January 20, 2014

Out with the Old, In with the New (part 2)

Change is necessary.  Change is scary.  This year our nation's educational system will continue to change (or reform as punitive legislators like to put it).  And because of that, this year I will continue to change my professional path.

I have been teaching for almost two decades. As the pension laws in my state now read, I will work another 22 years in schools.   That is a long time.  On the classroom level, I am undaunted. I love working with students, helping them gain new perspectives, answering their questions, watching them gain confidence and ask even more questions.  Specifically, as a social studies teacher, I find my work very fulfilling as I present students with information and situations which allow them to go beyond their seventh grade, somewhat provincial, assumptions about different cultures.  I'd love to do this for another 22 years; however, the changing face of public education (11 Telling Stories of School Reform 2013), means I'm not sure I will.

Sometimes I wish I could edit my Facebook settings under Work and Education to read "It's Complicated".  Until this school year, I was a special education teacher.  Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in the field.  I believed in the profession and, early on, saw it as a vocation.  Under No Child Left Behind, however, students with disabilities (and by extension, their teachers) became pariah.  Schools were punished publicly and financially if all their students did not meet ever-increasing standards.  Don't get me wrong, standards should be high.  They are necessary.  But academic standards written for students with IQs over 95 cannot be met by students with IQs under 70.  They just can't.  And when standards aren't met, teachers are blamed.  Especially special education teachers.

I have seen my colleagues try to teach students how to evaluate an algebraic equation using order of operations when the boys and girls cannot identify coin values or skip count by two's.  I have seen dedicated teachers spend a month explaining the formula for determining the density of a liquid to students who cannot tell you which is more, a cup of milk or a teaspoon of honey.  I have seen teachers walk out of the building in tears knowing they are not preparing these kids to live independently.  I have seen these same teachers walk back into the building the next day and try again to help these kids find some measure of success.

I was one of those teachers.  I miss those kids.  And yet I have decided to have the endorsement in the area of special education removed from my teaching certificate.  This is quite rare--the State of Illinois didn't even have a procedure for doing so until this year.  Now there's a form and everything.

Why would I take such a drastic step?  It has to do with the involuntary transfer process in a very large school district.  I'll leave it at that--no need to bore you with the ugly details of school politics.

So here I am teaching 7th grade Social Studies.  Instead of 20 students, I have 160.  They are wise and witty.  They are kind and curious.  Many have a chance to meet the "new and improved" standards they will be tested on.  I love going to work every day, seeing their faces, hearing their anecdotes and answering their questions.  So, what's the problem?  Job security--that's what.

Despite my 18+ years, I am low man on the totem pole since leaving special education.  Anything can happen.   I'll leave it at that--no need to bore you with the ugly details of school politics.  In addition, Social Studies is not a Common Core subject.  There is no widespread, media-fueled fear that American students cannot keep up with their peers in other developed nations when they are tested in map reading or describing the seven elements of a culture.

How long will public schools offer Social Studies to every student, now that many middle schoolers are assigned double periods of Math and English?  Double periods mean double the teachers in those subjects.  Will school districts be able to afford to offer a social science curriculum? That may be an oversimplification of the staffing and budgeting process, but I'll leave it at that--no need to bore you with the ugly details of school politics.

If I didn't have 22 years left, I wouldn't worry about these things.  I'd concentrate on this year's students and their eagerness to learn about the world.  Maybe if I wasn't the head of our household and responsible for my own children's tuition payments, I'd relax and let the administrators and politicians figure it out.  But as it stands now, I must be one step ahead of the educational trends just to survive.

I have options--all of which will take hard work and more money than is currently in my checking account.  I know which way I'm leaning.  By the time I start my next post, I'll have made a decision.


  1. We are in two different professions but it seems we have the same worries about job security & being the head of our housholds & the money earners. Wishing you peace as you make this difficult decision. I am truly sorry teachers are so under valued in our society.

    We have a series of PSAs here in Ontario the nurses union (I think) put out comparing them to professional athletes but wishing they were paid half as much...I think the same could be applied to teachers, you should be paid & valued at least as much as that quarter back or hockey centre, IMHO.

  2. My career is in the the education world (sales), but I don't teach anymore. With the Common Core and all of the school politics, I am glad I'm on a different side of education. Teaching is just not the way it used to be. Although, as I blogged a while ago, my job was on the line (and always seems to be). I never feel settled. It's an awful feeling as a SMC. Hope things work out the way you want them to.