April 3, 2011

Now with 20% More!

It's hard to be a happy classroom teacher in my neck of the woods right now. Things have been bad in Nevada the last few years, and we have experienced drastic cuts in educational spending, but we've survived. This year, the governor has put it on our district to cut $400 million from our budget. What we're looking at to save that money is an 5-8% salary cut (something we had avoided in the past few years, yet we did go into a pay freeze last year) and 2,500 lost positions, some of which will be support staff, but a gigantic chunk will be classroom teachers. There are other proposed smaller cuts, like no new textbooks and transportation adjustments, but when it comes to cutting millions, it has to be teachers and salaries.

I met with my principal on Friday to sign my evaluation this year. She gave me my directives for next year, which are pretty much to continue with doing the things I'm expected to do in my job anyway, and she thanked me for doing a good job. (I appreciated that actual verbal praise.)

She said, "I don't know what to tell you about next year."

"Oh, I'm not worried about my position here. It's like it was last year. If I get bumped, the whole department is screwed," I joked with her.

She glanced at her seniority list, confirming what I knew already about my seniority, which is 2nd in my department at my school. When it comes to district seniority, I'm pretty much in the middle of the list, too.

I continued, "No, what I'm worried about is how much more it's going to suck working here with larger class sizes and no funding. Moral is already low. It's not going to get any better."

You know, my boss didn't even bat an eye at my frank talk. We're all in this sinking ship together.

The buzz among us teachers is concern for those larger class sizes, which are predicted to be 7 students more than we have now. I don't know about others at my school or in the district--although a new student in my night school class claims she has already 56 students in one of her classes at a local high school during the day--but my classes have 4-5 more students in them this year than they did last year. What do you want from me? A scientific study or something? My larger classes are harder to manage. It takes us longer to accomplish things. Students have fewer opportunities to speak or interact with each other. I do not have the opportunity to interact with many of my students.

I can tell you that adding adding 20% to my class next year will absolutely change the way I teach. Oh, is that a threat? Or am I going to evolve as a teacher? Parents and the public should know that more work--especially with the reward of less pay--will not be a great motivator for me, but more importantly, having to do more work with the same amount of time and resources will not produce a better experience for the students. What I should tell parents is that we are preparing them for college. Students need to come to class, get the information, do their work, turn it in on time, get their feedback, and if they need help, it is up to them to seek me out after school.

Wait, that's kind of how it is now anyway. Only parents, and sometimes administrators expect much, much more of me as a teacher. I'm expected to hold hands. Pay attention to the whole child. Differentiate my instruction to meet the varied needs of students. Teach them to think while teaching to the test. Document everything as I do it, too. You know, pay attention to each of those 150 students. Oops. I mean, 175 with classroom size increases. Yeah...You can go---oops. I'm in teacher mode here. Language in check, please.

I don't even know where I'm going with this post. I've want to talk about these frustrations, but my thoughts are so jumbled with work overload, depression from constant public abuse of teachers, and doubt about exactly how much I should be expected to do as a teacher.

I'm not happy about having my pay cut.

I'm not happy about my job being made harder.

I'm not happy that teachers are being demonized in the public eye.

I'm not happy that I'm begrudged a living salary, health benefits, and retirement benefits for my service.

I'm not happy that my students do not value education, and I'm to blame.

I'm a survivor who has stuck out tough times in the classroom since the day I walked into it.

I'm going to do what is expected of me and act professionally--even when I'm not treated professionally.

I'm going to still give my best to the students; I'm not going to blame them for situations they cannot control, like overcrowding and lack of materials.

Life in education is disheartening these days. I'm not ready to quit it yet, and after investing 15 years of my life in it, it would take a major shift for me to move out of it. But how much more major would that be?

I understand that times are tough and we all need to make sacrifices, and I'm okay with it for a short-term fix, but with all this talk of cut, cut, cut, there has been no talk of how education will be built to pull us out of this slump. For three years, in the state, it has been all about cutting education, and little talk from leaders about funding education. In the meanwhile, in schools, we talk about raising achievement--getting those test scores up--with the fear that if we don't, our schools will be deemed ineffective, taken over, and reorganized. In our classrooms, where we try to block out the adversities knocking on our doors, we fight student apathy and a cultural disregard for the value of education. We teachers love our jobs, but there is a lot to hate about it, too.

I don't need sympathy. A little respect would be nice. Education is not about the teachers just like health care isn't about the doctors. I wish I could be persuasive enough to convince the public and politicians that they really don't get what is going on with education, but from everything I've read and seen in the last few years, it's a waste of my breath.



Melissa B. said...

1. I haven't had a raise in 3 years.
2. I have 32 cherubs in an AP English class. That would be 10 too many!
3. I have 151 students total this year, because electives teachers don't fall under the 125-student limit that core class teachers have, divided by the 5 classes they teach.
4. My principal is an idiot.
5. A parent told me the other day that he expected me to follow his suggestions on teaching his child, because he "pays" my salary.

And one wonders why teachers are feeling shat upon? At least I don't work in Wisconsin...

laniza said...

I totally understand where you are coming from. I'm really concerned how my school is going to find more qualified teachers when the majority of the senior staff will be retiring within the next 3-5 years.

Melissa E. said...

Personally, I think the demonization of teachers is far worse than the pay freezes and class size increases. If we received more respect, the other things would be easier to take.

I'm a K-5 ELL Teacher in Illinois, and our caseloads are huge this year. Thankfully, I haven't heard anything but grateful praise and thanks from parents of children I work with, but it is disheartening to listen to everyone bash teachers in the news.

Best of luck with your 20% more.

Maestro said...

I agree with Melissa E. Pay and class sizes are a product of the times - nothing anyone can really do about that. As an arts teacher, I choose to keep my big mouth shut and be thankful that I can still afford to put my kid in daycare.

OKP said...

I hear you. I understand. I'm sorry for your frustration, angry at the world, but inspired by your strength. You are not alone.


Life in Cali's no picnic now either.

Melissa B: No raises for us either. 37 and 35 in each section of AP. 180 is our student limit. I have 166, which is pretty low. Ditto on the principal. Ah. The 'consumer' mentality. Yeah, that too.

HappyChyck said...

Melissa-Sucks at your school, too, aye? I know that parents like yours are not the majority, but they are they ones who stick with us.

Ianiza-I've been wondering about boomers retiring. Will there be a sudden shortage of teachers? Retirement is another topic, though. too many cannot afford to retire...

Melissa E.-You're right about the respect. That lack of respect in the public eye is not a secret to our students--the older students will catch on more than the younger ones. That doesn't help.

Maestro-Oh! I know I can't even say much when it comes to class sizes in the arts. It's well known that those are often the first courses to go, too.

OKP--California...oh yeah things have been really bad in some areas. Any lights at the end of the tunnel there?

Knighton said...

At the high school in my district in Georgia, we went to most teachers teaching 6 classes a day (out of 7 periods). I teach 6 classes and have about 155 students. However, two of my classes are gifted classes, with one having 20 students and the other having 25 students (the state raised the maximum for gifted classes to 25 this year), so many of my friends have more students. I am grateful to have a job, but I, too, am very, very tired. I did get a raise in the middle of last year but it was because I finished my degree. We haven't had raises in I think 3 years, but our health insurance keeps rising. It will be especially bad this fall because the state people discovered a shortfall in the insurance budget, so we'll have to make up the difference. So, with the increase in insurance and the furloughs we've been forced to take, most of us have gotten significant pay cuts, all the while being expected to do more, more, more!