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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The High Cost of Caring for Someone Else's Child

Later today I will retrieve a cranky laptop from the Apple store. It will cost me a little less than $150 to have it inspected and a couple of buggy things repaired. However, it is not my laptop; it belongs to my school. So why am I paying for its upkeep?  Simply put: because if I don't, no one will.

I don't know if other schools operate this way but mine does.  They sometimes acquire new technology but then fail to budget for its upkeep. Our school has keyboards with missing keys, monitors which work but CPUs that don't, overhead projectors without lightbulbs, ELMOs without cords and a slew of other technological embarrassments.

People seem to understand that teachers spend money on their classrooms but I fear they have no idea how extensive and expensive it really is. I've taught for more than five years now and every single year, I have documented spending more than $3,000 a year. What do I buy? Technology you know about already but I've also spent money on clothes, food, art supplies (big one), trips (frequently), photo development, copies and classroom supplies (almost weekly) such as notebooks, pencils, white board markers, staples, erasers, paper towels, tissues, baby wipes, clips and paper (copy and construction).

Sometimes my friends are shocked by this amount. I am mostly numb to it. I do what I have to do to keep my students focused, motivated and excited about learning. But once in a while I look at another student, one who is paying the price for my generosity, and I feel sick. You see, my daughter has had to go into debt to pay for college. She is almost in debt for the exact amount that I have spent on my class over the course of these many years. Money I spent on other people's children for their educational benefit is not available for my own child. I guiltily shake my head as I write this because I know I'm supposed to put my daughter's needs first but as a teacher, those other children - someone else's children - often feel like mine and I want great things for them, just like I want them for my own girl. And the fact that they don't have gloves and hats in the winter or that they come to school hungry bothers me and all of a sudden I've spent the money.

In two hours, I will head out to pick up my classroom Mac.  Last year the bill was more than $300, not including new software. This year I guess I got off easy. I wonder if my daughter sees it that way.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Thank you, daughter

My really smart child will be graduating from college soon. She will not even entertain the idea of becoming a teacher.  She is eager and disciplined, sensible and enthusiastic, thoughtful and organized.  Yet when I mention that many of these characteristics can be found in effective teachers, she makes a face like I punched her.

Since I sometimes feel hurt by her decision, as if her rejection of my profession is a personal affront, I asked her to articulate her reasons. Here is what she wrote to me:

          There are two reasons I don't want to become a teacher.  First, I've seen what it takes 
          and what must be sacrificed to be an excellent teacher - and I don't have it.  I am not 
          willing to give up so much of my life and my time for teaching.  I don't want to spend 
          my own money on supplies. I don't want to write lesson plans until midnight.  If I get 
          married, I won't sacrifice my marriage and/or family for good test scores.  Second, if I 
          took the job temporarily to get my loans forgiven and not because I love the profession, 
          I could see myself counting down the days until I could be "free."  How many Teach 
          for America people have been at your school?  How many have only stayed long enough to 
          pay off their debt?  How many have actually made a positive impact on the kids?  I 
          don't want to waste anyone's time.  Not mine and not that of your needy students.

There's little I can say to counter her arguments. The hours and efforts required to be an excellent educator surpass by twofold anything that could be described as "reasonable."  Other professions which make such great intellectual, emotional and physical demands on their members are more respected and offer more generous compensation than teaching. Couple that with public education constantly being attacked and twisted by politicians, philanthropic phonies, ALEC shills and so-called reformers and I understand why my child sees teaching as a poor exchange between the personal and the professional. 

As for the TFAers at my school,  supported by conferences, one-on-one mentors, on-line lessons, sample assessments and student data tracking systems created and sustained through generous TFA funding from corporations and foundations, I believe that all of them had potential to be strong teachers.  The problem has been that that potential has, to my knowledge, never been realized because no TFAer has stayed at my school for more than three years.

In the end, I guess I should thank my daughter.  For her honesty.  For her exemplary demand for respect. And for not viewing teaching as a stepping stone to law school.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Principal Should Take a Budgeting Class

School begins in a month and I have yet to be paid for work I did in the spring.  How does this happen?  Because my principal doesn't know how to budget funds.  For several years now, I have been paid in the autumn for work I performed in the previous school year. Sometimes waiting as long as six months for my earnings.

I am not alone in this predicament.  Other colleagues have told me they have not been paid for after-school activities or for coverages (and we had a lot of coverages since the administration failed to appropriately budget for substitute teachers).  What the hell!

And the accounting faux-pas don't end there.  Every year we run out of supplies before we run out of school days.  At staff meetings, we were emphatically told to continue teaching with rigor because "the school year is not over yet, people." Yet when I asked for staples, chalk, lightbulbs for projectors and EVEN COPY PAPER, the secretary just shook her head,  "We're out. Sorry."

Sorry.  Yes, my school is in a sorry state.
Demanding differentiation yet unable to allocate funds that would allow copying of materials for students who need larger print or leveled readings.
Expecting students to be engaged until the end of June when administrators themselves fail to allocate resources with foresight.
Insisting teachers perform duties for which administrators know they cannot pay them.
Sorry, indeed.

Does the DOE audit school budgets and look for these types of fiscal irresponsibility? And if they do, do they offer continuing education classes for principals who are clearly lacking skills in this area?

If so, I'd like to reserve a seat for one administrator. PLEASE.