Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Down in the Dumps

I have been so discouraged about teaching the past few days.

I never stop grading, and sometimes I think it is literally going to destroy my mental health. I try to figure out ways to shorten assignments but still make them meaningful; I try to figure out ways to assign less or grade more efficiently. It is just so difficult when I have 115 juniors, and I want them all to improve as writers. I get tired of spending all my free time grading. It's no wonder the attrition rate for teaching is like 50% in the first five years.

I've also found that students (and their parents) are only obsessed with grades and don't even care about the learning. They are willing to do anything--well, except work hard--in order to get a high grade, including cheating. I cannot stand cheating. It cheapens everything that I do in my classroom. I can no longer even give homework assignments because so many of them come back copied or plagiarized, and I don't want to take the time to read every word and double check for cheating--so I've started making them do almost all of their responses in class where I can monitor that they are working independently.

I wish they would stop worrying about their stupid 97% averages (which, by the way, is not actually indicative of the ability levels of most of these mediocre students) and start worrying more about becoming better readers, writers, and people. I had to take two phone calls from crazy parents this week: One father was concerned that his daughter "only" had a 94% and wanted me to accept one of her late assignments. (I didn't.) Another mother called in a panic because her daughter "only" had an 87% this quarter--and I must add that this student is definitely not a 90s-level writer or reader. I have no idea how she's been getting 90s in her other English classes over the years. This mother wanted to know "what went wrong" and why her daughter had "such a low average."

I sometimes honestly consider a career change--not leaving teaching all together, but instead teaching in a different setting--such as a prison. You may laugh at that, but I am serious. I hear the class sizes are small, no overbearing parents are involved, the students actually want to learn, and a security guard is present to deal with any and all discipline issues. Sounds pretty ideal and probably quite rewarding.

It's my personality to be a perfectionist, and I let all of these factors of my job really bother me. I am constantly thinking about what I can do differently in order to make my job more enjoyable while also being an effective educator. I drive myself crazy thinking about teaching.

Sometimes, I think teenagers these days get a bad "rep" as lazy and entitled; but I have to admit, many of the students that I work with would fall into at least one of those categories. It's a rare teenager indeed who works hard, takes responsibility for his/her actions, acts respectfully, and has well-adjusted priorities.

I have to get up in six hours and start another day, so I better get to bed and try not to lie awake thinking about teaching...

I would like advice.


  1. I'm so sorry, sis! I hear you!!! But, um, aren't people in prison 18or older?! Not kids. Unless you mean juvie, which you would actually be very good at. But just look at the next post. Judge Nielson...you DO have fun teaching sometimes! And think about that incredible Cuckoo's Nest unit that you always have so much fun with. But as far as your mental health goes, you ARE an insane perfectionist! All teachers have to deal with grading, lessons, and parents, but you are an extreme overachiever. Unless it's a major assignment that THEY put a ton of work into...YOU don't need to put a ton of work into grading it! Half of them don't even look at the feedback anyway! (Sorry, but it's true. You know which kids do and which kids don't. Write novels of feedback accordingly.) I love you! Stick it out! You are an amazing teacher, and you won't be teaching forever. You need to share your gift. Even if it is in prison. :)

  2. My teaching environment is totally different than yours (some prison aspects and some over-achieving aspects-- a good mix), but I learned one principle this year. Teachers do have to do their work, of course, but when it becomes overwhelming, there's usually something the students could do more of that will help them more and take the strain off the teacher.
    My specific example is that my desk gets bogged down with papers to read and grade, while students wait for me to sign off their packets so they can go test. I usually keep up a good pace, but then when you throw in some plagiarized work, it slows down the whole system. I have to double-check each assignment to make sure I can verify that the student didn't write it. This takes so long that I get even more behind-- just because a stupid kid plagiarized.
    Then I realized: one student's plagiarizm shouldn't punish the teacher. It's perfectly acceptible for me to find one plagiarized bit and turn the entire packet back to the student to redo. I shouldn't have to make 5 students wait because one student is stupid.
    I know your situation is different, but maybe that principle could help out: make the students responsible for the lion's share of the work. You can't be a great teacher for very long if you're burning the candle at both ends.

  3. well, i don't have any advice to give, not having been a school teacher. this has just resurfaced some thoughts i've had (that have never been far from the surface anyway).
    i think that in this age of permissiveness (not just parenting, but in teaching and everything), mediocrity has become the new "excellent." i really don't think that youth are held to as high a standard as they used to be - or maybe it's just different than what my upbringing was. i teach the 8- turning 9-year-olds in primary and i am so surprised by the lack of reverence while sitting in sharing time (i'm grateful to say that since i started teaching my class is one of the better ones - excuse the moment of bragging!). and then i'm shocked to sometimes hear some leaders thank all of the kids for their reverence. i wonder how it's thought that they actually learn reverence that way. unbelievable.
    anyway, i'm sorry this is getting so long. i've taken all that i've observed and heard from others' experiences (including these you've shared) and tried to implement certain things into my parenting - storing certain things for future use for age-appropriate times. i think it's important, though, to become good parents. it's my belief that it's as a parent you can make the biggest difference. it's my own kids who are going to learn my values if i teach them correctly.
    wow, and now this has doubled in length. maybe i should have just written all of this into my journal. sorry for using your blog as a forum for my thoughts!
    i have no doubt that you're a great teacher, rachel! and you can tell by some of the stories you share that you have many students who feel the same way. keep up the good work!

  4. Sorry you are feeling down in the dumps Rach. I know you work really hard at teaching (along with several other large projects that would keep a semi-productive person such as myself busy for a lifetime). Obviously I have no solutions - but promise me you won't take on ANY MORE!!! I love you. Hope today was better for you.

  5. Rachel, I don't have much in the way of advice, but to tell you that you are an absolutely incredible person. I'm in an absolutely different teaching setting, but one thing I have tried to do when I feel frustrated with my students' complete apathy towards what I am trying to do is to focus on one student and their progress. Although at any given time I have 7-8 students who haven't practiced in a week, or even thought about their music since their last lesson, I also have several students who love it and work hard, and therefore make a lot of progress. Because their performance markers are so public (recitals), I often point out to those who struggle how they felt when they were unprepared for their last recital, and how they would have felt if they had been prepared like my other students. For your sanity, maybe try to focus on the few successes when feeling overwhelmed with a barrage of kids (and in my case, parents) who just don't seem to care.
    You're awesome! I know that's no solution, but hopefully it helps some!

  6. Well, I agree that it's ridiculous how much people care about grades but not learning. And I can't believe how "kids these days" just sit around and expect to get better at something. It's EXHAUSTING to have students who don't care because you keep taking personal responsibility and saying, "if I could just make this more interesting, or help them understand, or figure out how to better motivate them, then it would be better."
    All I can say is, you need to have children. :)
    Honestly, I have really become less of a perfectionist since I had kids because I know there's no way for it all to get done, and I still have to wake up when my kids wake up (day or night) so I have learned how to just be done with something rather than (as in my student days) lose however much sleep I needed to to make it perfect.
    And, I have learned how to say no to more things because it doesn't just affet me anymore if I get overextended--it affects Ethan, Jake, and as a result, Kyle.
    So, let me know when baby Nielson is on its way. :) just kidding.

    Anyway, I think you're amazing and I wish there were some way for you to comprehend the difference you DO make for your students and the impact you DO have on their lives, even if they don't seem to learn anything in your class. They will remember you. They will remember some of the things they have learned in your classroom and because of you.
    You rock!!!

  7. Hmm. If you do decide to start teaching at a prison, perhaps you'll have some of the same students again.

    Love ya girl.

  8. wow. most of your commentors write epic volumes on here.

    i just want to say to shove it in the parent's faces. The faster they and their children learn that life isn't something you can always bluff your way through, the better.



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