May 16, 2006

Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?

I can never quite figure out when I should give up, pack up, and leave a school. I taught for 7 years in a school that was so full of drama and instability, but I really thought I was doing my best for the students and community. I put my whole heart in the place. Now I'm finishing up my second year teaching in a school that I really thought of as nothing more than getting my foot in the door. I'm at a Title 1 middle school in a city where I didn't really want to live.

I'd rather be in a suburbian high school in a city on the other end of the state. (Moving isn't an option right now.) I've never taught in an average school. It sounds peaceful. In my mind, an average (or a little above average school) doesn't have high teacher turnover. The administration doesn't think up new painful ways to increase student achievement that doesn't actually involve the students to having to work harder. People wouldn't turn their noses up at me for teaching in the 'hood. I might not get so stressed out all the time.

How easy would it be for me to move on to another school! I look at the long transfer list, but nothing really pops out at me. How do I know life might be better at another school? How do I know that I can make friends with a strong staff with good camaraderie? How do I know that the administrators act as a strong team, and that they support teachers and students? How do I know that the students have hope in themselves? How do I know that their parents will be supportive without being insane? The only way to really know is to teach in the school for a while.

I don't have it so tough at my school right now. (Last year was another story, though.) I get to teach the brightest students, and they are mostly motivated. Some of them are rotten brats, but they largely care about their futures. I am caught, though. Teaching the top students in a low-achieving school is a lot of pressure. Most of the year, I've felt like everyone is looking to my students to raise test scores to counter balance the number of ELL students who don't have a chance. After one particulary important test that will be part of our AYP formula, I was pointedly asked about a student who bombed his test. Read between the lines: We needed his score to bring up his ethnic subgroup's scores.

(I asked the student about his shocking scores, and he admitted that he didn't really care about the test. Don't even think about asking me if I told my students how important the tests were. Just don't go there.)

Test scores. That's probably my biggest stress. Too much testing. My poor students have been tested to death. I believe it is to the tune of 20 days this year. Half of those days were actual days where I did not teach. The other half is the estimate of time on the school-wide testing days where we did end up having each class, but it was for 15-20 minutes each period. I tried so hard not to waste those minutes, but after spending time testing all morning, the students were burned out. Add that to the time I'm suppose to be reviewing tests or test taking skills...I wonder, "WHEN CAN I TEACH SOMETHING NEW? WHEN CAN I ACTIVELY ENGAGE MY STUDENTS IN SOME INTELLECTUAL DIALOGUE?"

Since testing is the biggest stress, will it go away in a different school? We are all in the same district, after all. I hear encouraging rumors that not all schools are like ours. Sure, there's the testing, but some schools aren't hyper-pushing it all the time. Uhm, could be because their scores aren't in the toilet? Probably.

So, should I go?

Or, should I not give up and keep doing my best, hoping that I might be helping my school?

When do I say, "Enough about you! I am off to find my perfect school!"?

And the most important question...IS there a perfect school for me?

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