Presently Iím sitting in my hot, non-air-conditioned classroom in NorthEast Philadelphia and contemplating the fact that I have just completed my fifth year of full-time teaching as an appointed instructor in the Cityís public school system.
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The significance of this is that I promised myself in the beginning of my appointment that I would survive my first five years, hell or high water. Well, hell and high water have definitely come, and Iím still here. Now, itís not absolutely set in stone that Iím coming back, although I do still have a job and a positive rating, because Iím pretty sure this isnít something I can do for 30 or 35 years.
However, I have passed a major milestone in my life because:
Well more than half of new teachers quit the field before completing five years, especially in the urban environment.
I teach in one of the most problem-plagued, teacher-hostile and disadvantaged school districts in the United States.
I began my appointment in very nearly the worst possible environment any teacher can imagine in America.
One more thing:
I remember taking a lot of abuse from certain appointed teachers in the rural/suburban schools where I first student taught and then substitute taught, who had various issues on their own but also had a great disrespect for Ďsubsí: ďNo, Iím a real teacher.Ē
'Hrrrm,' I thought to myself. 'She sure spent some calories making that point clear, even though I hadnít given her a reason to make it.' It's not just students who abuse substitutes.
Yet, I take satisfaction in knowing that she and those like her would never have survived a day or, at most, a month down here. I have had to put kids in jail for assault, have dealt with heartbreaking disabilities and ninth graders up to 21 years of age and as big as a basketball player because their parole officer wanted them in school... and ninth grade had been where theyíd left off... so who gets to deal with them?
It goes on and on, but the point I make is that while I have some question marks about all this, I did make it, they wouldnít have or didnít, and people have no idea what it is to stay alive professionally in this workplace. None.
My fiance has just decided to quit because, while she was appointed at the same time I was and has survived her five first years as well, she is now on the receiving end of some rotten politics from an incompetent administrator whom Iíd managed to escape with a fortuitous transfer.
I must say, I would probably be in the same boat with her if Iíd stayed at that school.
Iím not sure if teaching in the City is like combat or prison. Itís definitely not for the weak of heart. I donít think people should start out doing this at 22 or 23, in most cases. My fiance started out at that age and itís burned her out badly. Iíve still got some juice for it, should I stay; I started at 32 and had subbed for years before that, so I was ready. Now Iím 37 and am seasoned: I know how the kids think and I know how the administrators plot and connive, and I know why the District officers and superintendants lie.
People will say that all workplaces are like this, but I donít believe this has to be this way. Teaching children in a school should NOT be like this. Write that on the board a thousand times, people.
Iíve just completed my first tour of duty in Philadelphia.
Give me a Purple Heart for my fiance; Iíll take my Silver Star now.
Before I finish my rant, let me give much love to my colleague who died at Columbine saving his studentsí lives: he gets the Congressional Pentagram of Honor for truly going all the way for those under his care.
Philadelphia is on its way: Weíve had 30 killings on or near school property this past year, and itís getting worse.
My last word: if youíre just getting into a teaching education program, youíd better take every opportunity you can get to watch what happens throughout the day from our side of the desk, and ask all the questions you can think of.
This isnít something you want to get stuck doing, and itís hard to get out of this: most employers donít seem to want to hire teachers, mostly because they donít think we have any skills they can use.
I recommend that if you are into this for the spiritual kudos element of it, teach in the third world. The kids will listen to you and youíll be fighting the fight where it might possibly be won, despite all the horrors going on around you.
To teach in America is truly to suffer, and itís only getting worse.