Chicago, Illinois, USA
December 29
Chicago Public Schools
I'm a high school English teacher who teaches on the South Side of Chicago. I'm from Arkansas. I'm a white lady whose last name is Japanese (thanks to my Japanese Yankee husband). My brother in law says I'm a sitcom waiting to happen. I'm married and have a little girl who is three and a half, and a baby boy who is nineteen months old. I have lost 76 pounds in the last year and a half, and barefoot running is my new obsession. So much to share!


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JANUARY 12, 2010 11:46AM

Teacher Rant

Rate: 7 Flag

There seems to be one prevailing attitude regarding teachers. While a few people think we are saints, most people think we are morons who sit around and do nothing but collect a paycheck, and that is why our schools are so bad. We are the welfare moms of the 2010s. It's annoying and I'm tired of it.

Unfortunately, just when I am ready to stand up and proclaim that enough is enough and people need to stop blaming teachers for everything, I find out more about the people I work with. There are some bad teachers in my school. (There are bad people everywhere, in every profession. Bad teachers just have more impact than the average bad employee in an office, for example.)

Last Thursday was extremely snowy in Chicago. It took me almost two hours to drive to work in the snow. Chicago Public Schools never takes a snow day, so I had to go to work. I didn't have many students, so my students and I had discussions in my senior classes.

Often our discussions center around school, and the students complain about their teachers. I don't encourage my students discussing their teachers, and I don't let them discuss teachers by name. But I love gossip as much as the next person, so I do find their conversations entertaining, usually.

But I got mad at a revelation made to me that afternoon. Apparently I have a coworker who will pass students in exchange for Red Lobster gift cards. Another coworker will give extra credit points in exchange for food. Students have brought that teacher Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chinese food upon occasion.

Infuriating! Inappropriate! Illegal!

Then yesterday I brought a bunch of books from home to put in my classroom library. My students always complain on Silent Reading Fridays about my book selection. I don't think they will like many of the books I brought from home, but at least they are new.

At any rate, my bag was heavy. I ran into one of my seniors in the hallway, and he agreed to carry the bag for me. I asked where he was supposed to be, and he told me that he had class, but that that teacher didn't come to work until 8:45. Even though he has an 8:00 class. The students just sign in and get their grade. As long as the students sign in before 8:45, everything is ok. I find this absolutely ridiculous. And unfair. And wrong. How do you just not show up for your class each morning? This is your job!

I should mention in the interest of full disclosure that I did offer the student extra credit points for helping me.

I don't know what to do about this problem. I don't know if this is what the teacher union envisioned when it worked so hard to strengthen teacher rights. I do not think tenure is a very good idea.

Bob Herbert, my favorite columnist, wrote  a fine column in the New York Times this morning. It is all about the American Federation of Teachers deciding to finally take a stand on improving teacher evaluation, and linking evaluations to student performance. As long as student performance is not the only factor, I am all for it. Furthermore, the AFT is working to make it easier to remove bad teachers from the classroom. I am definitely all for that.

I love teaching. I get incredibly frustrated with my job and my students sometimes. A lot of times. But I can't imagine doing anything else. I get tired of the idea that teachers aren't qualified for their jobs. CPS loves to create the impression that every teacher in Chicago was somehow hired for these jobs despite our not being qualified.

That is inaccurate. Every teacher is supposed to be fully certified. We have to take a basic skills test and a content test for our license. There are teachers who get alternative certification, but it's supposed to be for teachers in high need areas like math and science and special ed. Don't get me started on Teach for America -- that is a post for another day.

So when I read an article like this one, I get really fired up. Yes, there are some bad teachers. As previously mentioned, I work with some of them. But that doesn't mean we are all bad.

I love that Bucior has written a book about subbing. And that her experience has shown her all she needs to know about saving our schools and our students.

But I should just get over it, and accept the fact that conventional wisdom is not on my side. Nor is reality, as my coworkers have illustrated.

I will just say this. If you don't want to be a teacher, get out of the classroom. We know who you are and you are doing no one any favors. If you want to be a teacher, work hard, do your job, act like a professional, and we will get along just fine.

The rumor at my school is that we are going to be restructured for next year. That usually means that every teacher gets fired and an outside operator comes in and takes over. Maybe that is not such a bad thing, although I don't really want to lose my job. But perhaps some housecleaning is in order.

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My dad taught social studies to 7th & 8th graders for 30 years (he was a coach before that). Teaching is hard, discouraging, underpaid but rewarding, inspiring and fulfilling too. I admire my dad for teaching all those years and for all the dedicated, wonderful teachers I had.

I'm sure your students are glad to have you (well, they will be when they grow and reflect :-).
You have a really tough job. But it's one of the most important. For me, education is as important as healthcare. This is our future, damn it!

It makes me happy that you take the time to listen to your students. Thank you for all of your hard work.
I wish it paid more to be a teacher. I wish that college professors were lining up trying to become high school teachers. I wish that being an inspiring and understanding human being were things that could be taught. I wish that every kid in school had a teacher for a mentor, and that there were enough teachers for that to happen. I wish home schooling didn't sound less and less crazy every year. I wish I could be a teacher. I wish I could afford to.

I'm glad you're doing the best job you can.
Right? I'm with you. After teaching high school English for eleven years in a public school, I was ready to find other ways to educate. Kids can be frustrating, but it's the system, the burned out teachers, impossible standards, etc. that suck out the soul.
Keep the faith!
I'm right there with you. Too many people enter teaching for the wrong reasons and are dead weight on the system forever. I've taught with many of them.

I've also taught side-by-side with men and women whose dedication and personal sense of responsibility toward our young people have made me grateful to be in the classroom. Teaching is a calling, not a job.
I am so happy to meet a high school English teacher. I teach English (usually Composition I or Developmental Composition) to college students, and the first place I taught was Harold Washington City College in Chicago. I was teaching developmental writing skills, and most of my students had gone to public schools on the South Side. They were slightly more prepared than the students I would teach when I returned to New Orleans. In both cities, my struggling students told long tales of teachers who did not come to class, did not write any comments on essays, and substitutes who were overwhelmed by classroom management issues. Although the department syllabus directs me not consider the courses I teach 'grammar intensive', I almost always have special office hours and mini workshops throughout the semester because students need to understand basic subject verb agreement (the cat walks versus the cat walk) as much as they need to learn that a thesis is a specific assertion. Now that I teach for more than one online university, I am teaching these skills to students from all over the country. Unfortunately, some students end up taking Composition I two or three times before they are able to write what departmental committees refer to as a "C" paper.

It's hard for me to keep track of what and how high school students are learning, but when I do meet students who are prepared to take Composition I, they almost always speak highly of their high school English teachers and describe actual exercises that strike me as creative, challenging, and effective (I know some students are naturally better at writing than others, and some students who read and are surrounded by an appreciation for learning/writing may arrive prepared regardless of the instruction they receive).

The crisis you describe has changed the way community colleges and four year universities approach objectives for writing courses (I could go on an on here), and whenever I meet a high school English teacher who shows commitment to her students, I make a wish, hoping I'll be lucky enough to work with her students someday.

Randi Weingarten's proposal to identify struggling teachers and offer to help them seems practical. Is this wishful thinking? Perhaps Weingarten's plan will emphasize the natural (but maybe overlooked) relationship between learning and teaching, and the new teacher evaluation process will effectively "... improve the skills and effectiveness of the millions of teachers who show up in the classrooms every day" in the spirit the learning process, as opposed to punishing teachers who, like you, are dedicated to their students.

Thank you for your post. Maybe some day I will meet one of your students.
I teach Kindergarten. I get kudos and support on a daily basis. But I consider myself one of the good ones, and most of my colleagues as well. There are so many teachers who should not be teaching for so many reasons, and they make it so hard for the rest of us who are committed and dedicated and know our stuff. It just adds to the battle we have to fight. Thank you for saying this. I'm a big fan of tenure and unions, but sometimes they are protecting the wrong people.