An Urban Teacher Tells us Why She Must Leave
As I have written, I work to support science teachers in Oakland, seeking to retain them so as to strengthen instruction, and so our students can benefit from their experience. As the year has progressed, it has become clear that this is a difficult challenge, and so I have been trying to delve into the reasons our teachers are leaving. Last week I wrote about the many pressures these teachers face. This week, I want to share a message I received from a young science teacher in an urban Bay Area school district who is preparing to leave. If we are to address this problem, we need to listen.
I am a middle school science teacher. I have taught at the same school for the last four years. One of my classes has 33 students, 11 of which have an IEP. The rest of the students are low-skilled. Along with low skills comes bad behavior. Yes, I do have a teaching assistant, but that’s not enough. There need to be fewer bodies in the classroom at one time. Math and English classes have reduced class sizes (at the most 20) because our country and state have deemed them more important subjects than history or science. Science uses the same skills as are needed in Math and English. I have complained to my administration about the class size and a reduction is promised in the near future.
The administration tries to help but really they are just the district’s tools. Administration provides no direction, just directives. Each year there is a new magic bullet that will answer our school’s problems. And each year, the staff is forced to attend some new training. Each training costs the district thousands of dollars. In my four years at this district, I have seen something new introduced each year. If we are in such a budget crisis, why are we spending our money so carelessly?
The district is flailing their arms and grabbing onto anything they heard that worked somewhere else. The district and the administration have no focus. Their focus should be on the learning or the lack of learning taking place in the classroom.
One way the administration could increase learning is by suspending students that are continuously disrupting the classroom and school environment. At my school, we have a number of students that yell out, say and do inappropriate things and are disrespectful to other students and adults. These students take away class time and causes a sense of chaos. Interventions should be in place for these students, but we have none. For each student, the school gets a certain amount of money and if students are absent or suspended the school loses that money. The district pointed this out to us. They made it clear that the amount of money lost to suspensions in one year was equivalent to an administrator’s salary. Since then, these students continue to wander the halls and sit in the classrooms with this disruptive behavior.
As a teacher, I try to contact students' homes if they are having behavioral or academic problems. Most parents say they are going to help out and talk to their child. Often there is no change and if there is change, it is short-lived. The students who really need a call home often have given me numbers that do not work. Parents and the community have become more of a distraction than anything else. Earlier this month, there were two fights. One fight was between two parents and the second fight was between two adults from the community involving guns. Both incidents occurred in the same week and in front of the students after school.
I often leave school feeling defeated. I come back day after day because I am motivated by a paycheck and health care (neither of which are that great), and the hope that I will be able to pay off my student loan one day. I did not start off with this bleak outlook. I always wanted to be a teacher. The teachers I had growing up inspired me. I went off to college and majored in Marine Biology. I could work in the field but I would rather teach science. After teaching here for four years, I often wonder if I made the right decision. Many friends and colleagues point out that maybe I just need to teach somewhere else, and I agree with them.
What do you think of the issues this teacher raises? What changes do you think could be made to help teachers like this find more success?