Teacher Burnout

PrintJobI am officially on the cusp of burning out.  I took a test that tells me so, and I land in the highest category.  In fact, the only way I know that I have not actually burned out is because looking at the suggestions in the same site’s article “Recovering from Burnout” made me cry.  Since I really don’t want to pursue any of those options, I’m sticking with “How to Avoid Burnout“, since it makes me feel better.

Luckily, I have already taken steps to remedy my situation, so as long as I can hold it together for the rest of the school year, I think I will be ok.

But I include the “Recovering…” article because there are many articles on avoiding teacher burnout, but few to address the idea that it might have already happened.  Are there other options besides leaving the job?

One co-worker suggested Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as  a way of addressing burnout, and after reading it, I can see why she made the suggestion.  It creates a focus back on one’s life and the things that are important, which is probably a good burnout combatant.

But I want to know: what else can be done once burnout happens?

Required Community Service?

Required Community Service?

As this MD rule stands, I disagree with it. I believe the idea should be contact with the world outside of high school walls. I think it would be more beneficial if there was a work exemption (i.e. if the student has a part-time job in the equivalent amount of hours and provides the same kind of reflection). In my mind, as a high school teacher, I think of the students who have no outside experience because the only thing they know how to do is go home and play video games until the wee hours of the morning.

What is the purpose of the program? Is it to provide the student with “real-world” contact and experience, or is it to to inspire the feeling of service? I think the second reason will ultimately fail, but if the program is designed with the idea of contact in mind, then it will be more successful with more buy-in.

If the student is college-bound (or thinks they are, regardless of the facts), then they need community-service hours on their application. Period. And the goal of high school is to have the kids ready to go to college if they WANT to. Getting into college is nothing like what it was when I went even ten years ago – the competition is strikingly high. Here in Florida, if students want to participate in the Bright Futures Scholarship, then they must complete a 60-hr. requirement.  Students have already stated an intent to go to college, and THEN their hours are made mandatory.  It exposes them to other things before they apply, and lets them see what it is like outside of their school, which is, in many college admission offices, almost as important as academics.  

So, I like the idea of this “mandatory volunteer” requirement, however it seems as if this program could use a few exemptions upon proof of other circumstances (i.e. a part-time job, extenuating, etc.).

My First #edchat Discussion

I am still a Twitter doubter.  I have tried and failed at least twice to get into the whole Twitter thing, and have found that I have so few friends on the service that it didn’t make it worthwhile, and I was wary of the hashtag thing.  However, I decided to give it one more try and to actually use it in an interesting way.  So I joined up with the weekly Tuesday night #edchat (7pm EST) on Twitter.

It was fascinating.  Because I’m new, I kept my comments to a minimum, but since I was trying to stretch outside my boundaries, I made sure to contribute three or four times (not bad for an introvert, eh?).  Anyway, here’s what I learned:

  1. Pronouns are bad.  When I missed the original tweet, the replies were sometimes confusing because I didn’t know what “it” was. So I found myself being more articulate.
  2. I don’t need to read everything.  There’s got to be a better way than just going up to hit the “16 new Tweets” link at the top of the page, but TweetDeck was acting up, so I didn’t have any other choice.  With something like 25 new messages a minute there was no way to catch up, so I calmed down (it was actually stressing me out), and just read what I could or found interesting.
  3. I met some cool people who do the same thing I do every day.  Just that, by itself, was helpful because, since I haven’t got many friends on Twitter, I finally see it as a useful PD tool, rather than just a microblogging service.

I felt like I couldn’t add much to the conversation, as it was about the way social media should be used and issues with filters, but since I know quite a bit about the filtering (our district is beyond strict – no Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, email – except for teachers through internal, YouTube…nothing), I found I had a niche I could talk about.  So I am cautiously optimistic about this whole Twitter thing, since it seems to be a great way to make connections to learn from.

Here’s a tutorial one of the #edchat founders created for newbies like me.

Assigning Homework?

I came across this bog post today: “Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Grade Homework”. His reasons, overly simplified here (his post and the comments are worth the read), are as follows:

  1. It punishes kids who don’t get support at home.              
  2. Homework grades don’t show whata student has learned.
  3. It doesn’t teach about responsibility.
  4. It’s generally not relevant.
  5. There’s little educational reason for every student in the class to complete the same assignment. 

Soskil, the author, lists that he teaches in the 5th grade, which I think indicates where this list is coming from.  And I disagree with most of it – although I have this niggling feeling that he has a point within his explanations that he may be thinking in the right direction.  Just not ending with the right conclusion.

I think much of this argument comes down to educational philosophy: do you believe that every child deserves a chance and will ultimately be able and willing to learn, or do you believe that some will and some won’t (essentially social Darwinism)?  When I first started teaching high school ELA, I fell into the first group.   I find myself, more and more often, in the second now. 

The point that stings me the most is that it isn’t “fair” in one way or another.  In almost every explanation Soskil gives, it just isn’t “fair” to give homework.  No.  It’s not fair.  Nothing in life is fair, and you won’t think so as an adult, either.  Your boss will ask you to do things you feel are unfair and if you don’t your job is on the line.  So sending the message that kids shouldn’t have to do homework because it’s unfair to kids who are poor, or to kids who have no support at home, or to kids who have already learned the material, or to kids who are bored doesn’t do anything to help them.  Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t care about any of that.  The real world only cares if the job is done.  The people who do what they need to do will succeed, and the people who won’t will be left behind.And that reason alone is why I think we are failing our kids.  Regardless of learning, we have set them up with unrealistic expectations that the world will coddle them as we have.

However, I DO think we need to evaluate the homework we give and address the issues that he brings up.  I just don’t think we should abandon it altogether because it isn’t “fair” to students who won’t do it in the first place.

Teaching Writing

I have been getting fairly good at teaching writing lately.  Maybe that’s not quite right.  I have been getting better at being specific on where my students need improvement and addressing those issues.  And one thing that keeps coming up, no matter the level of student, is that they consistently stick to the rules they learned in middle school, as if what their middle school language arts teacher was the end-all and be-all.  They are immediately suspicious if I try to bring them up a level, and I am wondering why that is. 

Perhaps it’s the lack of relevant reading material.  Because the ELA curriculum is pretty strict and regimented in my district, I have very little time to expose my students to everyday writing.  Topics in the newspaper and magazines.  And since we have to focus so much on the standardized state exam (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test – or the FCAT), which is comprised of the most boring articles that have nothing to do with the kids lives and then force them to answer inane and confusing questions about them where the accepted answer is sometimes arguable or even downright wrong, my students revolt even when the topic is interesting anymore. They simply don’t get to see the good stuff.  

So they aren’t reading.  And how can they see the connections to what they write if they don’t know what makes something worth reading?  

And then there’s the FCAT writing exam which, until this year, has accepted the most error-ridden responses as stellar.  Additionally, in middle school, the teaching technique for writing is almost solely dedicated to passing this test and not for any kind of later academic or real-world application.  For instance, instead of teaching students how to transition from one point to the next, they simply create a formula.  In previous years, kids could just write first, second, and third at the beginning of their paragraphs.  Now that numerical transitions are no longer accepted on the state exam, we have transitioned into TAFI (to begin with, additionally, finally, and in conclusion).  Again, just words the students throw into their essay to try to fake transitions rather than actually learning how to work them.  

I bring all this up because I was working with two boys that I regularly tutor on this skill, and was teaching them how to effectively plan an upper-level expository essay (the kind one might regularly have to write through high school and college explaining an assigned topic).  We worked out, down to the last minute detail, what they were going to write about in each section, and when it came time to incorporate the statements into paragraphs, the boys said, “Oh! We get it! All these things relate to each other, so we weave them together, then we can say how this next point is kind of the same, but you want to use it in a different way!”  

All I could say: “Yes.” 

They finally understood.  And so did I. 

The issue with the way we teach writing is that we’ve separated the pieces from each other.  In trying to show these boys how to plan, they learned how to transition, and proved it in their writing.  We have failed to show them the purpose of a thesis statement – only how to do them.  We haven’t shown them how it is the guiding star throughout the piece and that in providing examples to support the thesis, we are explaining it to the reader.  And we haven’t given them enough practice or patience to allow them to see how natural writing works.  To see how all these pieces work together – not as separate entities of intro, thesis, body, body, body, conclusion.

So I now know where my work shall focus.  

Bringing it all together. Maybe.

Read Gladwell’s Outliers. Thinking about how important field trips are to development. Epiphanies about physics on road trips. Realizing that education has vacuum-sealed subjects, and even learning into separate opinions.

And I get it. My own little idea has been burgeoning into a full-fledged theory, and I feel like I really need to explore it. Part of the reason that I love English so much is that it is really many fields wrapped into one. It is, of course, language arts skills. It is literature/poetry/drama. It is psychology. It is history. It is sociology. It is research. And it can be a puzzle to figure out. So when someone tells me they don’t like English, I often tempted to ask, “Which part?”

But what I have been experiencing within the field of education is the isolation of each of those things. The curriculum I am supposed to be using (College Board’s Springboard for Language Arts Grades 6-12) seems to exaggerate this isolation and concentrates only on the skills of language arts…not the content.

So how do I bring the life back into my subject? If my students can see the inter-relatedness of the topics we are covering, then maybe I can ignite something more than complete apathy, especially in my lower-level students (it’s not that they’re not smart – it’s that they don’t care). Can I help them to find something of interest within a lesson? They won’t do it on their own, though; I will have to show them how to pick out something they can associate with.

Every time I’m faced with this challenge, I always think, How do young children learn how to do this? Because I’m finding that many of the skills my lower-level students lack are things that come naturally to upper-level students…things that they have learned through the younger grades or even at home in their own time. How do I bring those ideas to 18 year olds whose only goals are to “blow this joint” after June?

The Importance of Field Trips

http://www.fincamalvasia.com/content/image_gallery/surfing.phpI was watching a show on Hawaii with my parents tonight on the Smithsonian Channel (they get waaayy cooler channels than I do), and watching a surfer catch a wave, thinking, “That’s physics in action.”  The way the surfer has to understand the physical motion of the wave, calculating for speed and force, adding in the importance of placement for the perfect balance at the point where the wave crests and the barrel is just beginning.  It was utterly beautiful.

My students believe that physics is something in a classroom lab.  It doesn’t exist outside the walls of the school.  Neither do the reading strategies I offer them, the scientific process, the history lessons they learn, or the books they read.  They kind of understand that they’ll have to do math in the “real world”,  but since they have calculators, even that is beginning to show a real loss of importance.  I have no way of showing them the applications of what we learn in school because of the very fact that we are in school.

Upon reflection, I am beginning to realize just how important a field trip really is.  Not only is it a way to emphasize a lesson’s worth outside the classroom walls, it is ideal for information synthesis.  One of the things I really think we are missing in schools is the ability to show the students that nothing is in isolation.  It’s like all of the lessons are in a vacuum, and I think there is a great importance in showing how the idea of physics meets surfing or shipbuilding, how history is related to literature and psychology and politics, how chemistry is related to art and music.

I wonder if the idea of field trips was no longer considered a 4-letter word would our students begin to naturally acquire the skills and thoughts we find so important?  That real world application seems to be lacking in the current model – and I think to the students’ disadvantage.

English teacher working on teaching English


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