Thirty seven years after I started my first paying job, I decided to change careers. My new path is in education. I am on course to be certified as a 4-8 grade science teacher.
Since October, I have been teaching and subbing on both the MS and HS level. It is the most enjoyable work. Since I am a late-in-life entry into teaching, I entered the classroom with a perspective quite different from a young twenty-something fresh out of college. Unlike most of my associates, I have not been doing this for 20+ years.
Having been a non-retail salesman for about 25 years, I approach teaching in that matter. My overriding goal is to sell my students on the relevancy of the material I am presenting. Since they have few disincentives to failure, I believe that my path to classroom sucess is determined by my ability to find out what matters to my students and then convincing them that the lesson is at least interesting to them and at most very useful to them.....right now.
I teach in a district that is 75% black and hispanic. Most are on the low wrungs of the S/E ladder. That is also the case of the majority of the white students. This is not a bright and shiney suburban district. The district is in a town of about 35K in the piney woods with the nearest city of more than 100k about 100 miles away. Most jobs are factory jobs.
I offer the following generalities.
Ninety percent of the students are ignorant for their grade level. They do not read books. They rarely read any printed material.
Their language skills are anywhere from 2-7 behind where they ought to be. They do not care.
Without a calculator, they are unable to complete anything more than the most basic math. Few can tell time on an analog watch.
The vast majority of black and hispanic kids don't give a rat's ass about learning. Nor do they care about anyone else or even their future. They live in the here and now. They do think about the future. The black kids think that they will go to college and in four years come out as a high paid doctor and/or lawyer. These same kids do F quality work most of the time.
Most of the white kids are equally vapid. They do not read. Whereas the black kids will admit they don't know anything, the white kids think they already know everything.
According to the athletic director for the district, of the 250 young men in varsity football, less than 10 live with both of their biological parents. At the beginning of football drills in the spring and in the fall, it is common for boys to pass out during Monday practices. They reason? They are alone most of the weekend with no food in the house and no money. Many of their care-givers are on drugs, working, or simply not there. A local Christian agency packs wholesome snack food for these kids and any others who simply won't otherwise have anything to eat from Friday evening until Monday.
The great majority are hard-working and very professional. The ones I have spoken to see teaching as a divine calling. They suffer some frustration, but that is primarily from the mental and physical state that the kids are in when they arrive at school. I have seen teachers cry over the sorry lives some of these kids find themselves in.
Some of them complain about the pay. Most teachers understand that teachers' pay is a political football and that will never change. In my part of the country, there is no local enrichment of the pay.
Some students have told me about teachers openly complaining in class about their pay. The kids find this very unprofessional, as they should. The attitude of the kids is that if the pay isn't good enough, get another job. I agree. I'm not doing this for the money, but I do need the pay to survive.
These kids are funny. The middle schoolers are the funniest. Because I wear a suit in the classroom, they ask me about rich people. They assume I am rich because I dress well (to them) and I use proper grammar and a grad-school level vocabulary. The oddest question was: "Do rich people really hold their little fingers out when they drink from cups?"
The black kids think there is a conspiracy to keep them "down." The hispanic kids don't appear to have such attitudes. While the black kids are highly opionated, the hispanic kids simply attend school. They simply do not care about anything other than the typical boy/girl dynamic.
Black girls talk in screams. Black boys mumble, as do the hispanic boys. The hispanic girls tend to have better language skills, but they are very unopinionated. The hispanic girls see their future as wives and mothers and see no value to any education other than simply literacy. The hispanic and black boys seem to see no value in any education.
White kids with problems:
I see too much goth stuff. All the kids into this stuff seem to be nilist. I have had kids intentionally cut themselves in class. That is heartbreaking to see. These kids also write all over themselves.
How they look:
Girls are much fatter today than 35 years ago. They are also much less modest. This results in some ugly stuff such as ample-bodied girls with low pants and short tops. Most of the boys dress like rag pickers. The boys are much fatter as a group than in the past. Overall, these kids are sedentary. Few of them work.
Most of the boys slouch around with their hands in their pockets. The black boys drag their feet. The white boys are into long hair as I saw back in the 70's. The black and hispanic boys like to wear pants/shorts that hang off their asses. I tell them that particular style went out 2-3 years ago, but it means nothing to them coming from me.
Hormonal attractions notwithstanding, the girls tell me that they are mostly unimpressed with the boys. They see them as slobs. The boys think the girls are all crazy.
Sleeping in class is a real problem. While they ought to get 8 hours of sleep (a night) at a minimum, many of them operate on six hours or less. I am obliged to keep them away, but after three or four tries, I just let them sleep. I have the authority to send them to the office, but writing up a referal slip takes too much time.
These kids will not stop talking. I do deal with that. If moving them away from their friends does not work, I kick them out of the class. The same goes for disrespectful or confrontational behavior. I warn them first, let them know that they have had their last warning, and then I gladly kick them out. The administration has been highly supportive in this regard.
Why am I not only doing this but loving this?
Because some of these kid do care, do try, and actually do "get it." I was far from perfect as a public school kid. I came to school with some big time troubles and issues. I have decided to love these kids as I would like to have been loved back then and how I am loved by my family and friends now. That doesn't mean that I like all of my kids. But when I look past their actions, I often see kids in a great deal of pain or trapped in a culture that has little or no value for education or self improvement.
I am highly thought of by my bosses. They tell me that I may be the only responsible adult male that these kids will interact with all week long.
Why are public schools so bad?
From my experiences, I think the better question is: How does public school do as well as it does?
I don't get to pick my "customers." Few come from situations that you would want yourself in. You would never want your own kids to grow up like most of these kids. As God is my witness, the teachers I have worked with get remarkable results given the limitations put on these kids by their cultures and sadly the limitations these same kids are so willing to put on themselves.
I love getting up and going to work in the morning. My students are amazed when I tell them that I love my work. They are just too young to understand.
Thanks for making a difference!
Thanks for your efforts; better you than me.
Best of luck to you!
It's time to build more/bigger jails.
I salute you.
My wife works in a HS with ED and LD kids. Your statements could not be more true. Unfortunately, the government pays HS students a stipend if they cannot read!
You also have the advantage of one thing:Every student in your classroom was AT LEAST motivated enough to get through Basic Training. That says a lot in itself, also there is a fear of another couple things: Either not getting the MOS, having to go back to the unit with a failing grade, and possibly face disciplinary action of some sort.
Another thing, is the style: "Here are the tools. Now PRODUCE!
One more thing: The military has absolutes, the civvie educational system does NOT.
FWIW, I rank any and ALL of my military education as being the BEST education I have ever had.
Before I got my current Job, I was in a Credentialing Program, working towards my Single Subject Credential in Math.
I also was a Sub.
My observations of students in California is almost identical.
But I have something to add.
Most students are far more ignorant of History and Geography than they were when I was a HS student.
Also, I noticed that very few students actually read on their own time for their own enjoyment.
On the other hand I noticed that they are better educated in Mathematics than the Average HS student was 30 years ago, and they have more academic resources available to them than when I was a kid.
I also noticed that except at some of the older schools, Metal Shop, Wood Shop, Auto Shop is unheard of.
My most rewarding experiences came from teaching at a Alternative (Reform) High School. These kids KNEW that they were one step from being thrown out on the street. And they ended up being very serious students.
My best behaved students were the kids that I taught in Juvenile Hall. Very Respectful.
Kids would come in, Doors would then be LOCKED. And they gave us teachers a nice little device that would set off an Emergency Alarm.
My least rewarding experiences were at High Schools for Middle Class Students with kids from poor families bused in.
The best experiences I ever had was gaining the respect and trust of kids, and turning them around on their Math. A lot of teachers just gave up on them. (Average Teacher Burn out Time is approximately 5 Years).
The "go to college, it's easy, and become a rich doctor in 4 years" is a very common misperception in the black community in these parts (Washington DC) as well.
Will-Rogers: Thanks for taking the time to write so much of your impressions on teaching. I see that you thought about this for a long time. Personally, I hope these generation kids learn well because they will be responsible for paying for my generation's retirement. My generation paid for my partent's and grandparent's retirement, now I'm about to go that same route. Unfortunately, it appears that I when I get there, the cupboard will be barer "than Mother Hubbard's Cupboard."
I have thought about getting a Masters in History/Education and teaching. \
Without getting too personal, may I ask what the typical pay is for a teacher in your district?
I would fall asleep in class, but I also worked at least one job (and sometimes two), putting in at least 25hrs (usually 35) on top of school, homework, and being a basketball manager/Asst. Principal's lackey. I still had a 3.6GPA until my last semester of Sr. year, where it dropped to a 3.4. The cool part about being a lackey is it gets you out of detentions. And you know, I find myself wishing I had put a little more effort into school now. But there are only so many hours in a day, and sleep always lost. I found myself sleeping 14hrs a day on Sunday because I never had a chance any other day to catch up.
My car, my clothes, my insurance, and anything else I wanted beyond my parent's house didn't get paid for without my job. Many kids today don't have jobs, parents who put the fear of an asswhuppin into them, or a desire to better themselves. Sure, I wanted to get out of school just like anyone else, but I knew I had to work for it.
I was a high school student a couple months ago. Now I've graduated early. And from what I see, I agree with everything that has been said about the students. I'm one of the ones that was constantly correcting the teacher whenever they made a mistake, but never doing the homework. Most of my teachers liked me except my english teachers in 8th-10th grade, who were black racists (same teacher in 9th and 10th).
I saw everyone wearing their pants at half mast when I was in school too. Sometimes it's funny watching them hold up their pants while they're walking.
Lately I've been thinking about public schools, and this confirms much of what I've been thinking.
As a child, I was in public and private schools. The private schools were regarded as "good" schools. Some of the public schools were regarded as "good" and some were "bad". What I find interesting looking back on it, is that I did exceptionally well in all of them. As I think back, I do recall seeing fewer bad students in my private schools, but before drawing any conclusions, I'm forced to consider the possibility that these kids came from homes where education was valued. I'm also forced to consider that these same children may have done very well in public schools, as I did.
In thinking back to my public high school ("bad" by any standard), there were some kids that did very well, though most did poorly. It was a poor community, and english was the second language in many homes. It was easy to point a critical finger at the school. If this is valid, then isn't giving the school credit for the good students just as valid? Not suprisingly, the school was never credited for the successes of the good students, but were constantly bereated for the performance of the bad ones. Still, a great deal of time was spent contemplating the performance of the bad students, while the success of the good students recieved little more than a passing thought. This is very unfortunate.
Perhaps it wasn't the school, as much as it was the students. I honestly believe that my capacity for learning would not have been diminished were I taught in a straw hut in the middle of a corn field. I was expected to do well, without regard to my environment. In fact, *I* expected to do well. The notion of any particular school having a detrimental effect on my education didn't occur to me until much later. Conversely, holding some of my peers to high academic standards was an excersize in futility, given the emotionally deplorable environment they grew up in.
Conservative ideology can be generalized as the realization that government cannot cure the ills of society. When we observe the poor performance of our schools, we conservatives often fall into the trap of seeking a governmental solution, which contradicts a core element of conservative doctrine. It is my assertion that the problem exists more at home that it does in the schools, and that a free society cannot legislate change at home.
If we did, the cure would be worse than the disease. The solution is to steadfastly help our children succeed, without regard to the performance of others. To fret over the parenting and socioeconomic failures of others is to fret over something we have no control over. In the end, I agree with Will-Rogers: I'm amazed the schools do as well as they do, given what they have to work with.
Here in Calif, the govt frowns on H.S. students working more than 20 hours a week. Employers can be fined very heavily for violations of these rules. There purpose is to graduate from H.S. not working at menial wage jobs.
Starting pay for a public school teacher is about $31k. Does not include health care. As a comparison, I made $15K/year in 1980 at my first post-college job. When adjusted by the CPI, that $15K would be equal to about $39K today. As you can see, I will be making much less than my best years as an outside salesman...about $75k.
I hated that job, but did it to provide for my family. However, now that my kids are gone and I am divorced, I have taken the opportunity to that which nourishes my soul. It is also small payment to a God who gave his all to me.
I enjoy my students. I pray for them every day right after the Pledge of Allegiance. I pray for them at bedtime.
Somedays are emotionally difficult. It hurts to see kids with emotional problems or in those just hurting for lack of a mom and a dad to love them.
The work itself is not hard, though I am pretty worn out by the end of the week. I put a great deal into my work because I want to light a fire in these kids hearts and minds. I want them to know by my actions that I see them as valuable people regardless of how they perform. It isn't easy to give unconditional love. But that is my calling. God gave me a sharp mind, great communication skills and an enthusiastic drive to share knowledge. I was wasting this in my previous work.
You cannot imagine the joy I feel every morning knowing that I am going to the place where I belong and working with people I truly love.
I hope you can keep your love of teaching and make a difference in the kids lives.
I made it a year and realized it wasn't for me.
Good work Will.
That is about the experience I had when I taught.
I found that the best way to deal with it was to try to get through to the kids who don't seem to care, some will come around, but most will not. Yet, while doing this try to focus as much as you can on the kids that care, let them excell to the best of their ability.
I just realized I never spoke my appreciation for the good work Will is doing. Without people who have the desire to see young people achieve excellence, many of us wouldn't be where we are today.
I agree, but if I wanted clothes, shoes, gas (10mpg, 12mi round trip) or tires, or heaven forbid, a CD of some sort, it came out of my pocket unless it was Christmas. Been that way since I was 16.
God love you man but please shoot all your students.
Great post. Helluva job ain't it?
Wifey and I are doing the same thing. Me: 15 years in a performing career (orchestras, freelancing, US Army Band), 17 years teaching privately, and 7 years teaching college. Wife: pretty much the same w/o the Army thing though. Doing an "alternate certification" program here. Even though we're both almost done with our doctorates, it's not in "ed" (don't get me going on "ed" degrees), so we have to jump through some hoops.
I completely agree. Only thing to add is "tiring" and "rewarding"
Amazing, the differences in going into education with a "real world" perspective, isn't it? That's one of the things that will make you a success.
Similar here except I'm in a 90+% minority system outside of DC.
Sad but true. Their writing is even worse. I've had eighth graders hand in papers to me using words like "Cuz", "B4", "ain't", and "wif" (instead of "with"). However, they CAN learn to not use 'em. When I first started, I told them that incorrect spelling/grammar will result in a five percentage point deduction per mistake. They thought I was bluffing. They learned I wasn't. I told them the fact that they have spell/grammar check on their computers and choose to NOT use it, is pathetic and inexcusable. They now use it.
Whatever you do, DO NOT go to "their level". Make them come to yours. If someone asks you what __________ means, tell them to go to the dictionary (right now) and look it up. This is precisely why I keep a huge unabridged dictionary in my room. When I got there last year, I actually had to teach middle schoolers how to use it (which is particularly sad, as I am not their LA teacher).
Yep. I see sixth graders take a long time trying to figure out what time it is. Math skills are atrocious. As part of our training we had to go to a dept of ed meeting. In this meeting they were discussing how to raise test scores. One "Dr." had the brilliant idea to just make the math problems on the standardized tests easier (instead of actually teaching the kids something...just lower the bar). His argument was that society is increasingly dependent on computers etc. and being able to do math in your head or on paper wasn't necessary. Fortunately, some of the other members had the guts to see that he was out of his mind.
Yep. They're all banking on an NBA career (nevermind their school team lost every game. But it's "not their fault" it's everyone else on the team). I have found however, that one (just one) of the reasons their work quality is so low, is that no one has ever shown them how to do good work. Used to be that parents did that at home. These days parents don't do a damn thing for their kids (for the most part) in regards to education. They expect the schools to do it all.
Our school has at most, 8 white kids. The other kids look down on them as if their geeks because they get D's instead of F....oh...I mean...."E"'s. You can't give F's anymore. It makes them "feel bad"
Yep. Just what I said about parent involvement above. As much as I hate "quotas" etc in the work place, there is a HUGE need (especially in "Title I" and poorer schools in general) for good male teachers. Unfortunately, most of these kids are being brought up in either one or any combination of a) single parent homes being raised by their mother who is busting her butt to make ends meet b) two parent family where their is extreme abuse (like a parent driving a child who is filthy, often times malnourished, and abused to school in their Mercedes) or c) being brought up in a single family home (usually the mother only) never having had a positive male influence (this really messes up all kids). My first year teaching I just about lost it when a sweet little girl told me she wished I was her Dad. That kind of thing just shouldn't happen.
True. However, I have also seen a terrible amount of apathy and incompetence. Some just simply don't give a damn and view teaching as a "regular" 9 to 5. The worst examples I have seen (in my field, at least) are the ones touting their "ed" degrees, yet don't know jack shit about their field, let alone how to teach it. This is a whole other problem that IMO starts with the "those that can't, teach" BS philosophy. This thinking is an epidemic running wild in our institutes of "higher" learning. My philosophy is the opposite. If you're going to teach, you damn well better be really good in your field.
Exactly, you don't go into the field for the money and you know the pay is hardly anything worth writing home about. No sympathy here for whiners.
+1. I love it when some teachers think that the kids are totally clueless. Yes, their test scores may be horrible, but they're still kids. Remember how we all thought when we were kids? Parents trying to talk all "adult" as if we didn't know what they were saying or didn't understand. We knew exactly what they were saying, and kids today are no different.
So true. I don't wear suits or anything, BUT the middle schoolers will ask me things like "do you know who Eminem is?" (you know, since I'm white, the only rapper I may have heard of must be the white one". My thinking is, keep 'em guessing. Nothing like being the intriguing, enigmatic teacher that always keeps them wondering . I get tons of questions like "did you kill anyone in the Army?", "You're playing on that CD?", etc. It freaks 'em out. What REALLY kills me is how the younger girls are so "grown up" in some ways (other than the obvious). One day, I had a third grader come to my class (I was teaching a small middle school class at the time) to drop something off. One of the eighth graders started "cutting up" a little bit (nothing bad though), and I told him in a less than serious manner (he's a good kid, and pretty funny) to sit down. Well he kept on going. Well, the third grader blew a gasket and said in a very matronly way "Jeffry, you better sitcho butt in that chair! DON'T make me come over there!!!" He sat down PDQ and was quiet the rest of the class. Frankly, I was a little scared too. It's like this little girl was channeling a 75 year old granny. Funny stuff.
Yep. It's always "everyone else".
In our school all the kids talk in screams, it's just that the girls are a little easier to understand...not that that's a good thing. We only have about 5 latinos.
Not so much the goth here. Hip hop is everything. One middle schooler does wear his NRA summer camp t-shirt from time to time though. I make sure to always chat with him (without giving any details though. God forbid a teacher that owns guns ). Frankly, I'm surprised the school lets him wear it.
All kids, not just the girls are bigger.
Yep, and what's sad is it starts young. I just about soiled myself my first year. I put on a recording for a Kindergarten class. The kids started dancing, and I swear the only thing missing was the brass pole in the middle of the floor. I was horrified.
Yep. I've never seen this level of laziness in kids. They have no connection with the outdoors or wildlife. They are afraid of things like wind and rain.
It's to hold their pants up. I recently started carrying a bundle of zip ties around. If a boys pants are too low, I zip tie two belt loops together. Problem solved.
Yeah, this is a downer. It's not just in HS and MS though. I have first second and third graders falling asleep in class. Then again if the uninvolved parents let their seven year old stay up until midnight on a school night, of course they're going to fall asleep.
+1. You have to take a "no mercy" policy with this.
Yep. It's one of those things that makes you feel fantastic, yet horrible at the same time.
THANK YOU. God, my wife and I have been saying this a lot lately. We're so sick and tired of hearing teachers always bitching about things NOT being done. Of course the big thing now in our lovely NEA infested system is to bitch about Bush and NCLB. Don't you love how the NEA journal (BTW in my school system you're automatically enrolled in the NEA. If it were up to me, I wouldn't be a member, but since I have no choice, I prefer to think of my wife and I as "moles" ) referrs to the "No child left behind" act as the "SO-CALLED No child left behind act"? Too bad the retards are too dense to realize that their drunk poster child Kennedy wrote the freakin' thing.
Once again.... +1. In fact my middle schoolers and I just discussed this yesterday.
Take care man, and keep fighting the good fight!
I have worked at some local high schools here and honestly my 9 year old can read and do math better than these high schoolers. The vast majority are into the gang thing for real or at very least idolize it and try acting it out. The girls wear very low pants and ity bity tops. The guys wear huge baggy pants with the waist worn closer to the knees than the waist. The kids have fights a lot, there were about a dozen guns at school and well over a few hundred knives, lots of pot, cigs, lighters, crack, pipes and such. Lots of dice gambling in the halls and bathrooms. Teachers get attacked, security gets attacked, some schools have hundreds of skippers every day. Kids cuss and threaten teachers sometimes death threats. Don't get me wrong there are some good kids there but a lot of them are just about lost causes and most of it is due to their parents and the way the gang lifestyle is gloryfied. Some schools do nto have detention, almost none have swats any more. I have seen kids get taken away by police in handcuffs and admitted to psych wards at a hospital then they assault staff there after they originally freaked out at school multiple time assaulting people and making death threats and such then they get transfeerred to a full blown psych facility and they cannot control the kids so they get dumped back into the school and their first day back they nearly kill someone and the staff are told to let him have his space and not to touch him unless he is about the "really" hurt someone or himself.
As someone looking into a Masters in Edu. program, I appreciate your honesty and perspective.
I had considered the frustration that I would face in such an environment and knew ahead of time that the few who "got it" would make the job worth it. I'm glad you can confirm that!