As a non-tenured public high school teacher, I have experienced the highs and lows that are the result of administrative decisions. Public school teachers face increasingly hostile environments, and I know that I am certainly questioning my choice in careers. Administrators are facing extreme pressure too, it should be said. “Accountability” is a catch word today that is used to force educators to work themselves to a frazzle because teaching jobs no longer mean steady employment. No matter what teachers do, it does not seem to be enough. We are under pressure to increase the graduation rate; therefore, no one should fail. To keep failures to a minimum, we stay late tutoring; we pull students in during vacation time for make-up work. Hey, I needed that break! Suddenly, all late work must be accepted and graded. I know I’m learning a lot about enabling, and the students are learning more about the lack of a need for responsibility. No one ever said that teaching was easy, but strong, dedicated teachers, even those of us newbies, expect to be protected and sheltered from the periodic storms arising from shrinking budgets, petty bureaucracies, and mean-spirited power-mongers.
Accountability is measured in two ways right now. First, educators are judged by their ability to deliver the goods: high test scores. Personally, I feel this is as it should be. If I’m doing my job, it will be reflected in those test scores. The other means of measuring teacher efficacy is through a series of observations and evaluations. Never have I been in such a demoralizing situation. The problem is, especially in this economic climate and especially for non-tenured teachers, administrators are always looking ahead and asking themselves, “What if I can’t maintain this level of staffing?” When I was hired I was treated with respect and enthusiasm, and the feelings were reciprocated. Things changed at the beginning of this year, though. Administrators already knew they were in a financial maelstrom and were looking at ways to cut the budget for the following year. A tenth of our school’s teaching staff received the news that they were not being rehired for 2009-2010, myself included. I saw it coming as early as the first day of school. The principal changed my teaching schedule two days before the term began. Suddenly I was thrust into a position I was not trained for-teaching a special education class. I was not allowed to attend any trainings either; however, the principal was happy to observe one of these classes early on and give me a poor evaluation. I never heard anything like, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need to succeed?” The second evaluation by a different administrator was similarly demoralizing because he waited five months to write the evaluation and worked off just a few notes before preparing the official report.
My schedule changed again. Now I have the mind-numbing task of babysitting the flunkees as they work through electronic tutorials in at attempt to recover credits lost in previous failed courses. Each of my days begins with a 90-minute planning period, a 90-minute babysitting assignment, homeroom, and lunch. Only after lunch do I get to do my job. The days are mundane and endless. I can’t help but question my abilities because the principals can’t legally say, “Hey this isn’t your fault, it’s the damn budget.” Neither can they say, nor did they say, “Get your act together.”
Not only is this demoralizing for me, but for other teachers as well. They see how a whole squad of teachers were treated and can’t help but to feel bad for us. Some wonder if that could happen to them. Others are just put out with the administration. Somehow I have to face 26 more teaching days knowing I won’t be returning in the fall. To be honest, I’m just trying to keep from crying in front of the kids, so searching out and delivering the best teaching practices are out of my reach. I will have to start all over somewhere, provided I can find a job. All of the materials and lesson plans I’ve created are worthless. It’s daunting to think of recreating a whole curriculum from scratch again. What teachers really want, what motivates us, is what everyone else in the world wants. We want to be valued and we want honesty. What I’ve seen is a whole school posturing to keep their jobs at the expense of anyone else.
I can only think of one administrator that was different. He was asked to come up with a short list of names of non-tenured teachers to be fired (non-renewed). He refused to do it, saying that most of the non-tenured teachers were better than at least one other teacher in their same department. Mr. P has always motivated me to be the best teacher I can possibly be. I value his honesty and sense of fair play, and I WILL miss working with him.