Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time for a change...

If you have been reading my blog, you know that my intent with continuing to publish on this blog is to share my experiences with CrossFit. CrossFit is a wonderful program that has helped me to accomplish many things. However, from time to time, there are things that I feel strongly about, so strongly in fact that I feel the need to publish a post about them. Today is one of those days. I will forewarn you that this post will more than likely be very long. There is a chance that it may anger you, or force you to ask many questions that I have no answers to. But, if you have an interest in the educational world, read on.


In the spring of of 2002, I took a large risk. After having a year and a half of my college education under my belt, I decided to change my major. After three semesters of putting together power points, and trying to prove that I'd be excellent in the field of communications, I was tired. I wasn't enjoying the field nearly as much as I had thought I would. I wanted, no, NEEDED, a career where I was not shoved into a cubical, where I was free to make my own decisions, and where I could allow my creative outlets to work. I had been a lifeguard, a swim coach, and a swimming lessons instructor all before. There was something about passing knowledge to others that I really enjoyed and so I decided to take the "leap of faith" change my major, and pray I didn't wind up with additional years in college at the whopping cost of $30K per year.

I was someone who really looked forward to doing all the practicums and going out into the field. I loved writing lessons and seeing how creative I could be. I loved doing what I did. I felt a great connection with the students in those classes, in particular the 3rd grade slot I did during junior year. I managed to complete all my requirements with just one additional class after graduation (a history course of all things) and I was free to enter the real world. There was a delay of a year thanks to that last class, but I finally got my first real teaching job in the fall of 2005. I packed my bags and moved to VA and entered the "real world." I went into teaching carrying my love of literature, and my hope that I could inspire kids to see in books and writing what I did. I also carried my fear of math, but my hopes that I could help kids overcome what I was never able to.

But regardless, I went into the teaching world with bright eyes and a big smile. My first year was stressful, as any first year would be, but my eyes were being opened to a good many truths about the educational world. As the years have progressed, I've become more and more appalled by things I see occurring in our schools. I have begun to realize, especially after these first few months of this year, that the education system in this country is in serious trouble.

The Washington Post and the local news stations have all done reports on the budget crunches being faced by the local districts. But what they're not reporting on is what was happening in those schools BEFORE the budget crunches, and how the continued budget constraints are affecting pre-existing situations.

As I walk around my building, as I dialogue with other teachers who are friends of mine in other states and other schools, I am being painted a very grim picture. I am being painted a picture of teachers who are overworked. Teachers who feel that there are not enough hours in the day. Teachers who feel ineffective. Teachers who feel as if no matter what they do, it will never be enough.

As I have entered into the teaching realm, I realize that there were things I was never taught or told about in college. Information that could have possibly helped me to prepare for the onslaught that was about to come.

Teachers are asked everyday to complete at least 7 hours of core instruction. This means that in that seven hours they are to teach math, science, social studies, reading, writing, spelling, and in some cases health. There are requirements for how long some of those blocks should be. For example, language arts should be longer than any of the other subjects, and math should be the second longest and should be about an hour each day in most schools.

Please stop for one second to think about the immense amount of work that it must take just to plan out one day. Let alone a week, a month, a quarter, or a year. Remember that the materials that the teachers need are not ready and waiting in a room somewhere for them. Copies must be made, things cut out, posters laminated, bulletin boards made to correspond, games created, and any additional supplies must be purchased. Now, the additional supplies that are being purchased, are NOT being paid for by districts or schools. The money that is needed for these things comes out of teachers pockets. For example, I once taught a lesson on ratio and proportion. A great way to do this was to create trail mix. For ever seven Chex, there are 2 m&m's. But the recipe required 70 Chex, so how many M&M's do we need? The lesson worked and the kids understood the difference between the ratio and the proportion. But who bought all the ingredients for the trail mix?

To create lessons like that is costly. Affective and enjoyable, but costly. Please also bear in mind, that teachers make less than many professions out there that require a bachelors's degree. But yet, teachers are asked to take from their earnings, and supplement the instruction in their own classrooms. How is that fair? How is that possible? When your pay is barely a living wage if at all, how is it fair to ask someone to put more of those funds back into a classroom?

Something else to keep in mind has to do with that planning you just read about. Teachers don't just sit at their desks all day and plan lessons. Teachers are instructing during the day. They are given a minimal amount of planning time which is very often spent doing things besides planning. Our planning time on average is no longer than 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. In this time frame, we're to plan lessons for all those disciplines? That's next to impossible. Not to mention, we're also supposed to be doing all that copying, all the game making, all the bulletin board creation, and all the other things that I listed above. In 45 minutes? Not even Superman could accomplish that. It is a Herculean task. And let's not forget that in that same 45 minutes, teachers are required to answer any parent emails, calls, or do any other tasks that need to be taken care of for other teachers. How is one to do this, let alone find time to grab a cup of coffee or even go to the bathroom?

To add into this, teachers are also required to do things such as analyze standardized testing data, meet with other teachers to try to plan together, sit in meetings on the latest data or methods, and they are even pulled from their class to sit on IEP meetings as well as other sorts of meetings.

So, as a result of this, teachers wind up spending large quantities of their OWN time, grading papers, creating lessons, creating materials, answering emails and notes, talking to other teachers, and in general, doing the requirements of their job, that are IMPOSSIBLE to actually complete in the 7.5 hour workday that they are paid for. According to a recent book I read, people who were asked about the teaching profession likened it to the clergy. In their opinions, you should expect, as a teacher, not to make any money, and to spend your days serving the needs of others at expense to yourself.

Why? When the education of future generations is SO vitally important to a strong economy and a strong country, WHY? Why is it that people are not looking for the most highly qualified and best trained teachers to teach, but they are looking for people who are willing to accept instead a life of saccrifice? Why should educating future generations be a saccrifice? Why is it not upheld as vital to keeping and creating a society and country that are strong?

Many people feel that well, teachers get the summers off and that they get paid for a full year's worth of work when they don't work the full year, and so the salary is fine. Let me let you in on a secret. Teaching is ranked as one of the most stressful fields to be a part of. In 9 months, we cram in MORE work than a standard 12 month job, PLUS we put in overtime that we will NEVER receive compensation for. And because of our salaries, 85% of teachers work second jobs. For many teachers, the reality of that "summer off" is either a second job or classes and more work to maintain their certification, or increase it as deemed by counties and states. Which mind you, again, they many times have to do either entirely out of their own pocket, or with minimal compensation from their districts.

Now, these things, plus others that I have not mentioned in this post, were all part of the education world long before the economy recessed and budgets became crunched. What does a budget crunch mean to you? Budget crunch to the education world means that now, the few aids who were in buildings to help support teachers, are dwindling even farther. Resources teachers designed to help teachers find materials they need to support students are dwindling. Classroom sizes have increased and will continue to do so. Now, I want you to explain to me how any of this is protecting the future of this country. We're not even talking about the politics of administrators, or of changing grades and parents who seem to feel that the education system is there to be their doormat. I'm not even touching on that part of teaching because that in itself is a whole other topic. But how is any of this helping students to receive a good education?

By continuing to sit back and not effect change on the education system of this country, we are failing the future and failing ourselves. We are creating a society of children who are not set up for success. Success for a student means that they carry knowledge and know how to use it, that is correct. But it also means knowing how to fail and how to deal with that. Our education system wants everyone to have the knowledge and pass the tests. They want the students not to be "left behind". But the reality is that not all of those students will be able to pass the test. And what then? What happens when little Bobby doesn't pass the test? Little Bobby isn't held back because he's not ready. He's pushed through the system being told it's not his fault he didn't succeed. He's told that the teacher must not have done a good enough job teaching that particular concept, and he is sent through the system. Little Bobby failed, but was told it was ok. It didn't really matter. It wasn't his fault, it was the teacher's fault. What are you doing to Little Bobby?

Little Bobby now has no idea how to deal with failure. He's being taught that when you fail, you should blame someone else. He has no idea how to look at that failure and use it to make him better. He has no idea how to say, this means I need to try harder. He instead blames someone else and moves on. Is that the moral fiber we want our future generations to have? On the flip side, what are you also doing to the teacher? You are holding the teacher responsible for things beyond their control. Maybe Bobby never did any of his homework. Maybe Bobby had 3 hours of sleep before the test. This is now the teacher's fault and is a direct reflection on them? Does that make sense to you? As budgets crunch on a system that was already flawed, what is going to happen?

Is it any wonder then, why teachers are beginning to flee the system? In districts around the country, one of the largest expenses is training new teachers coming into the district and on recruitment to try to attract new teachers. In fact, it is quite possibly the single biggest expense for many counties. Studies have shown the in the first three years of teaching 35% of teachers leave the profession. Increase to five years and that percentage becomes a staggering 50%. Is it any wonder why? New teachers come in with high hopes, much as I did, only to have the reality of the system crash down on them, forcing them to then soon leave the profession and causing the cycle to continue. Why is more not being down to retain the teachers who have the five years experience? Why is more not being done to keep experienced teachers in the classrooms?

I have watched good teachers cry in frustration over what they are being asked to do, knowing that the time and the resources do not exist for them to be able to accomplish what others tell them they need to get done. I have watched good teachers bow their heads and with resignation admit that they cannot do this anymore. The stress existed long before the budget crunches. The increases in classroom sizes and the decrease of support for teachers have only created a more disastrous situation. A situation where more stress and more work are being placed on teachers who were already overworked and underpaid.

So what will it take? What will it take for something to change? It is time for a change. It is needed and needed NOW. Administrations are asking teachers to do more work, but telling them they will no longer recieve a COLA or a step increase. How is that fair? They will never earn that step back. How can you justify that? The teachers are in the trenches everyday, taking heat from all sides, and doing the work that others continually throw at them. How is that fair? How many companies do that? When you are given more responsibility and more work is placed on your plate, you are most often times rewarded for your extra time and energy. Teachers are not being rewarded. They are being slaughtered. Torn down by parents, and soceity, existing in a world created by governments and administrations that don't understand them, or the job they do, and certainly don't allow them the time, support, and resources they need to actually teach and provide children with the eduation they deserve.

In the movie Newsies, an old favorite of mine starring a much younger Christian Bale, there was a quote. "Sometimes, all it takes is a voice. That becomes ten, and then a hundred, and then a thousand. Unless it is silenced." I am one voice. My voice is lost in the shuffle of my county. But there are other voices out there that need to be heard. It needs to be understood that this is not acceptable. If you have students, if you have young children, get involved. This system is failing and it needs you. Your children and the future need you desperately.


tami said...

Great post Katie. I have teachers in my family, and I have so much respect for you and them. It's a wicked hard, often thankless job.

I totally agree with you about the kids not knowing how to fail or take responsibility for their actions. You see that more and more in society, no one ever thinks they are wrong and wants to blame someone else for everything.

My cousin is a teacher and one of the most shocking things she ever told me was that a teacher cannot fail a kid. They can suggest it, but if the parent doesn't agree the kid gets passed along to the next grade. Unreal. The kid can't read, but hey, let's not hurt his feelings.

Do you think there is a lot of apathy on the part of the parents too? Some schools out here (South Dakota) actually have a points system set up for parents, so if you participate in things like parent teacher conferences, etc. you can earn prizes. Essentially they bribe the parents to take interest in their kid's education.

Sometimes you wonder where the money goes, too. They always tell us here, well if we approve the lottery or video lottery that money will go to education. So we do and add to that property taxes, etc., yet teachers are still buying their own supplies? Where is the money?

rockwell said...

Great post Katie, and another point to add to this is that these kids end up going to college and find themselves horribly unprepared for the realities of higher education where one can and will fail if one cannot perform. I have a friend who is a professor in Michigan who is always amazed (and horrified) at the number of students he gets who cannot even write complete sentences. It is a real tragedyany way yo look at it.

Katie said...

The longer I stay in this profession the more shocked I become by some of the things I see, including now, parents who call colleges and universities demanding that grades be changed. I'm sorry, but if your child couldn't be bothered to get out of bed for their class, they shouldn't get a good grade.

It's scary what's out there these days. I'm afraid of where this system is headed. But for years they haven't been listening to the voices of the teachers. Perhaps the other voices out there can affect change instead.

Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

Good post! May I say that we must understand how students think. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

rockwell said...

hey, i looked at my posting and saw that i was complaining about students not being able to write and then I went and made some misspellings myself....oh well :)
BTW, I really do enjoy your blogs about fitness (especially about running, which is my thing, not so much crossfit itself) but i also dig topics like this one too. Is your members only blog filled with topics like this one? If it is i would really like to join if possible. my email is:

...and yes, I came up with this email address while in college :)

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. The public school system in this country is a disgrace. It not only does a disservice to our childern, but also our country as young Americans are simply not prepared to compete in the science, medical, and engineering industries that are so important to our country's future as a world leader. More and more good teachers and parents see private school as the only option, which leaves public schools with fewer of the best teachers and fewer of the most motivated students and most involved parents. It is a very unfortunate cycle.

There are so many things a parent has to be aware of to raise a successful, happy, well adjusted child, and when a parent can't trust public schools to do a good job it becomes even harder.

Anonymous said...

This phenomenon is the REAL reason for jobs being outsourced. Our workforce is incapable. Where they are capable, they're too lazy.

Let's bring back the "F." Failure IS an option!

Tanya said...

Hahaha! I am reading this sitting at my kitchen table after doing 5 hours of work today for school. Sitting at the table with me is another 10 hours of work that I am going to shelve until another time.

I am having the hardest teaching year of my life (year 6) and I have been doing some internet surfing looking for non-teaching jobs. I'm sick of working 70 hours a week and I get paid to work 31.25 hours per week. I work with people who somehow make over double what I make and work less than half the time I do. They won't get fired either, because they're tenured.

I cannot keep up with it anymore. That is why I am putting away my work right now and doing what I can do when I can do it. Life is too short to be a slave to work when it seems as if sometimes you are the only one who cares about the work you are doing.

Rest assured there are a lot of us teachers out there doing the best we can in a ridiculously inadequate system. This is why I work out all the time and drink ridiculous amounts of beer!

rockwell said...

Well said Tanya.....
lets hear it for the beer!!

Wow Katie, looks like you created a monster with this blog topic. This obviously invokes some strong emotions and rightly so. Seems like we are all on the same page in regards to our education system. It is definitely broke and needs to be fixed. Hopefully lawmakers will finally see that.

Anonymous said...

Solution #1: Pay teachers 6 figures. I'm talking 250k. Watch the world change for the better.

Katie said...

Woo... apparently I did open a can of worms. But if people feel strongly about what I said... then hopefully things will begin to change... but it won't change just by speaking up on blogs. Emails, phone calls, letters... those things get attention.....

Katie said...

Tanya, I read all your comments... I'm there with you and I'm 100% in understaning of your position...

Rockwell, ditto... I agree with a lot of what you've said....

So Dr. Sanford, what you're essentially saying is that perhaps if people understood that children can't be asked to learn how to multiply, divide, use fractions, learn decimals, add and subtract 4 digit numbers while reading to six digits, understanding probability, geometry, and customary and metric measurement, in one year, we might begin to actually help them?

Jen said...

I am fortunate that I grew up in a time where there was an aide in most of my classes, where I had art, music, PE, and library days, and was able to continue with art, shop, home ec, and music throughout high school. My classes were relatively small (25-30 students) and we all had books.. sometimes a new one that 'cracked' when you opened the cover. I loved that sound.

I also remember all my teachers names and feel bad when I miss a History question on Jeopardy. I know Ms. Arndt worked hard planning lessons so we could learn that stuff and I SHOULD remember it even 15 years later. I didn't expect grades handed to me and was never paid by my parents for an A, B, etc. The roof over my head and food on the table is what I earned. I hate when I hear a kid say 'the teacher gave me a C'. No, you earned that because you weren't doing your homework and didn't show up to class.

I never realized how much planning went into a day. My job was to show up and learn, and I really took pride in that. I also loved to stay after in 4th grade and help put up new bulletin boards (I was a bit of a teachers pet, too). I didn't expect anything to be handed to me and really wanted to work hard to show my teachers that what they were doing WAS working, and that I went on to college and bigger and better things.

I am thankful every day for the time and effort that my teachers put in day in and day out for me and the kids before and after me. It's a thankless job that I know I couldn't do, but am glad there are those that do it.

Justa said...

Interesting post.

When it comes to governmental bureaucracies, failure is often due to a misallocation of resources rather than too few resources. I agree that the teachers bear the brunt of this.

I'm with you on the parents too. We are raising a nation of spoiled, underachieving excuse makers. Sadly, it takes so little to excel these days.

One my kid's school, the teachers routinely put of a wish list of needed classroom supplies. Most parents buy stuff on the list, taking the financial burden off of the teachers. Is that a possibility for you?

Katie said...

Justa that is an idea that I have done... however, "The Giving Tree" as it was full of items that were never donated. :(

Tanya said...

Grant writing my friend. Let me know if you want more ideas. That's how I get the extra cash for my room.