Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can You Make a Teachers Job More Difficult ?

Could You Make My Job More Difficult?
"I work in a small school." It's what I tell myself every time I find myself stealing staples from office staplers or drawing Venn diagrams on twenty papers before class because all of the copiers are broken. It's like, "This is why I moved to New York," which is what I say every time I talk education with a bunch of progressive educators, get tickets to see Diane Ravitch speak, visit authors' apartments for book clubs, or watch people live their lives in the Manhattan skyline at two in the morning. But one is a positive thing, and the other isn't.

In an effort to focus on the positive, I explained last week why I love working at my school. As much as it's a great opportunity for me, it's also an INCREDIBLE hassle. I think if people were more aware of the absurdities teachers deal with on an everyday basis, they might be less inclined to label schools 'failing,' or blame teachers for society's shortcomings.

In December, I wrote about a few of the things that make my job difficult. There are so many more, though. It seems like incredible amounts of meaningful work are often sabotaged (intentionally and unintentionally) at every level of education. Moreover, teachers are regularly put in precarious legal situations that would make any sane person reconsider their job on a daily basis. The result is that I complete so many tasks that are a waste of my time because of poor organizational management and political ineptitude. Here are a few examples from my daily experiences.

1. Getting paid is a job in itself.
For the first time in my career, I have to clock in and out of school for 'per session' pay - i.e. money I'm being paid for taking on additional work at school beyond my regular teaching duties. At the end of the pay period, I have to take my pay stub, fill out a form, get my admin to sign off, and hand it to the secretary. What should be a simple task often turns into a cat-and-mouse game. The admin is often not in the office when I need a signature, and the secretary regularly leaves school at 3:15pm, which is the minute I get done teaching my last period. Also, I often have to make copies of the time card, which would be no problem if our copiers weren't regularly broken or being used by someone else. This process often takes at least twenty minutes of my day.

2. Going to the bathroom is a hassle.

Student bathrooms are locked to prevent gang activity and smoking. When students want to go to the bathroom, they first have to get a key from the main office. The key is (surprise, surprise) often stolen. It's not rare that students leave my room for twenty minutes to go to the bathroom only to come back and tell me they went to three different people in two different offices, and nobody had a key. Students are told by office staff that teachers have the key; teachers can open the bathroom for them. That'd be fine if it wasn't an enormous liability for me to leave the rest of the class unattended during the school day. I could lend them my keys, but I bet they'd be stolen pretty quickly, too.

My basement bathroom
Then there's the matter of the faculty bathroom. The only easily accessible bathrooms are on the first and second floor, but they're student bathrooms. It is, of course, another liability for teachers to use them. Teachers are instructed to use the teacher bathroom on the other side of the building in the basement. This turns out to be quite the Double Dare challenge during the three-minute break we have to change classes (during which time we also have to move materials and cart textbooks from room to room, sometimes on different floors, which requires waiting for the elevator). Most teachers risk the liability.

3. Keeping classrooms clean and kids supervised is overwhelming.

Really? Pancake on the floor?
Teachers travel from room to room at my school. In a rush to make it from one class to another, teachers forget to do a lot of things - e.g. take worksheets with them, make sure kids clean the inevitable mess they make on a daily basis, or lock the door. As a result, classrooms often look awful by the end of the day. I usually spend thirty minutes cleaning this up before I can ever start any work after school.

My class after four teachers
It's a liability to leave students in classrooms by themselves. Anything they steal or break our administration has told us can be held against us, no matter what time of day it occurs. That sucks because there are non-teachers who use our classrooms. If I lock my door to keep kids out, I will inevitably be called away from a meeting later in the day to let the Bronx Arts people in, and because those people aren't on staff, they don't care so much about locking the door when they leave, especially since they don't have a key. Teachers are also liable for leaving windows open. Kids might get electronics and weapons through them they couldn't through the metal detectors.

4. Our building is falling apart.

The ceiling in our principal's office has been leaking water for weeks. Plastic was used to cover the leak up, but the office also doesn't get heat like the rest of the building. Last week, a portion of the ceiling fell on our principal while writing an email.

In the classroom, teaching can be a hassle when the building pipes make it sound like you're living in a popcorn bag. I've seen teachers yelling at students, not because students were being disruptive, but because the pipe noises required it.

And then there's the heat. On the first and second floors, it's often outrageously hot. Some kids open the windows to the freezing air outside, and other kids yell at them for it. Conflict ensues. Teaching gets harder.

5. The kids' diets are abysmal.

I often wonder if teaching the kids about the Industrial Revolution is worth my time at all when their brains are made out of Pringles. The kids do not understand, at all, the importance of healthy eating. They're not even aware they're eating poorly. A number of students have argued with me over the quality of fast food. "Mister - fast food makes you strong! It's good for you!" I sigh and try to explain to them.... It is, alas, of no use.

And whoever is responsible for the lunch the students receive in the cafeteria on the SIXTH FLOOR should be shot. Many of my students who are already going hungry at home avoid eating lunch at school because it's so bad. I keep bananas, almonds, and raisins in class to feed my kids when they can't work because they're so hungry. This, of course, takes time away from learning.

6. Technology makes my life more difficult.

Our school has some technology. We have a laptop cart and five projectors (for twenty-five teachers), but when my AP asked me yesterday why nobody was making use of the technology, I rolled my eyes and went into a fifteen-minute monologue about how technology makes my life more difficult. If I want to check the laptop cart out, I have to get it in the morning and push it to the room I'm using that day. I have to worry about kids stealing laptops and me having the pay the price. I have to somehow make sure the laptops are being used appropriately and that I get them all back by the end of the period. I have to somehow ensure a decent lesson despite the kids' desire to do anything but work once you put a computer in front of them. Finally, I have to figure out how to cart it from class to class for the rest of the day (or at least until I have a planning period) even if I don't want to use it with other classes. The same goes for the projectors, which are pretty hard to use when you don't have any white wall space in your room.

Then there's the matter of the teacher computers. As I mentioned before, the only computers teachers can use are located in a tiny teacher room on the second floor (there are usually five or six working computers for twenty-five teachers). The door doesn't lock and it's a hassle to keep students out when teachers aren't using it. The computers are loaded with viruses. A colleague of mine recently watched his work disappear from his jump drive after catching a virus from one of them.

This is to let you know that the following is my conclusion.

The saddest thing is that I've still only mentioned about a third of all the absurdities administrators, teachers, parents, and students have to deal with regularly at my school that I know about. I believe there are probably many more that I'm ignorant of and probably participate in regularly, probably quite blissfully.

To all the people working in policy whose jobs seem to entail making my life more difficult, I'm here to tell you that you're doing a fabulous job. Underfunding inner-city schools, feeding other people's kids food your dog might not eat, and writing asinine mandates really keeps me challenged.

And to all the education pundits who've never spent a day teaching in a school like mine and like to argue that spending more money on education shouldn't be part of the answer, you can go fuck yourselves.
Posted by The Reflective Educator Labels: NYC Public Schools, policy, Small Schools, Teacher Stress, The School Day

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