The Houston Chronicle has been buzzing over the last several weeks. A teacher in HISD wrote a column that talked about teacher burnout and why it happens. Of course, while I am a teacher, it isn’t prudent for me to comment about what is going on in HISD or at Westside High School. After all, another teacher on the staff wrote his own column to rebut what she said.
All I know is what I know from my own experience. In my experience, there are good teachers and bad teachers just like there are good doctors and bad doctors. The same holds true for police officers, mail carriers, engineers, or any other profession for that matter. The main difference is that unlike many other professions, the success or failure of a teacher is out there for many eyes to see.
Most of the focus was on teaching for the first time. The question was whether too much pressure is applied to first year teachers or whether this was just a case of one person that couldn’t handle it. Like I said before, I cannot speak intelligently about what goes on on that campus or in that district. Personally, I feel like this is my first year teaching for a number of reasons. Maybe that can shed some light on the issue.
I had been out of the classroom for five years. That alone can feel like an eternity and often has this year as I’ve tried to get my bearings. On top of that, I am teaching a new subject (for me) and a new age group. So, it feels like my first year out of the gate and there are a number of days where I have gone home and felt like I failed.
I could shove a lot of the blame wherever I want, but the long and short of it is that when I fail it is me that failed. When I succeed it is me that succeeds. Even though I have not been a part of an official mentoring program, others have tried to help, but they have their own job to do and their own pressures to deal with.
The forces driving teachers out of the classroom were outlined pretty well in the article and the letters to the editor. Simply put, the pressure of state testing is growing on districts and crap normally rolls downhill. Central office administrators put pressure on campus administrators. Campus adminstrators put pressure on us. There are more walk throughs, observations, benchmark tests than ever before. Success is celebrated but short-lived. Failure is scrutinized more and more.
Then, you throw in that classroom management is getting harder and harder. I make no bones about the fact that classroom management has always been my weakest area. I’m a nice guy at heart, so I have to fake being mean and that’s not something I can pull off for very long. The good kids will always be good kids, but the trouble makers seem to make more and more trouble and less seems to happen to them with each passing year. On an intellectual level I understand it. Parents are getting more and more combative, so administrators don’t want to stick their neck out and really assign heavy discipline to a child for fear of reprisal.
Make no mistake, while it sounds like a bunch of excuses, it’s really not. A number of teachers continue to succeed in this environment. They roll with the punches and demonstrate mastery each and every time. My results have been mixed. In terms of testing they are doing well, but otherwise things have been shaky. It’s my first year back, I would think that would be the case.
I can’t speak for that original columnists, but I think what the big struggle is that I have separate failing from being a failure. Most of us that got to this point never struggled much in school. We succeeded at everything we did, so when it comes to getting other people to perform we can feel like a failure when it really is a situation of failing. The difference in verbiage is slight, but in reality the difference is huge. Failures fail regularly all the time and end up giving up on life. Everyone fails sometime. Failing is a part of life.
So, the key is in understanding that someone that fails as a teacher is not necessarily a failure at life. As long as they gave it a full faith effort then it is somewhat cruel to call them a bad teacher. Maybe ineffective would be the better term. It’s taken nearly 20 years out of college to grasp this point and there are times when I still grapple with it. What you do does not necessarily define who you are. If I could find a cubicle somewhere and make what I make now I’d probably run to it full speed.