Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Alternate Careers

I’ve been giving thought to alternate careers lately. I’ve been a teacher for seventeen years now. The same school. The same grade. The same room. It’s been a good run. It really has.


I think back to all the reasons I became a teacher. I wanted to shape the future, inspire young learners, better humankind. Lofty goals, but good fuel on which to stoke the fires of a career.

Have I reached any of these goals? I’d like to say yes. I run into former students on a regular basis and a good many of them have turned into something productive. Most have gone on to college. Some are already beginning their own careers. A few have written to me, thanking me for my guidance. These are all good things. Things that help me wake up each day and get my ass into work.

As I look at the current state of education, however, I grow weary. Teaching is less and less about shaping the future, inspiring young minds, or bettering humankind. Teaching today is about accountability. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that we need ways to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness. We need methods to improve our educational practices. We need to hold teachers and students accountable for what goes on in our nation’s classrooms every day.

But we’re sucking the fun out of learning, peeps. Totally. And not just for the students. I don’t have fun at work like I used to.  

I’ve had a few moments more recently where I’ve been in the middle of a lesson and I think to myself, “Does anyone care about this? Is this going to change students’ lives in any way?”

Are those expressions on students’ faces ones of boredom? Is the inattention a sign that this is all too easy, too hard, not relevant? Can everything students “need” to learn just be googled nowadays on their cell phones? Am I less interesting than an online multimedia experience that can present the material in a more engaging way? A way that will capture students’ attention and keep it?

Sometimes I feel as if I’m competing so hard for students’ attention that I’ll never succeed. Gone are the days where my students and I would thoroughly explore a topic through good books and solid conversation with sustained involvement. Now it’s all two-minute videos with music and animation. It’s short, mini-lessons – quick hits – because the human attention span is like under ten seconds. It’s power-up-your-laptop-kids-and-click-your-way-through-your-education, followed by take-this-online-assessment-so-I-can-collect-buttloads-of-data-on-you. Data that directly affects the ratings I receive from my administration. Ratings that don’t take into account all the variables—many that I have absolutely no control over—that go into a student’s success. 

Meanwhile, kids don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. They’re going to grow up to be adults who don’t know how to talk to each other. Respect appears to be a non-existent skill too.

This depresses me.

I need an alternative… or I need to make changes. Changes that maybe don’t jive with the “requirements,” but make good sense. For me. For them. For society.

I don’t have any answers just yet, but I’m keeping an eye out for new opportunities. Mostly ones that have to do with writing. That’s where I always feel pulled. That’s where I always feel inspired. Writing offers the chance to live in a fantasy world where things make sense to me.

Where things are fun again.

So what do you think? Mid-life crisis? Real concerns? Shut up and be happy you have a paying job with health benefits? Weigh in.



The Maple Leaf Series – More Than Pancakes, Book One is always FREE! 


Margo Hoornstra said...

Oh, Chris, as far as your questions, all of the above. IMO. And it's very sad. I recently started subbing in education. On the business side, not in the classroom, thank goodness. Unlike you, I don't have the patience for that. What I've learned is, it is all about accountability - or I should say the appearance of accountability. The bureaucrats seem to need numbers and tables to justify themselves. Take heart that you still provide the human connection for your students. Eventually, those quick hit videos will become old news, and your students will want something new. That's where you come in, so hang in there! On the other hand, if writing is really, really calling to you, I say go for it! If you can!

Jannine Gallant said...

Health benefits are nice, but I agree about the fun being sucked out of the classroom. The focus on teaching to the test takes away from the joy of learning about topics of real interest to the kids. I feel like we're going through a phase of trying something different because the old method wasn't working to get the best results on standardized tests. Will the new method succeed any better? Doubtful. Do those test really matter in the grand scheme of things? I believe the kids would learn more and be far more engaged in the process if phones were banned from schools. They don't talk to each other. If they can't say it in a snap chat, it doesn't get said. Is the professional world going to change to accommodate a generation of new workers who can't effectively communicate? I'll get off my soapbox now, but I fully understand why you'd like to chuck it all to simply write. Isn't it a shame we all can't actually make a living doing what we love? Maybe some day...

Brenda Whiteside said...

Could be midlife but it's real. I think midlife is when we begin to question because we have enough experience to do so. I have a good friend who quit teaching for all the reasons you state. I don't have any answers either. Hopefully, more will questions and come up with solutions.

Rolynn Anderson said...

As you know, I was a high school English teacher for 23 years and vp/principal for 7 years. I was into school reform in a BIG way. I'm not the person to get started on this subject because I tried SO HARD to develop a system that individualized education, but the ding-dang status quo beat me and my teachers down...and the schools swung back to what you experience today. Measuring by conventional testing is an easy, cheap way to pretend is neither effective or humane to anyone in education except for kids who are test takers and teachers who focus on the kids who are test takers. In general, Americans are unwilling to put the money/focus and prestige on education that it requires/deserves.

To answer your question, need to find a school that has a staff and administrators bent on doing the right things with renew your energy and focus on collaborating with other teachers...I sense you feel alone in this challenge. A new school opening...a charter school. They're out there. I'd suggest you go into admin to change the system...which is what I did with some exciting effects, but that job would leave you no time to be a writer.

Alison Henderson said...

I have a friend (possibly the same one Brenda mentioned) who just took early retirement from a lifetime of teaching for the same reasons you mentioned, Chris. So much has changed, and not for the better. My daughter had a wonderful, inspiring public school experience, one that helped her transition smoothly to a top-tier university. She's twenty-nine now, but so much has changed in the past fifteen years. I don't have grandchildren yet, but I hope there's time for current trends in education to reverse before I do. Good luck with your choices and ultimate decision!

Susan Coryell said...

I feel your pain. I taught for 30 years--the first 25 were great--when some idiot admn. came up with some idiotic idea, I just shut my door and continued to teach what I knew the kids needed. The last 5 years "No Teacher Left Behind" came into view as well as mega-testing. No time left for creativity and shutting the door did no good what with Big Brother Internet "accountability" breathing down my neck. I truly feel for today's educators.

Christine DePetrillo said...

Glad I'm not alone in seeing that the current trends are damaging. I'd been wondering if I was just bitter for some reason, but my concerns ARE real. On the plus side, just had a lovely discussion with some colleagues at a faculty meeting, and we tossed around some good ideas. That collaboration always gets me fired up again, so I'll roll up my sleeves and try to hang in there.

Diane Burton said...

I hear you, Chris. I "retired" from teaching 40 yrs ago. I was pregnant with my first child and oh so happy we'd decided I would stay home with our children. Even back then, parents' attitudes were bad and don't get me started on teaching toward the tests. I see my very bright grandchildren (seriously) and I worry about them losing the fun of learning. Good luck making your decision. Our children/grandchildren need teachers who care.

Leah St. James said...

My son's girlfriend is a middle school teacher. She's in her third year, and the first two were horrific. She'd tell stories of out-of-control kids, parents who didn't care, administrators who didn't back the teachers, teachers who stabbed each other in the back. Student performance was awful, and as the newbie, she got blamed. She's now in an entirely different district, doing very well (with scores to prove it), and the school where she taught is on the verge of losing accreditation.

Too many public schools today are a mess. My state just came out with statistics on how we compare to others. The headline: Virginia students outperform national average on reading, math scores. Here's an excerpt of the story: "...for eighth-graders, 38 percent of Virginia students were deemed proficient or advanced in math, compared to 32 percent nationwide. In reading, 43 percent were proficient or advanced, eight percentage points better than the national average."

I was appalled. Does some bureaucrat somewhere actually think a 43-percent "proficiency" in reading for an 8th grader is something to be happy about...much less 35 percent!

It's a disgrace. If this is a result of "accountability," enough.