Do I Have to be a “Great” Teacher?

Be forwarned: This post is all over the place. But, for what it’s worth, it accurately reflects my mental state. And that’s all I can do. God help us.

Question: What do you call the guy who finished medical school at the bottom of his class?

Answer: Doctor

What is it with all of us teachers suddenly having to be “great”? Where I come from, I was taught not to show off. The ultimate goal for we Midwesterners was always understood to be “quiet adequacy.”

What if I am content to be “pretty good” or “unobtrusively a little above average”? Is there a place for me?

And can’t you only be “great” if somebody else sucks? Isn’t this a relative measure? You can only be smart if somebody else is stupid, right? Smart people need stupid people.

Wait…wait….the tests! THE TESTS! If everybody does well on the tests, all the teachers can be GREAT! Perfect.

But here’s what I can’t figure out. It’s a statistical anomaly. It’s a real mystery, so get your thinking caps on because I’m stumped. I live in a highly segregated city with respect to race and income. Based upon our new evaluation system, it turns out that a much higher proportion of super-duper teachers teach in the three wealthiest and whitest districts and the fewest super-duper teachers teach in the three districts that are the poorest and darkest. I can’t figure it out. Random error, I guess.

Anyway, even at ‘pretty good’ I outstrip most of my students. Especially now. Holy crap. The weather has changed. It was a beautiful weekend and now it is officially spring. This is where the trouble starts. And I teach mostly seniors. We are now engaged in The Dance.

They wonder: How little can I do and still pass this class?
They know: Everybody has an incentive for me to pass.

I wonder: At this point, 10 weeks before you theoretically graduate, does it matter what I do? Really? You’re already halfway checked out from whatever your personal baseline was in September. And for some of you, we’re riding asymptotic to zero and falling fast.
I know: If you fail and don’t graduate, I get my ass chewed.

You know: What’s going to happen.

Side Note I: I was looking at some posts from about this time last year. I was pretty angsty, but in a more personal way. I had met a lot of good friends last year; more than my share. But most were leaving at the end of the year. That was pretty hard for me. And it seems hard to believe that it has been almost a year. This year I sort of decided to not make any friends. Despite my best efforts, I made a few. I imagine they will be leaving.

But there is a possibility that the administration is changing, subtly. They may be getting the message that this would be a better school if 45 percent of the teaching staff did not leave every year. It seems a little better. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it.

It’s hard to say. On the one hand, I went out for drinks with a pretty random assortment of 9 other teachers from my school recently. I was a hanger-on…this was not an official disgruntlement event. Of the nine, six were absolutely sure they were leaving and two more were actively looking. That’s not a hallmark of satisfaction and continuity.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem quite as oppressive and awful as last year. Or, like I said, maybe I’m just getting used to it. As a friend who’s been here a lot longer than I has said of himself, “I’m like a frog in a pot. They turn up the heat real slow and I don’t even notice.” So, that’s good..

Side Note II: My 8 year-old son is standing right next to me. He was pissed as all hell that I wouldn’t look up the Spanish translations of all the countries bordering France for him on the computer for his homework. I told him to get a map, his Spanish-English dictionary, and look up France his own damn self. Then I helped him find the Spanish translation of Germany. In the last three minutes he has found Belgium and Luxembourg himself. He is now working on Switzerland and officially knows how to use a dictionary better than 78 percent of my seniors.


Mr. Teachbad

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21 Responses to Do I Have to be a “Great” Teacher?

  1. crazedmummy says:

    I may not be a great teacher, but I’m what they’ve got. If all of administration in its infinite wisdom haven’t managed to make just one of me into a great teacher in the last 10 years, how the heck am I supposed to make 300 students a year into great academics?
    Half the teachers are below the median, even if you get rid of the bottom 50%.

    • Miss Crabtree says:

      Oh, my goodness. This is an absolutely brilliant deduction: it is not my sole responsibility to become great. It is their repsonsibility to help make me great. Crazedmum–you are not so crazy. You are clever like a fox. I christen thee, foxymummy!

      What has any administrator or district office widget done lately to make me the greatest that I can be???

      And, your statistical reference is also on target: there will always be them that falls below the median, no matter where you think you can place it.

      Movin’ on up–to the big time–to that deluxe classroom in the sky.

  2. Debbi says:

    Um … this post made me laugh. I hope that made you feel better.

  3. newlysuperteacher says:

    I love your blog. I worked at a “poor, dark” school for 9 years. I was constantly told that my students were failing the state tests because I wasn’t working hard enough, or I didn’t write clear enough objectives, or I wasn’t culturally competent. We had staff meetings once or twice a week that made me want to stab myself in the eye. Our staff turnover was around 40% per year. Finally, after being told that we were in the bottom 5% of schools in the state, and that we would most likely have to do one of the totally stupid Race to the Top reorgs, I quit. Now, I’m at a suburban school that’s at the top of the state rankings. Suddenly I’m an amazing teacher! Who knew someone could improve so much over the summer? I’m thinking that I might have been abducted by aliens and replaced with a better teacher. It’s the only explanation that I can think of…

    I applaud you for sticking with your students – God knows they need good (or OK) teachers! But, you wouldn’t believe how much better it is on the other side. I really don’t know how the powers-that-be expect to keep decent teachers at challenging schools. They’re really doing everything in their power to scare people off.

  4. kathyp says:

    Around these parts, a “great” teacher is someone who is waiting at the school door before sunrise for the janitor or principal to let him/her into the building so they can do 2 hours of prep work ahead of time. For the children. Then, that same “great” teacher must give up every prep and lunch period for data meetings, PD, and extra help sessions. For the children. At the end of the day, the “great” teacher has a few kids in after school for an informal club for an hour or so. (A formal club would require per-session pay and we all know that “great” teachers aren’t after the money and wouldn’t THINK of taking any more of the already HUGE piles of cash they get.) For the children. Then, after the kids leave, the teacher stays for another hour or so, updating bulletin boards and rearranging seats and seating charts (according to this weeks’ data findings) for “flexible grouping”. For the children. Then this “great” teacher must load his/her teachers’ editions, ungraded papers, books, etc. into a wheeled suitcase or cart and lug it to the car to do more work in the evening. For the children. These same teachers bring stacks of papers to grade while waiting for their own kids to get out of dance class or basketball practice, and grade papers sitting in bleachers of their daughter’s softball game. Weekends are spent visiting teacher stores and scrounging around Target and office supply stores for classroom supplies, trips to the library to take out books for read-alouds and hours of lesson planning and handout-creating for the coming week.
    All for the children.

    You see, great teachers LIVE FOR THE CHILDREN.

    I will never be a “great teacher”. I am too selfish. I want time to take a Zumba class a few times a week. I want to be fully present at my own kids’ events and activities. I want time to sleep, read books, cook dinner, and have conversations with friends and family that to don’t revolve around finding more time to grade or plan. I refuse to become a martyr.

    Even if it is FOR THE CHILDREN.

    • Miss Crabtree says:

      It actually is for the children–your own children. I love my own children. I like and appreciate other people’s children. But, like you, I am not a slave to the children who come and go in my classroom year after year. There have been brief times when I was spending significantly more time with other people’s children than with my own. Not fair–not nice. One of the nicest gifts I ever got at the end of a 3rd grade school year was the “family” gift that included the message thanking my own children for sharing their mother with the student. That was one thoughtful, considerate, and “deep thinking” parent.

    • robbie says:

      That was an award-winning set of paragraphs, kathyp. According to what you said, I WAS a great teacher, and because of that, I retired the first second I could.

    • Knows Better says:

      I used to be, and still am to a point, that teacher you described. I am a first year teacher (career changer), and so, since I knew nothing, I went in at 6 am, left after 5 pm (only because I had to pick my son up at school), worked at night, on weekends, blah blah blah. I did this from the beginning of the school year until right after Christmas. I was expected to do this (I am part of an ed reform organization which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent), and would be perceived as a slacker if I didn’t. I did all that you mentioned until I mentally and emotionally burned out and had to go on anti-depressants. I decided then and there to take my life back. A disclaimer: my students are great…hard workers, competitive little buggers. They bust their butts for me (and for themselves). I did all you mentioned for them…but I lost myself along the way. When I decided to take back my life, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. Yes, I still get in early and leave late…I tutor kids before and after school a few days a week. I spend my own money on things for my classroom (but take advantage of every new teacher grant under the sun)…but I also have a life now. I haven’t lesson planned for next week at all. I’ll do it tomorrow at school during our teacher workday. I spent the entire weekend doing absolutely nothing…and I loved it. My kids have been getting a much better teacher since I stopped trying to be super-teacher.

    • crazedmummy says:

      “The Giving Tree” dies. It’s a ghastly warning.

  5. libaryteacher says:

    I am so sick of “bad” teachers or “great” teachers. How about the students? Or their parents? In my school, we had five policeman show up to invesigate a fight (at dismissal, no less, in front of me , of course, on a coverage naturally) between two second grade girls. One girl habitually calls everyone she sees “stupid” or “ugly”. Why is she surprised when the girl that she called ugly retaliated? Her mother has been up numerous times because this girl gets into a lot of fights. Doesn’t she know by now that it takes two to tango? Why is she blaming the other girl-to have her arrested? (which did not happen by the way)
    How can these kids possibly learn anything when they are busy insulting each other to the point of fighting? How can they settle down to listen to the teacher when their very own normal parents teach them that if someone talks to you or looks at you wrong, then please make sure to punch their face in?
    If there are bad teachers, then there are bad students and bad parents. It’s only right!

  6. My son is in college now, but even when he was young, I did not bring home papers to grade. I am ON for 8 hours that I’m at school teaching, and I’m done with it then. It is the only way I manage to survive.

  7. Sean says:

    It really is to the point they want “Old Maid” schoolteachers back on the job. No life except for school. Work until the are 80 years old, then die not needing a pension. When they die, maybe someone will put their picture up in some dark dank corner of the school….or maybe someone will give $100 in their name.
    Fuck ‘em……..

  8. Miss Crabtree says:

    Then they wouldn’t be Old Maids any more, Sean.

    Oh, I see. You mean f*** the powers that be.

    • crazedmummy says:

      You mean old maids can’t have fun every now and again? I just thought they didn’t have to put up with just the one guy. Now I’m sad. I guess I’ll have to go and round up the neighborhood cats instead.

  9. Heo says:

    The exodus is underway at my school this year, and heavens and the job market willing, I will be among the chosen who escape. Last year our awesome coaches led us and our kids to academic victory, then they quit because my principal was such a tool. This year, as punishment to our principal, we were assigned coaches who have been expelled from every school they ever destroyed in their attemnpts to “coach.” Just absolute trainwrecks of human beings. Yet, a scapegoat is a scapegoat, and cioaches with bad reputations make a great scapegoat. Besides, my principal actually likes abusive, incompetent jackasses. So this year we were ruled by the whims of the coaches of doom, even when they would squabble over the definition of the things were would be compelled to do after the PD they were in the process of giving. The teachers here have been harangued to the point where it is impossible to care about what we do outside of the interactions with kids.
    I was called on the carpet this past week for an insufficiently awesome Smart goal. Meh. The only response going through my head while Principal Tool berated me for doing a bad job was, “I know, right? That sure is one huge pile of bullshit that exactly follows your prescribed formula for success. Glad you see my point.”

    Time to go, I think.

  10. Heo says:

    OK, should not type angry. Please mentally fix all the egregious typos n junk in the previous comment.

  11. Teacher of the F-ing Year says:

    Could we all just go on strike please? Not a total strike, just an action in which we stop doing all the off-the-clock work. If they want data crunched, research papers graded, and rigorous lessons planned, they’ll have to give us back the time to actually do those things within the school day.
    We don’t need more PD to tell us that writing some phrase on the board magically makes kids learn, or having an interactive word wall fixes illiteracy, or that if everyone gives the same test on the same day anyone will actually analyze the data and use it to inform instruction.
    How do we get this going? I’m serious. I’m just too busy to plan it all out. :)

  12. Miss Crabtree says:

    Ya just gotta figure out what you absolutely positively need to do to get by for yourself and the kids and do that and fake everything else. In my school and in my district, they issue one directive after another–no one can and no one does keep up with all of the issuances. So, a week or two passes and I am off the hook.

    The PD is so awful, so demeaning, so irrelevant, so one-size-fits-all, so totally mind-numbing and useless. Good thing that they do not currenyly actually want us to do anything with all of it. If they do, I can fake that too. I teach. The kids learn. All is right with the world. The parents like what we do and the way we do it, even though my school is sliding down the tubes. We did not make AYP for the first time last year–that was a shocker.

  13. HappyChyck says:

    I just spewed coffee through my nose. Get rid of the bad teachers, indeed. This post feels strangely familiar, from the year before I started blogging, when that 16-year-old 8th grader sat in my class all year, and each day I put paper and pencil in front of him, as soon as I turned my back he would put them on my desk. By some sort of miracle that failed my integrity, he finally went on to high school–or at least left middle school–and by some sort of divine intervention, I did not quit my job. I think things are better than they were, but I’m probably the frog in the pot.

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