English Teacher….former Journalist disillusioned with students, administration, parents

Well, I started out initially as someone with a professional background as a journalist and advertising copywriter.

I’d always wondered about pursuing a career as a teacher and certainly wanted to make a difference in the lives of students. What writer would not want to try to communicate a passion for reading and writing to children?

I was sick of the “grind” of being a journalist; barely making enough to scratch by, always being “on-call,” not being able to enjoy free time because you’re always waiting for the phone to ring or some flaw to be found in something you wrote (and always at the very last minute). I could not enjoy going to the movies or special events, since I always had to report on them or take photos (and everything was critiqued by people who, of course, could not do any better).

As a reporter, if you wanted to investigate something or write a story…you could not, if it conflicted with the financial contributions of a political candidate or a major advertiser…or a friend of the publisher or his/her family. The hypocrisy and irony had become sickening. I was ready for a change and eager for it to concurrently make a difference in the societal brew.

So, I decided to become a teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida. The nightmare began!

First, due to a traffic ticket I had received 11-12 years ago and forgotten; I was told that my application was null and void for lying to the county. I had to then prove that I was not a convicted criminal by getting forms and paperwork from another state, from 11-12 years back. Of course, such papers as the county wanted no longer existed.

The teachers’ union had to hire an attorney to represent me, just so my application could move forward and I had to appear before a committee to defend my name and reputation.

Two weeks later, I was cleared for my application to proceed. Then, I got a letter in the mail from the county’s HR office that, in fact, my services would not be required after all. Just a clerical error, I was told. Forget it.

Finally, about two weeks before school begins, they send me to a series of workshops and seminars that I’m told will enable me to move from one profession into the field of teaching.

It was hogwash! For days I sat through the most boring, sleep-inducing, over-crowded, disorganized lectures you could imagine. Lectures on establishing classroom discipline that had no examples or real-world scenarios, no points of law, no rules or regulations. The lectures were all no more than a half-hour in length, and most started late or ended early. Prospective teachers had to attend five or six such lectures a day for close to a week. Each presentation was contradicting the other, and every presenter said that each school had their own way of establishing discipline, grading, teaching, and acclimation/orientation.

When I finally got accepted to a school teaching 6th grade English. Nobody would take ten minutes to answer any questions or help in any manner; they’d only make cryptic remarks like “you’ll see,” or “when I have time.”

I had to learn the two ways they wanted grading taken (in print and in a specific computer program), the three different ways they wanted attendance taken (on computer, by form, and in a computer print-out form), how to establish and maintain classroom order and discipline (without knowing any school district rules – since no one would answer any direct questions or said that each teacher could do things their own way), how to come up with class lesson plans for five completely different classes (one filled with 35 ADD/ADHD children) while recording them for future review, all the while keeping other district forms and records in order and making sure everyone take certain state-mandated testing preperations by certain dates.

I had students behaving like they were auditioning for “Lord of the Flies,” falling to the floor to get cheap laughter, fighting for no reason, throwing things, falling asleep, refusing to do any work at all, you name it. When I called parents, they either weren’t home, didn’t understand what was happening or simply didn’t care. Usually, they didn’t understand the importance of my repeated phone calls or simply didn’t care. I was told by the school administration that a child had to be written up as a disciplinary problem about four to five times before they could be suspended or other action could be done.

Eventually, after repeated requests for help with not enough books, the mountain of paperwork and grading, disciplinary problems, an overcrowded classroom, and even the janitor not cleaning the classroom regularly..I just resigned.

I still feel as though I’m healing from the nightmare experience and still feel surprise and disgust that a huge school district would hire teachers from other professions and not extend any logical efforts to try to orient, train, or retain them.

All the good will and intent, the desire to try to make a positive impact in the lives of 6th graders, to try to instill in them a sense of wonder at the world, to try to teach them a passion for the language…It all means no more than a heap of manure to the district, the school, the kids, and the parents.

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