In teaching, there is a belief that if you make it through the first three years you are likely to make it ten. If you make it ten, you might make twenty. If you make twenty, you might as well stay all the way. Quite the defeatist attitude and one I never bought into. Why bother starting if that is your premise. In reality, most teachers burn out somewhere between years 12-17. And if teachers are not diligent in their calling they will leave the profession before they reach retirement age. For those teachers that stay in too long and reach burn out, it is a well known fact that they are difficult to remove from the classroom. They become ineffective in numerous ways: effective instruction, student engagement, communication with stakeholders, parents, guardians, are often technotards in a digital warp age, and unlikely to try new and improved methods or stay connected to their professional organizations for current methods and pedagogy.
I know these truths all too well. I am in my 22nd year. I have faced burn out and for a while feared it had me. Turned out to just be a health issue wearing me down. How do I know? I know this because I dragged myself to work four weeks after a total knee replacement (four weeks earlier than most people are allowed back to work) and every time I stepped in my classroom those kids rejuvenated me into delivering the goods again. From morning bell to afternoon bell I was running with the ball, making first down after first down, gaining yardage every where I could. Sometimes it took a sneak play to get over on them and sometimes the play was a standard run-of-the-mill drop back and pass the lesson to them. Once in a while I fumbled but once in a while I made a touchdown. And that makes all the difference. The constant personal evaluation of what am I doing, why am I doing it, and is it working for these kids? Better known as WithItNess. Not every teacher has it. But every teacher needs it and more importantly every kid deserves it.
Standard operating practice in my classroom from year one was writing a lot. As a high school English teacher I needed to see what they wrote to know what they learned. Being a National Writing Project Fellow this is what I know best: writing is reading, reading is writing, both are learning. Participating in The National Writing Project the year after my internship and before my first year of teaching was a unique situation. It set up my teaching career to deal with this burn out phenomena. But more on that later. Writing was an important way for me to get to know them and connect to them individually so we journalled and I commented back to them; reading every word they wrote and making sure they knew I had. I wrote back to them in the margins, in between sentences, above the brainstorming, on the back, anywhere I could or needed to in order to respond to their writing and to them. I never used a red pen either! I didn’t bleed all over the paper regarding their mistakes. I simply read their thoughts and responded. Then there was the phase of state mandated writing instruction requiring a piece of writing be produced each week by each student. Try assessing over 150 essays every week. Hard work! And that is beyond teaching literature, reading, grammar, etc. To top it off start with a class load of students behind their grade level in reading.
Even though I continued to look for those fresh ways to connect the content with the students and their world or use the technology and their media to my advantage, I struggled with the paper load it produced. And then there was the total knee replacement fail. Three revision surgeries and rehabs made sure I didn’t make it back to my previous position.
After the knee revisions forced my role as English teacher out of that classroom and into another one, I found myself recreating my remaining teaching career. I am now a credit retrieval teacher. This computerized program allows students that failed courses to regain their credit by mastering the content via a computer course. My job is to facilitate and monitor their progress. Chosen because I was good with computers, very detail oriented, knew how to and often used data to drive my decisions in the classroom, but most importantly I had the knack of reaching those students that other teachers often turned tail and ran from in sheer panic.
Now after three years of this transition and having successfully regimented the credit retrieval program to run in a more ethical and efficiently systematic way than previous to my arrival, I find a need to do more for our school and its ambition to be the best. More important than my need is the need to do something for my principal who has had the vision that every educator should have; kids deserve the best learning experience we can give them.
So I have written a proposal that will probably shock my principal who more than likely thought I was down on my last knee. He will think I have lost my mind or have suffered a concussion. Spring break is coming and then the mass of state testing followed by graduation and another summer break. Since my principal is a fermenter when comes to ideas I need to give him time to think on this one. My only qualm now is should I gift wrap it or is that over the top?
Stay tuned for more. . .