Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Teacher in the trenches

Sometimes people want to blame all the ills and evils of public education on teachers. Sometimes teachers are part and parcel of the problem, but many (possibly most?) times they're not. Here's a letter I received from one such person:

I was very interested in some of your comments on homeschooling. For several years, I home-schooled my four children until going through a (very unwanted) divorce. Since I was going to have to work, I thought it would be better to put the two still at home into public school. The difference between the older two who were completely homeschooled, and the two who had to go into public school is very apparent, especially in respect for education and in respect for others.

I know there were a lot more factors at play than the difference in education. They moved from a stable family to a broken home, older sister went to college, older brother moved out to get away from Dad – all in the space of about a year. And it is also true that they are the children of two people, so I am not the only influence on them. But I spend part of every day sick to my stomach at the decisions I have made, or that have been made for me. Have I ruined their lives by the decisions I have made?

After having trouble finding any kind of financially rewarding work in the area where I live, having no retirement savings, etc. I decided to go back to school. Since I had always loved school, had taught a couple of years in small religious schools, and had homeschool experience, I majored in Elementary Education, thinking that was something I would love, and that I would be able to save most of my pay toward retirement. I now question the wisdom of this decision. The school settings I go into are appalling. How can I conscientiously do the things I am required to do as a public school teacher? To say nothing of put up with what teachers have to put up with?

The wild and untamable students rule the schools and form district policy. In the local school district, rather than do whatever it takes to control students, the teachers and principals are being forced to allow more and more behavior to go unpunished. ‘Referrals’ numbers are supposed to come down, and statistics are more important than the students, so... It takes the kids about two days to realize that they can get by with today what they could not get by with in the past. Bullying, disrespect, and violence run the schools. I have seen veteran teachers so frustrated they hop up and down in anger, or just quit trying and sit in a chair.

The students who are in school to learn are left completely unprotected and untaught. Under the guise of a free and equal education for everyone, no one is getting a challenging and rewarding education, and no one is physically or emotionally safe, ever. The focus of daily activity, conversation, faculty/staff meetings, principal meetings, school board meetings is the students who are out of control. The blame ends up in the laps of the classroom teachers.

In the typical local public school classroom I do not use anything I learned at the College of Education. The training I need is for how to do crowd control at a state prison without the support of the warden. The teachers have been left hanging in the wind and the kids are in control. In many cases these kids have the full support of their parents! It is not uncommon for a teacher to be cursed for trying to ‘tell a child what to do.’

I have direct experience in several of the local schools. It is the exception rather than the rule to find a teacher who, with the support of her principal, is making her classroom a safe haven where no bad behavior is tolerated, and learning takes place in a loving, peaceful environment. I know of only one in the entire school district. I am sure she has no idea she is basically homeschooling 30 students!

Now I am graduated (with plenty of gray hair), wondering how to find a job in the middle of years of massive education cuts under our governor who touts herself as an “education governor.” I’m fearful I have taken the wrong path, and am in debt for nothing. I still love education, and genuinely like working with children of all ages, but am feeling hopeless about American education as an institution.

If you made it all the way through my venting session, I really appreciate it! Thanks for being a spot of sanity in the midst of craziness!


  1. My mother is a teacher, and her summary of the public school system would mirror this poor woman's assessment exactly! Many hard working teachers are battling their own administrations on top of the vicious and ignorant parents of school hoodlums, just trying to get the basic respect and safety that should be automatic in their positions! Thank God for these brave souls who go to work every day just to be salt and light to children from broken homes who have no other contact with stable, loving adults.

  2. I was a public school teacher at the high school level, and IMO this assessment is spot-on - and it is one of the primary reasons we homeschool our children today - they can't learn where they are not safe.

  3. And this is why I can not in good conscious ever send my children to the wolves.

  4. This post breaks my heart. I hope that it was cathartic for the mother to write in and that she gains clarity for herself and her children.

    This post helped me in that sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by my child by homeschooling.... every homeschooling parent, heck every single parent sometimes wonders this....and it's confirmation that, indeed, I'm doing the right thing. In spades.

    Thank you for writing to Patrice, and thank you, Patrice, for posting it. I hope that in time you are able to find the path that is right for you.

  5. Keep homeschooling! Don't allow public education to change your child into someone they are not. They don't need condoms stuffed in their pockets, nor learn how to tolerate a different lifestyle while having it forced down their throat and kindergartner's don't need to be taught how to have safe sex! You can't speak of Jesus Christ in public schools or you are condemned to hell and punished and the text books are quickly turning into a leftest agenda! Homeschool and keep your kids safe!

  6. My Dad experienced quite a bit of what the letter writer experienced. Teaching is the love of his life, but the situation in the school degraded so rapidly and so deeply that he chose to retire rather than continue banging his head against the wall of an administration that always blamed the teachers in any disciplinary infraction. And he taught in a small town school, where everyone knows everyone else's names...so much for the values of small town America.


  7. I am a public school teacher (6th grade in a low-income, high-poverty, inner-city, Title 1 school) in a middle school. What one person posted is so true when mentioning the training to control crowds in a state prison. That was funny because too often it is the truth!

    Since I teach in a school that has a low income population, most of them qualify for free/reduced lunch. What is appalling is that, claiming to be "poor" they often come to school without a pencil and/or paper. Yet, almost all of them have cell phones much nicer than mine. Most of them have all of the latest consumer electronics and very expensive video game consoles (X-Box 360, PS3, etc.). I do not have those things since my wife and I have to watch what we spend in order to provide for our daughter.

    These kids, by-and-large, have not been taught: responsibility, respect, a work ethic, self-control, etc. I am sorry to say this, but many of them really do behave like wild animals in a jungle! They don't respect your rights, feelings, or property. They respect power. They view people who are kind and generous as fools to be taken advantage of.

    Now, I have worked in other public schools where this kind of garbage did not occur! It is all in the upbringing and what they have been exposed to in their environment. Quick story: one 6th grader last year missed the bus (in the restroom VERY sick) so she needed to be taken home. Our principal drove her home and as they entered her community noticed a large group of young men carrying golf clubs, walking in the opposite direction. When my principal asked her if they were golfers going to a local driving range the girl replied, "You don't want to know what they are going to do!"

    Needless to say, I would not care to be there when things fall apart!