believe it's this test score thing that schools have to spend all their time on. I have NO IDEA. This is a smart kid, a curious kid, a happy kid, an energetic kid who is only impish, never malicious. Reasonably well behaved. Public school is a total BUST thus far.

Private school is $20,000. We run out of paycheck 1-2 times a month and have a couple of bucks even on days we need to go to the grocery store. (We stock cheap staples so we don't starve.) So...what do we do?

I have a bunch of teachers in my family. Believe me, I know teaching is hard. Not just hard work like sweeping the sidewalk but complicated, challenging work, like designing the space shuttle. It *IS* rocket science.

What I'm saying is: This is a hard thing to figure out. Enough finger pointing. I feel bad because I do say this school is wrong for her, the whole public school system is not right for my kid--at least at the moment. But I genuinely respect and like the people involved and know they are doing their best.

And we're the richest country in the world STILL. So why is public education always under attack, financially and in every other way? I would pay 10% more in taxes for fabulous schools and I thought this way before I ever had kid. It just makes sense to me! It's always made sense to me!

OK, I'm getting off my soapbox--and believe me I do not claim to be an expert on this soapbox. I'm just saddened by this situation. Also, a bit angry since I think FREE QUALITY PUBLIC education is the key to everything the U.S. is supposed to be--a place with equal opportunity, a place where people who work hard can get somewhere, a place where people know enough to participate in a democracy, a place where we innovate and people are creative and smart enough to lead the world and make it a better place. And it feels like people in the U.S. are willing to undercut that for some reason that can't possibly weigh against the future of this country and the people in it.

Argh.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterozma

PS: Also, is this all about messing with the teacher's unions? Just putting on my conspiracy theory hat for a moment.

I'm not down with that. My sisters had their union effectively destroyed and lost any possibility of job security forever. My sister lost her tenure. My brother in law is a public school administrator, as is my aunt. Both my grandmas were teachers. So I guess I am kinda pro-teacher's union. My grandma was a staunch Republican and I don't know how she felt about the union but she always had NEA pencils and such around the house!

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterozma

I'm a pissed parent that completely agrees with you! I am so so so frustrated right now, and I know that the administrators and teachers and students are, too. Thanks for being brave enough to talk about this. I think this is the 2nd post that Florinda has shared on the Reader that I've read, and I've just added you to my own subscription list.
The good news is, never before have we had these kinds of opportunities to all come together like this. I have to believe that doing so will make a difference that helps all of us.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I have no children, duh...but you know what, I appreciate educators who are motivated to make kids learn. These are the future awesomesauces of the world and we need to shape them.

I'm sorry you are worried...for whatever reason.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHilly

I taught for three years before my kids were born, then was a stay-at-home mom for MANY years...all my boys are in their 20s. After running a tutoring center for teens for several years, I was ready to move back into the field this year. Couldn't find a job, and I suspect it won't happen next year either. Maybe the year after that.

The ironic thing is that my life experiences would make me a much better teacher than I was fresh out of college. Go figure.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy G

I totally agree with you: we don't want it to be better. If we did, we'd put aside all the personal issues and make decisions based on what is truly the best for the kids. ALL of the kids. I teach 12th grade English in a large, urban, Texas high school where I'm not always appreciated by all the teachers/admins I come in contact with...but I can sleep at night because I know that I have done my best for my kids.
Sadly, I think our desire to help children succeed has gotten in the way of actually helping them be successful. We spend so much time trying to make sure that no child feels stigmatized by their individual learning challenges that we mainstream the entire group right into mediocrity. In my district, our ELL population is the latest to be "included" in the regular classroom: the separate ELL classes have been disbanded. And while I AM a rockstar at running an eight-ring circus, my Supergirl cape gets a little frazzled at trying to meet the needs of students who have been in the country for 2 weeks while trying to make sure that I'm preparing the collegebound kiddos for success in a Tier-1 university. I realize it's not a popular opinion, given the hype around the "differentiated instruction" buzzword, but I don't see how it could be anything BUT helpful to both populations to separate the classes. I think we in education have bought into the "in America, we CAN be everything to everyone -- all at the same time" propaganda. Perhaps we need to do a little more of admitting that we are, in fact, human, and need to let ourselves be okay with being reasonable about the limitations of our abilities.

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMs. H

Not to add to the misery, but have you http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6723200.html" rel="nofollow">seen this?

Bad times all over. I know it's been said but I've seen nothing like it in my lifetime.

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaffeinated Librarian

So, Ms. H, I have a question:

What if we took those ELL students and gave them a choice? Here, students, you may:

1) stay in this course which is accelerated and take another course (or go to tutoring) to help support you here so that you may get into that Tier-1 university

or

2) go into a course that will be an average-weighted course for ELL students where instruction is differentiated to support your learning.

Worthwhile and beneficial for ELL students, yes or no?

Also, when will Obama call me so I can think tank all this stuff? Or Arne Duncan? Either phone call I will take.

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

Hang in there, Kelly! I've been reading you long enough to know that you land on your feet. Things are tough all over, and only the strong will survive. And you're genuine. That's got to count for something, too, right?

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterangie

I think there is a LOT to be said for giving students choices. We're so busy running around thinking we know what's best that we all miss out by failing to ask the kid what they want. As much effort as a teacher expends to motivate a student, at the end of the day it all comes down to the student making a choice to be motivated and/or engaged. I see this play out with ELL students. There are some students who put every last effort into learning English -- they are constantly exercising their speaking/listening skills, looking up words, staying afterschool for tutoring -- all in an attempt to improve their English. These would be the students jumping at the chance for Option 1.

The Option 2 students who haven't yet had the Gotta-Master-English Epiphany are no less deserving of an opportunity to learn English, but we need to design/deliver their instruction in such a way that we prioritize their learning of English above all of the "great works of Literature" that are challenging enough for native speakers, much less someone who struggles to form a simple past-tense sentence.

Maybe my blue-collar roots go a bit deeper than I thought, but I struggle to see what good it does us, as a society, to tick off all of the "classics" that we cover in high school English classes when we are producing citizens that can't read, comprehend, and coherently respond to newspaper articles about civic concerns. Yes, we need to have a "cultural canon"...but at what cost?

Oh, and If he (they) call....can you please patch me in? Please? Because I would super-fat-puffy-heart LOVE to dogpaddle around in that thinktank.

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMs. H

Hi! Another not-a-teacher-and-no-kids-reader here who didn't mean to freak you out.
And if I was Obama, I'd call you asap.
Never give up.

March 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatharina

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