A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


When Tenuous Feelings of Hope Start Slipping Away

Today is one of those day in which the weather perfectly matches my mood. It's cold and rainy and the heater in my NYC apartment has yet to be turned on. I'd rather crawl back under my down blanket. I feel hopeless, like staying in my pajamas and hiding from the world outside. The only thing I'm feeling hopeful about is that my relationship with my grumpy roommate is improving. He made extra coffee this morning and offered me some. Sounds little, but it matters. It's a measure of hope. We're informally starting to take turns make each other coffee in the mornings and it's helping, cup by cup, little by little. It's hope and it's human.

At the beginning of this school year, I felt some simple little moments of hope with colleagues. I found unexpected common ground and even professional friendship with an entirely new grade level team. I had some fun co-planning and curriculum sharing time with departmental colleagues. I began feeling like we could deepen our work together and I'd have interested folks with whom to share ideas with and create curriculum with. Last year the two colleagues I'd worked most closely with left my school and I'd been really unsure about how things would be without them. They were my sounding boards, they were the ones with whom I had real, deep conversations about teaching and learning. When they left, I feared that I'd be alone in terms of that deep learning that helps me grow as an educator.

I was wrong. I'm not alone. In fact, I have brilliant colleagues who love students as much as I do and are full of great ideas. From a distance last year, I thought the person who just became my team leader was a cold fish. Looking a little more closely, I found that he's warm, funny, compassionate and, really, one of the most thoughtful and effective teachers I've ever worked with, not to mention one of the most organized. A new addition to our school, my CTT (collaborative team teaching) colleague has reflected with me about my overall curriculum planning and helped me build some pretty exciting classroom habits that support our students even more. My grade-level teammate in the Math Dept, also new, is incredibly generous and committed to community-building in productive, exciting ways. I could learn a lot from/with these teachers and, on a personal level, I really like them. I shouldn't be glum, but I am.

There are two hours each week set aside for me to talk with the brilliant folks on my grade-level team and another two hours set aside for me to reflect with my equally wise, innovative and kind departmental team. So why I am I so glum? Partly because our meetings are stifled by protocols and procedures we were handed that don't at all reflect what we think we need to be doing/working on. Our meetings are structured for us and must be thoroughly documented with meeting notes emailed out to all participants and all three administrators. It's also not uncommon to have one or all of these administrators stop by to "check up" on our progress on their goals. Last time I checked this isn't how teachers learn.

Furthermore, this year, I've been told exactly how my room should be set up (particular labels for everything on the walls), how my class periods should be structured, and I must have each one of my learning goals approved by an administrator who is ideologically in a very different space than I am. I have someone in my room at least weekly, sometimes more, toting a clipboard and rating my teaching with a checklist that includes such pedagogical criteria as "System for Addressing Late Students," "Clean Up," and "Orderly Dismissal." What I'm really learning: how to turn my kids into robots, to structure things the same way every day so that they know exactly what to do if an outsider walks in. I agree that there's something to "classroom rituals and routines" that I believe can be effective, but this is a bureaucratic twist on the teacher knowledge, expertise and autonomy that usually drives effective classroom routines. These are not my or our "rituals and routines;" they're mechanical structures from on high. It's the factory model and I'm wondering why no one has handed me a hard hat. It's possible to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time; Ford Auto has assembly line workers do it all the time, but it makes me feel more than a little uneasy for teachers and students to be put in this position, particularly with a lack of pedagogical conversation and innovation.

Couple this with learning a new, clunky online grading program that is supposed to be "empowering to students" but feels a lot like "big brother" and I'm feeling tired, hopeless, and alone. I'm getting "Proficient" evaluations on the classroom checklist for my little student robots and informational wall decor, but I got my hands slapped for not translating my paper-based grade book into the online system according to the calendar outlined in one of the 20 or so bureaucratic emails I get every week. I'm exhausted, harried, and demoralized. It's October and I'm starving for a real teaching and learning conversation. I'm also anxious and full of fear about whether I'm meeting all of the "accountability" protocols dropped off by school leaders.

Even given all of this frustration, I don't for a moment doubt that my school leaders are doing the best that they can, that all of these protocols and procedures and new systems come from with the best of intentions. Frankly, they're terrified of all of the city and state-based accountability measures put on their heads and the anxiety is getting disseminated like handouts warm off the photocopier. My school is preparing for it's annual School Quality Review (SQR) and those tend to cause everyone worry and strife--principals and teachers alike. One of the teachers in my school is hosting a Halloween-themed "SQR Stress Relief" party at her home, where she lives with two teachers from other schools, who are also feeling suffocated by dramatic accountability measures being implemented in their schools. What I write about above is happening all over NYC and, I suspect, NY state and the US at large.

As schools work to demonstrate that they have good systems, the really good stuff, the reason we all do this, slips away, right along with the feelings of hope I so desperately want to have for public education. It's getting harder and harder for me to imagine how we're going to sit down over coffee and have a real conversation about what teachers think they need to make schools better.


At 2:08 PM, Blogger alg said...

your post could not reflect my own mentality more accurately. i've felt depressed lately too but all of the protocols and pressure and also wonder about the effect it has on our students. i try my best to take leadership roles and help build the school up to be a place of positivity and community, but it's true: even when i'm on a team with colleagues i admire and respect, we constantly feel pressure, fear, and urgency to push and mold our students. i miss our colleagues from last year too- they knew what it meant to create a community. i feel like the staff is committed this year as well- and i too wonder, why i feel so down?

on another note, it's absolutely wonderful to be able to open up a webpage and read that someone else is feeling the same way too!! i believe you are an exceptional teacher, your head and your heart are in the right place with these students, and that's what will matter when all is said and done.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger 4m said...

I had so many problems with the rigid bureaucratic cap in NYC. Sorry to hear what is going on. Lori


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