Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Does Anybody Care?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Does Anybody Care?

Article excerpt

As a professor in a college of education, Ms. Amspaugh was accustomed to hearing complaints about the indignities that teachers suffer. But only after she spent a year teaching in a first-grade classroom did she truly understand the desperation that is driving good teachers into other professions.

AFTER 13 years of teaching in a college of education, I took a sabbatical. I chose to spend an academic year as a classroom teacher of first-graders. I was not a teacher's aide, nor an observer, nor someone who volunteered to help on occasion. I was a teacher, with all the rights and responsibilities assumed by thousands of other first-grade teachers all over the country.

Even though I did what other teachers do, there were some differences between me and the other teachers. One of the differences was my perspective. I was in the classroom for just one year. I did not have the option to come back and teach again the following year. In other words, tenure was not a concern, but neither did I have the opportunity to correct the mistakes I unwittingly made. Second, as a college professor I have had different kinds of experiences from most K-12 classroom teachers. I have had some control over professional issues that concern me. For example, I have been able to choose what textbooks would be used in my classes, I have had some input into and effect on policy making, and I have had some choice about what courses I will teach.

There were, of course, other differences between me and my colleagues, but that is not the point of this article. The point is that I have gained insight about why many good teachers decide to leave teaching for other fields of endeavor. For the first time, I understand why many former students of education -- who were committed, competent, intelligent teachers -- have become store managers or computer programmers or education consultants in industry. Surprisingly, salary does not seem to be a major issue. What I will describe are much more serious issues. They have to do with feelings of self-worth and general job satisfaction.

I am not implying that the events I experienced occurred because I was in a "bad" district or that those who had the authority to make decisions were trying to undermine teachers' efforts. That simply is not true. What I describe as happening in "my" district is not unique, and similar events occur in hundreds of other schools all over the country.

LACK OF CONTROL

At the beginning of the school year, I planned my schedule in a way that seemed best to fit with my own needs and those of the children in my classroom. I began my day with sustained silent reading so that the children would come in, settle down, get into the mood for school, and be ready for the next item on the agenda, which was math. My rationale for scheduling math next was that the subject often gets neglected in elementary classrooms because of a very strong emphasis on reading. I wanted to be sure that the children would be fresh and ready to understand math -- since reading would be taught in some form or another for almost all the rest of the day. Also, if the children had instruction in math first, they would be able to do some math seatwork without further instruction while I was working with the reading groups. It made sense to me.

After my first observation by the principal, I was informed that reading was to be the first subject taught during the day. I did not change my schedule. After my second observation, this time by the assistant principal, I was again informed that reading was to be taught first thing in the morning. Again I did not change my schedule. The following Monday a notice appeared in the teachers' weekly bulletin: "District policy states that reading is to be taught first thing in the morning, after seatwork assignments." At that point, I changed and taught reading first, because I was, in a real sense, a guest teacher in the district. …

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