Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “teachers”

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
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I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
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[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
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What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

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But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

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Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

Is it June yet?

Tgood teacheroday, I shall further my rant about teenagers.

In case, you haven’t caught up with my blog in a while, or…um…ever before, you might not know that I am a high school teacher and a proud momma of two little ones.  I have always said that I do not understand kids at all until they turn about 13.  Most other parents likely cringe at the thought of their children going through the teen years, but I honestly have no idea what to do or say to most 3-year olds.  I just don’t have that piece of DNA in me that makes me want to sit on the floor and play with Play Doh.

I “get” teenagers.  I don’t always like them.  But, I get them.

However…

It is nearly June.  And, if you have never taught you don’t know how much you just kinda want to get away from these kids by this point in the year.

I spent some time in a “real job” in an office.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  But, I have to say that I never wanted to get the fuck away from my coworkers with quite the same desperate passion as I truly want to get away from students after 9 months together.

Indeed.

Indeed.

My coworkers never complained that “someone farted.”  And, they never broke my box fan during a before-class wrestling match that involved a disagreement over a purple pen.  They also never surrounded my desk and yelled my name at me over and over again even though I was clearly talking with someone else.  Their parents never called me to scream at me, threatening to have me fired since they “pay my salary.”  I never broke up a fist fight between my coworkers.  My office was always air-conditioned.  I got an hour for lunch at my office (not the 12 minutes I end up with by the time I microwave leftovers, find something to drink, go down the hall to the lounge and sit down).  I could pee whenever I wanted.  I never had to repeat what I wanted others to do, like, a MILLION times.  My day started at a normal time, not 7:06.  No one ever threatened to slash my tires.  No one ever looked me in the face and said, “I am going to fucking kill you, bitch.”

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I 100%, without question love my work.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.  I did some soul searching while at that terrible office job.  I bought a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” in the hopes that it would tell me what to do with my life.  It didn’t help one damn bit.  But, I did end up back in a classroom and it was the best goddamn decision I have made in a very, very long time.

ftsMoms and dads may complain about their children.  This does not mean that they do not love them.

I happen to have 102 children.  I complain about them all the time.  But, I do still love them.

But, now it is your turn to deal with them for a few months.  Get me outta here.

Parenting a “Difficult” Child

I am a teacher.  And a mom.  So, my days are full of “Be nice!,” “Go get a tissue!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!”.

And, mind you, I teach high school students.

But, I am also the mother of two spirited little boys.  The older of the two is in preschool right now.

Now, I am going to sound like a total asshole here pretty soon.  Feel free to stop reading right now if you are easily offended.

In my career with high school students, I have tackled subjects from eugenics to Descartes to anitdisestablishmentarianism.  We’ve discussed psychology, faith and String Theory.  We read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Orwell.

"Your little 'angel,' Prudence, colored on the wall today.  You don't LET her do that at home, DO YOU?  Please make her stop coloring on walls."

“Your little ‘angel,’ Prudence, colored on the wall today. You don’t LET her do that at home, DO YOU? Please make her stop coloring on walls.”

Now, I do not believe that my job is necessarily more important than that of an Early Childhood educator.  I don’t even know enough about Early Childhood to even speak intelligently about what it is that they do all day, though on more than one occasion I have snobbily remarked that they pretty much just pass out crayons.

But, my experience has led me to conclude that teachers of children of the ages 4 to about 7 just may try to blur the line between authority figure and parent a bit more than I find comfortable.

Whew.  That was better than I thought it was going to be.  First Grade teachers everywhere are probably a little pissed, but I am proud that I managed to keep my assholery to a minimum so far, though.

Let’s dissect a bit, however.

Personally, I do not feel as though my child’s teacher has the right or the responsibility to help me to “learn” to parent “correctly.”  Now, believe you me, I would love to tell a few parents of a few ninth graders I know about how to do a better job at home.  I’d probably be fired for saying some of the things I’ve been thinking.  So, I am not sure why the teacher of a preschool student, for example, should be offering “advice,” either, really.  In fact, I find it to be pretty inappropriate.  And, frankly, if I want your fucking opinion, I will be sure to ask for it.

In the past year, my son’s teacher has done a phenomenal job of developing curriculum, keeping academic rigor high, and allowing him to develop intellectually to his own potential.  She has also managed to send me “helpful” articles, suggestions, and daily “updates” that discuss the minutia of his behavioral “issues.”  She has also lassoed our part-time nanny into picking him up early from school on days (which I have paid — a whole lot — for him to be present) when she finds his behavior too trying.  Two days ago, she called the nanny 15 minutes into the school day to warn her that she may be calling to have our son removed from school that day.  She did not end up requiring him to leave, though.

Before I had kids, I always sort of wanted parents of my students to know when their kids were real dicks.  I’d write down the blasphemous, racist, insensitive, vulgar, sexist bullshit they would spew word-for-word on detention forms.  I wanted to quote those little snots.  I wanted parents to know that they were raising animals.  I wanted some smug mom to know that her baby wasn’t the angel she thought he was.

Sounds right to me.

Sounds right to me.

Now, as a mom, I now realize that we all know that our kids aren’t perfect.  We all realize that WE aren’t perfect, either.  I suck at math.  But, I am pretty bomb at Wheel of Fortune, for example.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

So, I feel now as though a child’s perceived weaknesses need not be recapped, reiterated, written about, reviewed and discussed freaking constantly.

TEACHER:  “Your kid doesn’t really always play very nicely with others.”

ME:  “Neither do I.”

And, yet I find myself concerned about the potential stigma for my child and for me if he should be labeled (albeit secretly in a faculty lounge somewhere where ladies in holiday-themed sweaters, gossip about MY kid, repeat the crazy, out-of-context weirdness he learned from his father and me, and share strategies on where to buy the best scented ink-stamp pads) “difficult.”

"You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being 'line leader.'  I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario."

“You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being ‘line leader.’ I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario.”

Am I parenting a “difficult” child?  I don’t think so.  He is his own little man and his ideas don’t always mesh with mine.  His needs and desires don’t always align with mine.  His interests don’t always connect with mine.  And, every teacher isn’t going to think he is fabulous (just like every teacher isn’t going to think he’s a ghoul, either).

I go on the Super Nanny website.  I have “house rules.”  I set boundaries.  I have clear and pre-defined consequences for negative behaviors.  I have instituted a positive behavioral reward system.  I have consistent expectations and have regular talks about respect, kindness, teamwork, sharing, calmness, taking turns and showing love.  My husband is very much a co-parent in all of this, too.  My kid is absolutely getting a united front before him.

We’re doing things right.

And, now I see that many, many, many parents of the “difficult” children I have taught were doing things right, too.  It wasn’t my fault as a teacher that a kid failed a class or misbehaved in school any more than it was the parent’s fault.  Our kids are all given tools to survive in the world.  They choose, willfully, if, how, and when they will use them.

You are not parenting a difficult child.  Neither am I.  And, don’t let a teacher, healthcare worker, therapist, or judge tell you otherwise.  But, when problems seem consistent, something we’re doing to manage our children’s behaviors and abilities isn’t working.

And, you should feel free and welcome to ask the appropriate experts for their advice on how to approach things in a more meaningful and potentially successful way.

But, no one really should feel the freedom to provide you with that “advice” if it is not solicited.

Feel free to tell your teacher that you would love to have a phone call at work if your child is, say, bleeding from the head, projectile vomiting, fist-fighting in class, or making terroristic threats to other youngsters.  He or she should not call you at the office, though, to tell you that your daughter seems to need more structured playtime, your son should learn to share his toys, or your twins cannot stop pinching each other.

And, as a teacher, it is my JOB to deal with your crazy kids between the hours of 7:36 and 3:06.  It is unacceptable for me to tell you to come get your kid at 8:00 because I just can’t deal with her anymore.  I am paid to deal with her.

Labels are always wrong.  Except on Campbell’s soup.  We need those.  I don’t like surprises.  But, labels don’t belong on our kids.  Unless I ask you how you’d label him, you should keep your judgmental attitude to your damn self.

We all know that there are crappy parents out there.  Some of that bad parenting MAY cause some of our schools to contain horrifying little monsters.  But, we should be clear that it is not a teacher’s job to judge a parent’s worth or ability.  We can THINK anything we want as teachers.  But, under no circumstances should I share my opinions of your shortcomings with you.

Even though more parents than I can count have shared THEIR opinions about MY teaching shortcomings with me…

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