Sunday, October 23, 2005

This Teaching Life

In yesterday's open thread, Ms. Cornelius, of A Shrewdness of Apes, had some very though-provoking commentary into what, for many, the Teaching Life is becoming in the 21st Century. I thought that they should have a post of their own:
I am afraid it all goes back to the fact that what teaching actually entails is a mystery to most parents, and, sadly, many administrators. People think that because they went to school, they know what teachers do. That's like saying that because I've been operated upon, I know what surgeons do (which, from my last surgery, is apparently to tell your patient that an infected incision was "actually worthy of an A minus," which once again proves my point that non-teachers don't understand teaching).

The Greek chorus of politicians and administrators and parents chants that they want instruction to students to be the first consideration, then layer on the bureaucracy.

My students and I were having a conversation in US history class about outsourcing the other day. We talked about the role technology has played in making outsourcing possible.

I looked at the computer on my desk as I spoke. When I began teaching in this district, we didn't even have a phone or intercom help button in our rooms. If there was an emergency, you had to have a trusted student run downstairs to the office and get someone (after the first emergency, I had to amend the instructions to include, "Stand there and loudly yell for help until an administrator actually comes with you right then.")

Then we all were "given" computers as long as we agreed to take 12 classes on various pieces of software and pass assessments on them-- classes after school or before school on our own time, unpaid, BTW (Can you say, "Job security for the technology diva?").

Once computers were on everyone's desk, our school district went online, and grading and progress reports and email to parents became de rigeur. But you can't enter grades from home, and although we are supposed to check our email frequently during the day, we teachers are given a time limit for how many minutes each day you leave the email on-- exceed it, and you are cut off, even if you are waiting for an urgent response from an administrator or counselor. You are not supposed to be online during instructional time, and could be fired for doing so, but the community is told that the internet is used as a tool by the teacher during the school day- say, to show students the answer to a student question or whatnot.

Parents can set up the system so that every time a new grade is entered for their child, they are emailed, which can lead to about 20 emails a day from parents, all of which have to be answered. I had one parent who checked her daughter's grade 897 times between October through the end of May. I am not making this up-- the counselor and I had a bet on it.

Yes, we teachers are supposed to stay off the computer, which means no grading or answering the zillion parent emails-- unless there is a "situation," then the principal comes over the intercom to tell all teachers to drop what they are doing to check their emails immediately for a special announcement, right in the middle of instructional time. Oh, and don't tell the kids what the email was about, although they have all watched you go over and read it.

We were told that technology would make our teaching lives easier. All I see is that it's actually caused me to spend exponentially more time on non-instructional tasks. This is not the fault of the technology. It is the fault of the restrictions placed upon our use of technology by administration.

At least I don't have to turn in lesson plans detailing the district, state and essential curriculum standards I cover and how this relates to testing blahblahblah every week. It could be worse.
I find it vexing that what should be the most beautiful and fulfilling job in the world is increasingly becoming an exercise in frustration for many, (including ourselves) not because of the actual teaching, or the students, but because all of the additional non-instructional responsibilities and meaningless paperwork that is being foisted upon classroom teachers, who already have their hands full just doing the job of teaching.

And let's not forget that both school administrators and the public continue to expect that test scores will increase each and every year, even if students make no attempt to do the work, or worse, are permitted to impede the academic progress of other pupils, as
this excellent eye-witness account demonstrates.
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