Sunday, February 21, 2016

Obstacles to teaching

I get it.  Teachers are overpaid and underworked.  Most teachers are stupid.  After all, we only work til 3:00, we have summers off, plus we get long breaks at Christmas and in April, and everyone knows that most teachers tend to come from the bottom third of graduating classes.

I won't argue the point too much.  We aren't really overpaid although that varies from state to state.  A starting teacher in Washington earns about $35k for 180 days worth of work.  That's about $24 an hour, assuming that you only work eight hours a day.  Wait, doesn't a McDonald's employee in Seatac, a small town south of Seattle, make $15 an hour?  Well, yeah, but they have to remember to take the fries out of the machine when the timer goes off, so that's hardly the same thing.  Oh, and $24 per hour assumes that you only work eight hours a day.  I know few teachers who don't stay later to help students (I can chalk up at least an extra hour each day and I'm never the last one to leave) or take grading home to do in the evenings.

I make a little more with ten years of experience and advanced coursework on top of my Bachelor's, but nothing compared to what I could make if I actually used my degree in Aerospace Engineering.  I'm not complaining, however, because I like the summer's off.  I work on Harleys on the side and stash the money for riding my motorcycle and going on surf trips when we aren't in school.  A sacrifice I'm willing to make.

There is one huge obstacle to remaining a teacher, however, and that is the continuing qualifications required by my state.  Let's set the stage here. 

First, I have to do what is called Professional Development.  Several days a year we don't have students and we study how to be better teachers.  The exact methodology of what we do is determined by our administrators, but it generally is geared towards whatever the education establishment believes will make us better teachers.  Fair enough.  Someone has to make those decisions and we should try to get better at our jobs.  After all, when I was a Harley mechanic I went back to Milwaukee to get trained by Harley on doing a better job. 

Second, I do something called TPEP.  I don't even remember what TPEP stands for (something to do with Teachers and Professional and Education and Program, perhaps?) but it is how we get evaluated to make sure that we are good teachers.  Show of hands, how many of you have to do your own evaluation at work?  How many of you have to go through special training to learn how to be evaluated effectively?  None of you?  Interesting.  We were pulled out of our classrooms for four days over the course of a year to be taught how to use the evaluation rubric to improve our teaching be evaluated.  There are pages of these rubrics, each one with explanations of what it means to be Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient, or Distinguished.  We learn how to demonstrate where we are in each category and then, when evaluation time rolls around, we meet with the evaluator and tell him or her all about what we do in each category that puts us at that level.  The evaluator then comes to our classroom for about a half hour and agrees with us (or maybe doesn't, in some cases).

Actually, I don't have much of a problem with this system either because I have learned to be a better teacher using a lot of what I was taught.  If I had any issue it would be that the training really didn't need to be four days.  We probably could have done the same thing in two.

Nope. It gets worse.  I am now doing something called the Proteach Portfolio.  You can probably figure out that Proteach stands for Professional Teacher.  Catchy, huh?  So what objections to I have to the Proteach? Well, I chose the salary and work schedule, if I fail the evaluation (hard to do if you make any effort at all to care) I can work on improving and becoming a better teacher, but if I fail the Portfolio I'm out.  Not only that, I can't even apply for another teaching certificate in Washington for five years.  I don't know for sure but I wouldn't be surprised if something like that went in your permanent record and showed up if you moved to another state to get a teaching job.

So what's the big deal, you might be asking?  Don't fail.  Not that easy.  The Proteach Portfolio was written by professional educators.  You know the kind.  Not teachers, educators.  A sample:

In what ways did you advocate for curriculum, instruction, learning needs and/or environments that meet the diverse needs of your students? Specify the need(s) you were addressing.
Reflect on the impact this advocacy made, or will make, on student learning in your classroom or school. If you are unable to report a tangible result, stating your intended result is sufficient.
What if the curriculum that your school was using when you arrived is an excellent curriculum and meets the diverse needs of your students already (whatever that means)?  Make something up, I guess.

Another example?
In what ways do you encourage students to contribute their personal experience and/or backgrounds to their own learning? Describe ways in which you facilitate students’ connection of personal experience and/or background to their learning.  

I'm a freaking math teacher.  I teach math.  We do math problems. 

One more, just for fun.
  • Describe how you developed and/or modified curriculum to foster your 3 focus students’ use of critical-thinking, problem-solving and/or adaptive methods. Cite evidence from student work artifacts to show this use.
  • In what ways did the 3 focus students understand the use of critical-thinking, problem solving and/or adaptive methods for a positive impact on their own learning? Cite evidence from student work artifacts.
  • In what ways did the 3 focus students make the connection between critical-thinking, problem-solving and/or adaptive methods to progress toward their own learning targets? Cite evidence from the student work artifacts.

I'm not even going to bore you with commentary.  What it boils down to is that the local school board is happy with my teaching, the superintendent is happy with my teaching, the principal is happy with my teaching, the parents are happy with my teaching, and a lot of the students are happy with my teaching.  I make regular efforts to improve my teaching, with the support of the aforementioned entities and everyone is happy.  Except the state.  I have to answer all those questions correctly in order to keep my job.

But that isn't my main complaint.  So far this has cost me about $850 and there is another $500 bill headed down the pike in my direction.  Plus eight Saturday's taking the "optional" class (submitted the portfolio once without the "optional" class and failed miserably because I apparently had no idea what they wanted me to do) which I could have spent working on Harleys for $45 per hour.  Since I'm a math teacher I can quickly tell you that this cost me another $1440.  So now we are nearing $3000 in state mandated spending just so that I can keep my job, which everyone who is relevant believes that I am doing well.

That is my complaint.  But you know what, I get summer off and I am going surfing so I will piss and moan about it, but I will do it.

Oh, and when I'm done and I'm a "Professional Teacher", then I only have to do another bullshit state mandated thing called a Professional Growth Plan.  No idea yet what that entails but they happily tell me not to worry, after all, I only have to do four over the course of five years.  I guess that means that if I teach till retirement age I'll only have to do twelve Professional Growth Plans to keep my job.  Can't wait.


NotClauswitz said...

OMG. "Educators"... My dad was a Shop Teacher (Wood, Metal, Drafting) and he got into trouble with Administrators because of his non-compliance with how they handled "difficult students."
The morons would send some big kid who was acting-out with emotional issues to sit in his class as a form of detention thinking Shop Teachers were tough guys. Dad didn't think it was a good idea to have a 6'-2" 250lb bundle of trouble hanging out next to whirling machinery and a cabinet full of sharp chisels and such, and at the first sign of problems he would send the kid off/back to the Principal's Office.
Somehow they didn't appreciate that and/but also failed to understand the serious problem/situation of their own making...

heresolong said...

I can see it. I am lucky to be in a school where they don't have that attitude and we work together to deal with the problems. I have, over the ten years I have been teaching, had three students who needed to be out of my classroom. They have worked with me on all three to find them a better situation where they wouldn't be a distraction to everyone else while not learning anything anyway. The administration of my school is one reason I am still living here. I don't want to have to start over and take my chances with another school.