Posts filed under ‘Teaching’

Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part 2)

In my last post I promised the third “controversial” reason I resigned from my teaching position (I’m still not comfortable saying I “quit.”)

Confession:  After a great deal of thought, I realized, oh shit, this really wasn’t one of the reasons I resigned.  So, to be completely honest, this third “reason” wasn’t really a reason at all.  It’s just something I’ve been meditating on a lot since I resigned.  But it could have been a reason, and that’s the point here my friends.

Do I believe in public education?

In short, no, but also yes.  I can’t decide.  That’s my big secret.  I might not believe in public schools.  And, honestly, how can you be a public school teacher if you don’t believe–or even might not believe–in public education?

Most of this has to do with my own current freaked out state of mind:  AHH I’ll have no income in 3 months!  AHH I have no skills!  AHH Public education, you’ve failed me!  I’ll elaborate on this in another post.

But seriously, I’ve started to wonder more and more what we’re preparing our kids for in America’s high schools.  Aren’t we really preparing them to be teachers?  Because who else uses this stuff?  I’d like some honest-to-goodness answers to this, folks.  I get the question often, as I’m sure most high school teachers do: when are we ever going to use this?  What is the correct answer to this question???  I want to know in case I get it again in my last few days.  Lately I’ve been sticking with:

“You’ll never use 90% of what you learn in high school.  Chemistry?  When do I ever use chemistry?  World History 1?  I can count the number of times I’ve needed that in the last 2 or 3 years on one hand.  That’s not the point of high school.  You’re learning how to learn.  You’re learning how to find information and how to work hard.”

9th graders don’t really like this answer.  Wanna know why?  Because it’s not satisfying.  I’m not satisfied with it.  Learning how to learn sounds great, but why can’t we teach them how to learn–how to think–with tools that really are useful and will still be useful by the time they’re out of college.

A self deprecating example:

We’re studying Romeo and Juliet in all of my classes right now.  We have been for the entire 4th quarter.  I like this unit.  It culminates in a group film project that involves some combination of acting, directing, screenwriting, soundtrack compiling, set designing, costume designing, and casting, depending on what their group members are interested in.  I get some really cool final projects.  So that part of the unit is fun, but remember, we’re studying Shakespeare’s most famous play for an entire 9 weeks.  For about 75% of my students (and for me), this gets pretty darn tedious.  This year we watched the movie first (Zeffirelli’s version for you film snobs) to get the plot down, and have been reading the play more closely to focus on the genius of the language.  This worked well for the first Act.  But then they were sick of it.  “Why are we reading this?  We already know what happens.”  I expected this, of course, because I’m a brilliant educator, but I felt myself echoing day after day “We’re looking at the genius/beauty/brilliance/you-fill-in-this-blank-after-being-asked-the-same-question-100-times of the language, guys.  Look at this!  It’s awesome!”  It got to the point where I was questioning the whole thing too.  Why are we spending so long on this?

If I just want them to know Romeo and Juliet because of its cultural importance, we only needed to watch the movie.  If I wanted them to see the beauty of the language, I really could have just focused on a few of the best parts: the layering of metaphors when they first meet, the banter among some of the guys, a few other select passages.  Maybe the point is to read a Shakespearean play in its entirety, just so you can say you did.  But I’m not any more satisfied with that than I was earlier.

What if, instead, we had watched the movie, closely analyzed a few incredible passages, examined ways Shakespeare and/or R & J has infiltrated our culture, and… moved on.

I shudder when I think of how much time that would have opened up.  The things we could have done.  Maybe I could have used that time to cover things that may  actually be useful to my students when they’re adults: creativity (as in thinking outside the box; not as in art), using computers/ipods/cell phones actively (blogging!  twittering!  whatever’scomingnexting!), being tactful (how and why), being funny (school seriously undervalues this as far as I’m concerned), working in a group (actually teaching this, not just watching forlorn as the same kid carries all the weight and the same kid lets him).  None of these things are explicitly English, so they’ve always felt somewhat untouchable.  But where exactly do they fit in?  Math?  Social Studies?  Some elective that only 10% of students take?  Because they’re important.  Possibly more important than reading all of Romeo and Juliet.

What are your thoughts on public education?  Am I way out of line or missing the point?  Or, if you’re not satisfied either, what do you think needs to change?  And how would you do it?  Sometimes we all need to vent, but without offering solutions, we’re just whining.  And I don’t want to be a whiner.


June 2, 2010 at 10:42 am 7 comments

Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part I)

In my last post, when I announced my resignation from my job, I said (mostly) only good things about teaching, so I felt the need to explain why I decided to leave the classroom.

“Jumping Ship” Image Credit

I’m not a hater.

Ever since I heard the statistic about 50% of teachers leaving the profession with their first five years, I’ve assumed–possibly naively–that it was because of one of two things: the students or the salary.  First there’s disrespectful students.  Distracting students.  Apathetic students.  Students who can barely read, so how can they possibly learn American History/Geometry/British Lit/fill-in-the-blank?

But as I’ve already said, I like my students for the most part.  Actually, I can say with confidence that I LOVE the vast majority of my students.  I’ve dealt with the occasional disrespect, certainly some apathy, and many, many distractions.  And I’ve had some really weak students.  But although most of them would prefer to avoid hard work if at all possible, I’m not dealing with 9th graders cursing me out, threatening me, or skipping class.  I don’t teach at that kind of school (and 9th graders can’t drive, so skipping is a little harder for them).  And even though they tax my patience some days, they’re a lot of fun.  So it’s not the students.

And it’s not the salary either.  I totally agree with those who insist that teachers don’t make enough money for what they’re worth.  It’s true.  But I have to acknowledge that I do make enough money to live comfortably.  It would be harder without Eric’s income obviously, but not that much harder.  So it’s not the salary either.

I want my life back.

Then why am I jumping ship? I have a few reasons, but the one I usually give is just that I want to try other things.  Although I enjoy many aspects of my job, I hate that it takes so much out of me.  It’s draining and so very, very time consuming.

Technically my contract hours are 8:15 to 3:45, which provides a 15 minute cushion at both ends of the school day.  I’m pretty confident that in the past three years, I’ve never once worked those hours.  I’d guess that this year, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve left by 3:45.  And those days I went in extra early to get ahead.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if I was leaving at, say, 4:00 on most days, or 4:30.  But I’m not; I usually don’t leave until 5:00, and I’m often still in the building until 7:00 or later.  And by the time I get home, I’m exhausted.  (Before I go on, I feel the need to point out that I don’t claim to have the hardest working hours or anything like that.  I have a friend who is in charge of the yearbook, and she’s regularly pulling late hours, and sometimes even comes in on Saturday, which I have never, ever done.  I have another friend who, when preparing for the school plays, sometime stays until 11:00.  At night.  Their meager stipends don’t even come close to compensating them for this insanity benevolence.)

Because of these long and uncompensated hours, I can’t imagine having the time or energy to do the other things I’m interested in.  I’d like to try my hand at freelance writing or possibly open an Etsy shop.  Yeah, right.  Maybe in the summer.  Evenings, weekends, and other breaks are filled with planning and grading, or feeling guilty about not planning or grading.

Even small indulgences, like cooking good, healthy dinners and getting regular exercise feel nearly impossible to squeeze in.  I’m often jealous of my husband’s job, because even though he doesn’t love it and often comes home burnt out, he doesn’t have to even think about work once he leaves at 4:30.  His evenings and weekends are his own.

Teachers get “breaks,” which, don’t get me wrong, are nice, but they’re not (for me at least) a complete break from work.  This past spring break I graded (really graded, with lots of comments and suggestions) over 70 3-5 page research papers.  That was not a “break” the way non-teachers usually imagine it.

I don’t want to live in Richmond forever.

The second reason I usually give (especially when coworkers look at me funny after I explain reason #1) is that resigning now gives Eric and me a lot more freedom in regards to when we move out of Richmond.  Richmond is not our forever home.  We both agree about this.  I’m not sure exactly where our forever home city will end up being, but we’ve been talking for a while about relocating to North Carolina, somewhere within the Research Triangle.  Eric’s degree is in computer science, and although there are many jobs in Richmond that seek employees with that background, Eric tells me they’re more like IT positions than true computer science, which is actually a creative field (who knew??).  Thus, Eric has been interested for while now in “The Triangle,” since it’s the most pioneering region for computer science on the East Coast.

The only problem with all this is that I absolutely refused to move mid-year.  It might be the sin of pride or vanity, but I really believe it would be harmful to my students if I just up and ditched them somewhere in the middle of the year.  Yes, students are resilient.  Yes, I know that no one teacher makes or breaks a kid’s high school experience.  But I also know that unless a really good, qualified replacement is found right away, the year could be completely wasted for that one class, and I happen to think reading and writing are pretty important.  That’s what happened to my brother’s 7th grade year of language arts.  The teacher quit mid-year and then they went through a string of 3 or 4 “long term” subs.  And they didn’t learn anything.  (Okay, they probably learned some things, but they didn’t learn enough.)  It was a wasted year.  I wouldn’t do that to my kids unless it was absolutely necessary, like if I had a baby, for example.

Unfortunately, a summer is actually a really narrow window of time to relocate.  Moving, obviously, is time consuming.  Plus we’d both need to find new jobs, which is tricky.  When, for instance, should Eric start applying for jobs?  He can’t wait until the summer, but if he applies too early, he might not be available for months (my school lets out at the end of June).  But if he holds back, he might not receive an offer until too late, once a new school year has started.

These complications have stymied us, and so neither Eric nor I really got the job search/relocation ball rolling.  It won’t be nearly as big an issue next year though, since I won’t have any students to desert.  I don’t consider giving 2-weeks notice to a company the same as giving 2-weeks notice to a school.  (This might be hiring suicide if I thought there was a possibility of a potential employer reading this blog, but since I have approximately six readers and I’m on a first name basis with all of you, I think I’m safe.)

And one more (secret) reason.

The third reason I’m saving for a separate post.  Partly because this one is already long enough, but mostly because it’s my most controversial reason, and I haven’t really shared it with anyone yet.  I want to take some time to think through it and word in in such a way that it doesn’t hugely offend all of my friends in education (and that’s most of my friends).  I don’t think it should offend anyone, but it could come across wrong if I’m not careful.  So until next time…

What reasons have you had for quitting (or wanting to quit) a job?

May 28, 2010 at 12:24 am 3 comments


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