Help! Not sure teaching is for me, need advice please.

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by RobSEA, Nov 26, 2010.

  1. RobSEA

    RobSEA New Member

    Nov 26, 2010
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    Nov 26, 2010

    I hope I'm placing this in the correct place, please forgive me if I'm not. I just need to bounce my thoughts and feelings off my peers with out them actually being my peers. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

    A little about myself. I'm 35 years old, married, just bought a house and have our first kid on the way. I attended CalTech and majored in Physics, stayed on as a research assistant at JPL and finished my masters in Computational Mathematics. Still working for the college at 28 I headed up an outreach program with a local high school to help get kids more interested in math/science jobs by showing them real world applications. I was hooked! I LOVED getting kids excited about science and I decided after 6 months of teaching that this was my passion. I returned to the Seattle area (born and raised) perused my teaching credential and was hired by the HS where I did my student teaching to replace the physics teacher who just retired.

    I'm now in my 5th year of teaching and 3rd of coaching. I teach 2 periods of AP Physics, 2 periods of Physics, and one period of Earth Science (the science class for all the non-science kids). I also am the assistant swim coach and head the Physics Club.

    All 4 of my physics classes are no problem - I love them. All the kids show up to learn, they do well in other classes, they are all college bound. My Earth Science class on the other hand makes me want to scream and beat my head against the wall! I have 36 kids - two more than I have desks for (so one sits at my desk and the other on a desk that I purchased from Ikea). I have 1 special ed kid who's mom refuses to send him to the other high school that deals with special ed kids. He stares out the window and drools. Monday he wet his pants, the whole class was disrupted and I spent most of the period dealing with it and not teaching. The principal won't challenge the mother because he dosen't want conflict. Several kids won't engage no matter how much of myself I pour into them. 7 are failing and for this very reason I met with the principal and my dept head to figure out why. I was informed that the other Earth Science teacher didn't have any failures... I explained these kids were not meeting my expectations, the curriculum expectations, not turning in homework, not showing up to class, etc.

    Principal - "allow them to make up homework and turn it in late"

    Me - "That's against school policy"

    P - "Make an exception"

    M - "If we make an exception for kids who are too lazy, then we also need to make an exception for the football and baseball players so they can go to all the games."

    P - "That's different"

    M - "It's the same principal, and then what are we teaching these kids about life lessons?"

    The debate went on for an hour and ended up losing... So I allowed them to do make up work - none of them turned it in and now one more kid is failing to make 8. So just before Turkey Day I'm meeting again with the boss.

    P - "They're still failing"

    M - "I allowed make up homework, they didn't do it. I allowed make up tests after school and at lunch, they didn't show up."

    P - "Figure out a way"

    M - "How about I just cook the books boss and give them a C-"

    P - "You're pressing your luck"

    My butt chewing went on from there...

    So when I come back from the break those "failing" kids will be moved from my class and I'll get 8 kids from the other ES class that period. I'm also going to be evaluated by a Natl Board teacher to "help me teach better." I don't believe my teaching is the problem - I started the AP Physics program 3 years ago. Last year 23 of 48 AP kids got a 5 on the AP exam and all 48 of them passed! The average grade in my other two classes is a 85.3% and no one is getting a D or F.

    I believe the problem is that many of the kids in my ES class come from broken homes, they don't have parents who care, there is no quiet area to study at home, they are not getting 3 square meals a day. So if the parents can't send me someone who is well rested, fed, etc how then am I supposed to teach them? According to the district I'm supposed to "find a way" but I can't.

    I battled this each year for the past 4 (my first year I just did what I was told and passed them) and it's getting worse. According to the principal if I continue to have this failure rate my "employment my be re-evaluated". I contacted the union over this and they seem useless. I'm tired of the constant battle with the principal and parents over failing students. Yet I love to teach and I believe I'm making a difference. I've taught at college and that's not the right answer for me - I want to inspire kids and everyone who TA'd at CalTech were already inspired. The thing is, I'm not sure if y battling this for 25 more years I'll be the good teacher that I want to be. I can't stand that burned out history teacher down the hall where you read the chapter and answer the questions at the end, turn it in on Friday. But maybe he was like me 25 years ago and has now just given up, beaten down over the years. I don't know.

    It's difficult to talk to my wife about this. She isn't a teacher and just doesn't understand my frustration. Recently she started saying "... if you don't like it quit - you can double your salary in your field working for Boeing." I'm starting to consider it but it makes my day when a kid GETS IT! I'm just not sure those make up for all the frustration.

    Sorry about the long post. Again, just trying to share my thoughts with out talking to my peers at work.

    Thanks so much,

  3. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

    Aug 15, 2010
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    Nov 26, 2010

    Is the Earth Science class a freshman class? These tend to be the most challenging to teach as many of the students are not college bound and do not care about science.

    Thoughts-this is the class that truly needs your inspiration! If you really want to see what these kids know, try assigning some in class work. This way they can finish it in class and turn it in for credit. Another idea, do you have a study hall? Can you require these kids to sit with you? It might motivate them.

    I think that one of the largest problems is the growing lack of motivation in many students. Even at the sixth grade level I see this apathy! It's sad. But it is because the students know that they will move on to seventh grade whether they do the work or not. They will most likely receive a C or D because teachers aren't supposed to fail them or if they do fail, what do it mean. Nothing!

    Good luck with this class.
  4. wrice

    wrice Habitué

    Nov 13, 2009
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    Nov 26, 2010

    Considering cuts at NASA and this hubbub with the TSA and airlines, I would think education is likely to be the more secure career route, though not as financially rewarding.

    Glad you love the 4 classes of physics and coaching. Hope you can find it recharging and rewarding. Congrats on your AP successes!

    Feel confident that you set an enriching table for your earth science group, but it is still up to them to eat from that table, which we cannot force them to do. Try to do as many labs as you can, though that class size is a major obstacle, do projects, try to incorporate multimedia, find out what their strengths and talents are and see how to appeal to those (a glacier rap?) but in the end, they have to face consequences for not doing their part.

    Document everything, maintain good contact with the failing kids' parents, and try your best to remediate those that need it and try to follow whatever it is your principal suggests, but in the end follow your conscience and whatever comes, you'll be confident you did your best. Good luck!
  5. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Jun 10, 2007
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    Nov 26, 2010

    From the sounds of your post, it's not really that you're not sure if teaching is right for you. It's that you're not sure about teaching challenging students. With that in mind, I have a few pieces of advice.

    For starters, you might be one of those teachers who is really, really great with upper level, highly motivated students and expects to teach high-level concepts in your subject area. I thought I would be one of those teachers...until I took a job at an inner-city school. While I do have some of those sorts of students, by and large my students are just regular kids who want to do the bare minimum to get through high school, if that. I teach a student population that is completely and totally unlike both what I myself experienced as a student and what I was prepared to teach. I discovered that I just had to go with the flow. I also discovered that I really, really love this student population. It's definitely challenging, but it's also infinitely rewarding when I reach them. What I'm saying is that you have two choices here: either request to take on only upper-level courses, or buck up and find a way to enjoy working with the lower-level kids.

    Second, I strongly caution you against arguing with your principal. Ultimately your principal is the one responsible for what happens in the building. Document your meetings, make note of what is said, and do what your principal asks. If you don't, you could be terminated for insubordination. Obviously I'm not talking about doing something illegal or anything, but if your principal wants you to make exceptions and allow students to retake tests and redo assignments, do it. How does that hurt? It gives students multiple opportunities for success.

    Third, please don't think that it's okay to pawn off special ed kids on other teachers or other schools. If that student is on your roster, then he is your responsibility, special ed status or not. You will have other special ed kids, you will have ESL/ELL students, you will have all sorts of students with all sorts of backgrounds and issues. You need to deal with that. Those students have as much right to an education as everyone else in your room. I understand that it can be frustrating to have unanticipated incidents, but it is what it is. If you had a student who had an asthma attack or a seizure in your room, you wouldn't be complaining about loss of instructional time, would you? I hope not.

    Finally, while I understand that it is a big deal to you to have 36 kids in your room, please know that you are extremely lucky. It can be much, much worse than 36 students. My classes are in the 45-50 range, with one at 51. I actually lost a student in that class to a schedule change, so it had been at 52 for a while. I have students seated at my desk and at my work table, computer table, and the table where I keep student files. On days when there are no absences, I sometimes have to ask a student to sit on the floor. It is not ideal, but it is what it is.
  6. 5thgraderocks

    5thgraderocks Companion

    Aug 12, 2005
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    Nov 29, 2010

    SAD state of education in America. Teachers who really "care" are leaving at an alarming rate.
  7. webmistress

    webmistress Devotee

    Feb 16, 2006
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    Nov 30, 2010

    It's just very very tragic. The OP seems extremely bright, experienced, and talented. Not many people can hack teaching Physics (my worst subject though I was a high achiever--I hate Physics with a passion).

    Your boss having a completely different yet harmful view than yours is crushing, because in the end, they will "win" because they have the power and have connections with the district and politicians who run the district.

    My P had a horrible reputation among teachers, she is known for mistreating people (but I was new so I didn't know this), but she has strong pull with central office, so though she was supposed to be fired, she pulled strings and is still there. That's just how it goes, sadly. And in the end, the kids lose.

    It's hard to battle a powerful P day in and day out, because the districts will back them up especially if you are not tenured, then you are nothing in the eyes of the district (my experience). Have you considered some private schools? Or just working at another schools with a different P, though there is no guarantee they would be better.
  8. The Substitute

    The Substitute Rookie

    Nov 22, 2010
    Likes Received:

    Dec 1, 2010

    Hi Rob,

    I empathize with your situation. The truth is, I’m also one of those teachers who excels at creating really dynamic and exciting learning environments for motivated kids, but I always secretly feel lost when I get a group of students that has lost their love of school and interest in learning. Fellow staff tell me I’m good with these groups too, but deep in my heart I feel like I’m just faking it with these groups, having no idea what I’m actually doing or how I’m going to get these kids through. I strive to be positive and engaging and to motivate, but secretly I still feel like a deer caught in headlights – just standing there waiting to get creamed by a truck.

    Based on your post I’d say that our situations overlap to a large degree.

    The truth is, as much as it is great to be the best teacher you can be for the motivated kids, it’s the other group that really need the best that you and I have to offer. This is where teaching really fills a need.

    Now I’m not suggesting that you go out and find the worst inner city classroom that you can and set up shop 24/7, but I am suggesting that you fully accept that these are your kids and come up with a plan or a system that you, they and your principal can all live with.

    To reach this group it may require a very different approach than the one you tend to use with your highly motivated kids. It may mean that you need to add some new tools (techniques, systems and paradigms) to your tool box. Maybe as another poster suggested, try moving to a more hands on approach. Do a lot more of your assessment in class, using observations and interviews. Where possible allow the kids to display what they know through various forms of multiple intelligences. A lot of these kids may not be able to write a paper or perform well on a test, but they may still surprise you with how much they are actually taking in if you change your assessment format.

    If you happen to know any good teachers who are good with disinterested kids I’d pick their brain relentlessly. Reach out to people and you’ll be surprised by how much help you’ll receive.

    Regarding your principal, he or she may well be a weenie, and he or she may well be giving you the nudge, nudge wink, wink to just pass them and don’t tell me how it was done message, but going head to head with your principal is going to lead to more trouble than it’s worth – this I guarantee. Either find a way to work with your principal or go about it your own way, but make sure that you aren’t antagonizing them.

    I also know you mentioned that the failure rate in the other class is lower, so I’d go talk to the other teacher. It could well be that they are just fudging the numbers and ‘playing the game’ – but it could also be the case that they have a few ideas or a different approach that you and your kids might benefit from, so I’d take a good hard look at what they are doing and how it might be applied to this group of kids.
    And if for some reason you are still experiencing turmoil with this issue, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t explore another school, another district, or even the private school system. It sounds like you’re someone with a lot to offer so if you really can’t make a go of it in this particular setting you might want to explore some others before you decide that teaching is not for you.

    Good luck.

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