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Sun Sep 30, 2012, 11:54 AM

The Exhaustion of the American Teacher

The American child has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Many shrill voices argue that teachers must change, too, by simply working harder. The favored lever for achieving this prescribed augmentation of the American schoolteacher’s work ethic is fear, driven by a progressively more precarious employment situation.

But teachers by and large aren’t afraid; they’re just tired.

Meanwhile, no one is demanding American non-teachers change anything. Michelle Rhee wastes none of her vast supply of indignation on American public policies that leave a quarter of our children in poverty while, not coincidentally, the profits of Rhee’s corporate backers reach new heights. And no one but Paul Tough dares to hint at the obvious-but-politically-incorrect reality that a swelling army of kid-whipped or addiction-addled American parents have totally abdicated the job of parenting and have raised the white flag when it comes to disciplining their children or teaching them virtues like honesty, hard work, and self-respect. Americans have explicitly handed off character education to schoolteachers. Such a practice says a great deal about our nation’s expectations of its parents.


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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Exhaustion of the American Teacher (Original post)
Reader Rabbit Sep 2012 OP
Smarmie Doofus Sep 2012 #1
msongs Sep 2012 #2
LWolf Sep 2012 #3
mbperrin Oct 2012 #4
LWolf Oct 2012 #9
knitter4democracy Oct 2012 #5
Reader Rabbit Oct 2012 #6
knitter4democracy Oct 2012 #7
LWolf Oct 2012 #8
Smarmie Doofus Oct 2012 #10
savebigbird Oct 2012 #11

Response to Reader Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Sep 30, 2012, 01:08 PM

1. Rec. But parents are exhausted too.


It's an exhausting friggin' economy and an exhausting friggin' culture in which to raise a child. Or three.

All of us.... or perhaps I should say 99% of us... are *exhausted*.

But yeah... teachers are especially burnt-out. Even newbies.

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Response to Reader Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Sep 30, 2012, 01:37 PM

2. stupid teachers have brought this on themselves in many ways....

teachers have something called a contract day, which specifies what hours they must work. Normal people accept job responsibilities then go home at the end of their contract day. Teachers have voluntarily agreed to do more work than can be done in their contract day so they stay way beyond the agreed to hours to do the work FOR FREE. Smart school boards have figured this out and dump more work load on the teachers. This is a choice teachers make, then they go all martyr-complex and blame the schools/school board/state.

Which employer will not take advantage of a group of workers who volunteer to be suckers? Nobody at Burger King volunteers to work 3 hours off the clock 5 days a week plus more on weekends.

Teachers need to say "if it can't be done during the contract day we are not going to do it." Then the contract day must be renegotiated with additional hours added in for additional compensation and with additional assistance AND work duties need to be adjusted accordingly.

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Response to msongs (Reply #2)

Sun Sep 30, 2012, 06:27 PM

3. All of this except for the word "stupid"

is definitely an element.

If every last teacher in the nation stopped working for free, the system would crash.

There is, though, in every contract I've ever worked, always language presenting a conflict. Specific hours that we must be at school are set, but somewhere in there it also says that we have to fulfill all the duties we are assigned.

And there isn't any way to fulfill those duties without working beyond the set hours. At least, there never has been in the decades, states, districts, and schools I've worked in. Districts know this. That's why the language is always there. If they actually paid us for everything we do, we'd be paid much closer to what we're worth. When there is language saying that we will be paid additional compensation for specific duties, that additional compensation is usually less than half of what you'd get dividing our daily rate by 8 hours for an hourly rate; usually it's not hourly, but a "stipend" that pays us that much no matter how much time it takes. Regardless of how it's worded, it sure as hell doesn't come out to time and a half for overtime. It's more like half time for over time.

Working the set hours and no more feeds the insidious anti-teacher propaganda that the general public laps up. Teachers are lazy; they only work 6 hours a day (even though their set hours are generally an 8 hour day like everyone else.) They only work 9 months of the year; who wouldn't like all those vacations?!?! They just don't work "smart," that's why it takes them so long to do the job. If they were smarter, more efficient, etc., they could get it done in 8 hours. Teachers must be available to meet or talk on the phone at the drop of a hat, regardless how much work there is to be done during that time. AND teachers must be available to meet outside those set hours, in person or on the phone, when needed.

"Great" teachers stay late into the evening, make home visits in their free time, meet with students for free on weekends, etc., etc., etc.. Erin Gruwell, for example, did so for a few years before she made a name for herself that guaranteed that she would be movin' on up and could have a more reasonable work life.

It doesn't matter what the truth of the matter is when the propaganda machine is turning.

There are many pressures brought to bear that keep teachers working for free. Generally, it's about feeling like we are ready to give our students a productive day of learning each day; if we're not keeping up because we didn't work outside of the day, we can't do that. We don't like to let students down like that.

When a teacher DOES leave on time, no matter how much work is going home for the evening, everyone takes note, and he or she gains a reputation as a "clock puncher" who doesn't put students first.

Finally, using test scores to evaluate and pay teachers puts them in competition with their peers, which is never healthy for the state of learning over-all, and increases the pressure to put in the extra time exponentially.

For the record: school has been in session for 3 weeks now. I put in free hours equivalent to 10 contract days before school started setting up the room, setting schedules, organizing the supplies, half of which I bought myself, planning the year, etc.. I've spent no less than 10 hours, and most days more, at school since the day students showed up. And I'm still behind. Last week I had 6 meetings to attend before and after school, which left me not much time for other responsibilities. We also have converted to a new SIS which includes a grade book that is mandated by our district that took us until last Wednesday to get working properly; most of the time we would have spent grading and entering scores and giving students feedback have been spent fighting with the new system. I'm hoping to get caught up this week, no matter how long it takes me, but on Friday I was given 2 Monday meetings to attend, before school and after school, so we'll see how it goes.

I hope you aren't inferring that I'm "stupid."

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Response to LWolf (Reply #3)

Mon Oct 1, 2012, 10:07 PM

4. Could not have said it better.

We're in the 5th week of school here. During the 3rd week, the department head came to me and said that we had a huge enrollment of sophomores, and we needed to close three of my senior sections of economics and government and open three sections of sophomore world history. I said okay.

The three sections of senior disappeared that day.

I now have two sections of sophomores with another class of two students, still awaiting the rest of the class. Report cards are issued this Friday. I was told today that the rest of my section will arrive Thursday, but be sure to have enough work to evaluate the 6 weeks to give them a grade on Friday for their report card.

Yep, stuff like this is what gives you the headache. Not the students, the admin.

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Response to mbperrin (Reply #4)

Tue Oct 2, 2012, 08:01 AM

9. It's all of those duties

which cannot be performed in the regular day that devour us. The general public, and even our parents, really don't have any idea what we're wrestling behind the scenes, before and after the student day.

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Response to msongs (Reply #2)

Mon Oct 1, 2012, 10:43 PM

5. Do you really think teachers are that stupid?

Our contracts are clear: our annual evaluations are based on us meeting all of our contract obligations. The contract obligations cannot be met within our set hours, so in order to keep our jobs, we have to work longer hours.

There's also the problem that, in some states, work slow downs (where we work only our set hours and no more, no less) are treated the same as strikes which means we can all be fired.

I agree that, often, we take on more than we should, but in reality, we don't have much of a choice these days. I'm up late hoping the dang on-line grade book will finally work so I can post grades that are due in the morning, but the stupid thing isn't working. If I don't post on-time, that can be held against me (and my principal is sure to say something), even if it's not my fault that the system is down. That's just the issue right now: add in the mandatory lesson plan forms, the mandatory parent phone calls, the mandatory meetings and training, the mandatory strategies we are all supposed to use in every class and every day even when it doesn't fit, the mandatory this, that, and some other thing (and now the principal is talking about extra meetings/training on Saturdays--unpaid and not mandatory but in all reality required), and you can start to see why we're all so dang tired, and I haven't even started talking about the students.

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Response to knitter4democracy (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 1, 2012, 11:34 PM

6. Not stupid, just susceptible to emotional blackmail.

Teaching, more than any other profession, is open to the "If you really cared, you would {insert questionable demand here}." People get into teaching because they care. Thus, they are more easily manipulated into giving up their experience and expertise for nothing. Unfortunately, it's part of the culture, as someone up-thread mentioned. Teachers who work strictly to contract hours are disparaged as "clock-punchers"—most often by their own co-workers, who see themselves as "better" than that.

As long as this "martyr" mindset exists, American public education will never improve.

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Response to Reader Rabbit (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 2, 2012, 01:00 AM

7. Sure, some of that exists, but in MI, it's the job threat.

I see far more teachers running ragged meeting all of the requirements because their jobs have been threatened than I see people doing it out of some martyr or guilt complex. We're repeatedly reminded that we're easily replaceable by a young thing out of college (who's cheaper but has a 50% of quitting in less than 5 years), and our supt. even told us on day one to look around and that some of our neighbors wouldn't be back next year.

It took me three years to find a salaried teaching job--and if I didn't get child support, my kids and I would qualify for food stamps. Still, it's a job I love, despite the rat race of doing more and more and more and more with less time/sleep/support.

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Response to Reader Rabbit (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 2, 2012, 08:00 AM

8. That nails it.

If we care about our students, we'll be martyrs to their cause. If we try to hold the line professionally, we're clock punchers and don't care.

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Response to Reader Rabbit (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 2, 2012, 10:41 AM

10. It's the KIND of 'off the clock' work they want now that gets me.


I didn't mind being a "martyr" and staying after 3, or taking work home until school "reform" kicked in.

I was always willing in the 80s and 90s to spend my "own" time making prep for what I was going to do *in class* the next day.

But now they just want ( DEMAND!) scads of inane "data" establishing student progress. The instruments they are using to assess severely-handicapped special ed kids are so utterly asinine that they have to be seen to be believed. They were all hastily devised in the wake of RTTP or just carried over from gen ed. (In which case, they're invalid. The kids are in self-contained sped for a reason. Jeeeeesus.)

According to the Obama administration, everybody has to have data. So the bureaucracy produces data. Doesn't matter what the quality of the data is... just so long as it's data. And LOTS of it. You can't have too much data. Even if no one's being taught properly as a consequence.


Work of this kind comprised 9/10 of the clerical work I was doing in the last two years before I retired. I imagine a comparable corruption of education is going on in gen ed.

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Response to Smarmie Doofus (Reply #10)

Wed Oct 31, 2012, 06:01 PM

11. DATA!!!

I hear from teachers that testing (aka "data collection" is very very much spilling over into teaching time. It just doesn't make any sense to sacrifice learning for the sake of proving that learning is going on!

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