Monday, June 11, 2012

The Bad Business of Being a "Bad" Teacher

 by special guest blogger Turnaround Teacher

I am working at one of the dozens of high schools that Mayor Mike, in his wisdom, has decided to "turnaround." "Turnaround" really means "closing," with all teachers put in excess and forced to reapply for their own jobs. Rumors circulate about how many teachers will be re-hired, but we all know that if only 50% of the staff is rehired, the school gets some extra $1.5 million.

The teachers at our school are all obviously feeling various emotions about these events. Angry and pissed-off are probably the most common, followed closely by worried and sad. But of all the things the school is going through, I think the one that teachers find the most degrading is that we have to re-apply for our own jobs. The inference is that we are teachers of a failing school, so we must all be bad teachers. That's certainly what the NY Post blares in its papers every day, and I'd gather it's what the general public thinks as well.

Of course, the teachers actually teaching in the school are too busy to really think about how much this situation sucks. Besides putting together our portfolios and scouring the open market vacancies every night, everyone knows that June is the time for the annual student begathon. This is when students who have done absolutely nothing all year long all of a sudden decide that they really, really doesn't want to go to summer school. So they go to the teachers, and the script is always the same:

"Hi, Mr./Ms. ____." (Lowers head. The too-cool-for-school attitude that they've sported all year is gone.)

"Hi, ___. What can I do for you?"

"Um, I know I'm not passing your class right now, but is there, um, uh, any way I can make up the work?" (Head rises a little, to see the reaction of the teacher. If the teacher turns away, that's bad. If the teacher gives an exasperated sigh, that's good.)

For us Living Environment teachers, the yearly begathon is more complicated than most other subject teachers. Living Environment students are required to complete about 28 labs to qualify to take the Regents Exam. For most students this requirement is a piece of cake, as most teachers do labs weekly, and often more than once a week. But there's always a handful of students who don't have 28, even after the multiple Saturday make-up sessions and repeated warnings by the teachers.

But despite finding themselves in a predicament that is entirely their fault, the students also have the upper hand in this begathon. They have the upper hand because they know that underneath, most teachers are softies at heart. So if they lower their heads, apologize for that time (or the multiple times) they screamed and cursed and called the teacher names, and perhaps cry a little, the teacher will give in. And at our school, that's exactly what is happening every day, every period, with every Living Environment teacher. Lunch and prep periods are now really "desperate last minute make-up lab" periods. One teacher I know has an after-school session, and every day, after 11th period, I see a swarm of students following her into a classroom. She has a daughter and husband at home, but she has been staying till 6:00 every day to accommodate the students.

She's not alone. My 8th period I now spend in an empty classroom along with another teacher, as we conduct joint emergency lab makeup sessions. Having another teacher in there helps me a lot, for situations like "Hey I really have to use the bathroom. Can you help ____ with that lab and ____ with another lab?" So I run to the bathroom, run back, just in time for the other teacher to ask me, "Hey, can you help ___ with the labs, I need to run to the office to print out more labs." It's like a Cooperative Team Teaching Emergency Lab Makeup class.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Why am I doing this? I'm getting fired in less than a month." I'm sure that many teachers have thought the same thing, as yet another kid initiates a begathon. But we're giving our students one last chance, because we want them to succeed, even if they weren't good students, didn't come to class, didn't do much to deserve to pass the class. In other words, we're treating them the way the Mayor is NOT treating us -- with compassion and consideration, because that's what teachers should do.

So as I see this begathon play out every day, every period, with every teacher, and I see even the strictest ones give that exasperated sigh and reach for a stack of labs, I think, "If this school is really full of bad teachers that deserve to be fired, then I'm proud to be among all these bad teachers."
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