Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Ledge

TMAO of Teaching in the 408 has a fabulous post about the Ledge. Go read the whole thing, even though I'm quoting it a lot here.
You get up on the ledge as a young teacher when you realize that there is no formal system of accountability anywhere. The evaluation process is an outright joke, your intern advisor calls you exemplary, and your BTSA lady pops in so you can fill out some forms.

I miss my student teacher evaluations. My supervisor was an incredible, former high school principal who knew more about teaching than anyone I've met (in-person) since. He could tell me what I was doing wrong and suggest ways to fix it. He made me cry on a regular basis. He knew that wasn't a problem though--crying was part of me dealing with how hard doing this thing right was, and how much I still had to learn. When he praised me, I deserved it.

You’re up on the ledge when you want to know how to get better, but there’s nothing there. The vast store of practical strategies you took from your alternative or traditional route credentialing program seems to be running a little dry and district PD is either non-existent or an exercise in futility. There is no formal plan for post-competency-acquisition development, unless it is in the areas of technology, and you already know how to use PowerPoint.

This year, my district finally got it about PD. They cut down on the floofy offerings, offered actual sessions on 21st century strategies, sessions on other relevant topics, and listened to the survey they sent out last year. The result? I'm going to more PD sessions than I have to, because they might actually be of use to me.

This is not the norm.
It gets worse when you do get better. Your level of quality as an educator changes, but title, position, responsibilities, and compensation remain stagnant. ...

You realize the profession incentivizes mediocrity. It does not drive people to show movies all day, or let kids text and screw around in class – ineptitude takes folks there – but it does incentivize using the same lame worksheets you used the last time around, the same crap readings, head-butting against the same, predictable failures to comprehend and achieve. Because the only lever school leaders have to lean on is the level of caring inherent in the individual teachers, the only thing driving you to do more is to care more. But there’s a limit to your caring, and a limit to the effectiveness of your caring.

I can't reuse stuff I hate. I pull out old lessons and just look at them and go "how could I teach this crap?" So I spend hours and hours recreating lessons, coming up with new ideas (or hoping for inspiration because I'm flat out and don't WANT to give in and lecture) and then the lessons never go as well as planned.

I look around at teachers who copy everything they need at the beginning of the unit because they know exactly what they're doing ahead of time. They spend very little time planning, go home right after school, stay caught up on their grading, and get a lot more sleep than me. I want to be them, I want to relax and not ruin the rest of my life for this job, and I can't. I care too much.

But how long is that going to work? How long before I burn out?

This is my third year doing this. No wonder so many of us don't make it to 5.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Hi Penelope,
I think part of what I like so much about your blog is the *heart behind it. This post describes so well the precariousness of its title - the being right there and ready to leap, and the knowledge that neither leaping nor going back to safety are the right movements, the truest movements. This is exactly what Clay and I have been talking about - the conflict between staying in school, leaving school, or trying to find a way to facilitate learning (a curriculumlessness) under the umbrella of a curriculum.

When they get intimidated by writing and come to me with their nervousness, I tell my writing students: "You are exactly where you need to be. Writing, at its best, is dangerous business. If you're nervous or unsure, it's not evidence that you're incapable - it's evidence that you care." The tenuousness of standing on the ledge, I think, tends to birth genius...

There's a little Icarus here, isn't there? How to fly the middle air, not too high and not too low so you can make it all the way to the shoreline.

Whatever you do, keep caring.

And keep posting. You've got a great blog.