The Life of Bon: Houston, we have a problem.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Houston, we have a problem.

My name is Bonnie and I am teacher and I'm here to tell you there are some serious issues with public education.

Now I don't want you to think that I'm complaining about my job, but I'm complaining about my job.

Usually I try to stay out of the "politics" of teaching.  I show up- habitually four minutes late- prepare my lessons, teach my students, laugh at their dumb jokes, grade their papers, lock the door, and go home and forget about it all until I have to go back the next morning.  It has thus far made for a pretty good job and a pretty good life.  I do my best to not worry about which teachers get what "favors", which teachers slip out of meetings to go eat breakfast with their buddies, which teachers don't have to take on extra responsibilities.

A month or so ago I was eating lunch with my teaching buddy who is a P.E. teacher.  We were talking about the upcoming ACT that is given at our school and how all the teachers had "proctoring" assignments.  School for the sophomores and seniors wouldn't start until noon that day, while all the juniors come at 7:30 to take the test.  Teachers have to give the test, make sure no one is teaching, etc.  My P.E. teacher buddy (I am not going to mention names in the rare chance that this could get anybody in trouble) mentioned that she was the only person in the P.E. department who had to proctor a test- that all of the rest of the teachers essentially got "the morning off".  Not only do they not have to do this specific test, but they never have to proctor the tests.

I was shocked at this mainly because I had no idea that there were some teachers at the school who weren't assigned test proctoring responsibilities.  Since my first year I had always been assigned to proctor the sophomore PLAN test as well as the ACT.  It never entered my mind that there are some teachers who don't have to do this little responsibility.

And it is a little responsibility.  It really is.  Basically all you do is give the students the test, set the timer, and then work on your own stuff while they stress themselves out sick over the ACT.  It's not a hard gig.  But this year I have been absolutely pushed to my limits.  I am teaching an extra class- making me more than full time. I have 260 students.  I commute, adding an extra 1.5 hours to my work day.  I am job searching and trying to get accredited to teach in California while at the same time renewing my Utah license.  On top of all that I am giving the best attempt I can to make this blog successful.  Some days I feel like I am absolutely working myself to the ground.

Now.  I understand that I took on all these responsibilities myself and I have to make my bed and lie in it and roll around in it and however that idiom goes.  BUT it didn't seem fair to me that they would give a teacher of English (which is widely known to be the subject that requires the most grading time) who already teaches an extra class (as a favor to the school!) and who busts her butt all day long this extra responsibility when there were other options.  Why wouldn't they give it to a P.E. teacher who DOESN'T teach an extra class who DOESN'T ever have to do even a speck of grading?  Why wouldn't they say to the English teacher with an extra class- "you know what?  You don't worry about this.  You are busy enough.  We will give this responsibility to someone who has less on their plate.  You use the morning to grade those essays!"

Normally I don't complain to my school, but something about the whole situation struck a painful chord for some reason.  So I marched down to the counseling office and asked to be taken off the list of ACT proctors.  I explained to them how many extra responsibilities I had and that I desperately needed the four hours that morning to catch up.

The counselor raised his eyebrows at me and looked at me like I was being a total diva.

I tried to explain.

"I just don't understand why I have been given this responsibility every single time.  I've never had a break from giving the test.  Why do some teachers always get a break from it, and some teachers never get a break from it?  It doesn't seem fair!"

To which the counselor smiled at me and replied, "Bonnie, are you aware of the politics of teaching?"

I felt like answering, "You mean how some teachers don't do jack and other teachers have to pick up all their slack?  Yah, I'm aware."

But instead I was a good girl and I answered, "No, not really..."

"Do you understand that we cannot trust every single teacher to proctor a test as big as the ACT?"

"No, actually I don't understand that. What do you mean you can't trust them?  Like they're going to give answers to students?"

"No.  Like they're not going to show up at all.  They call in a sub.  We have to find someone last minute to cover for them."

"Well why do we have someone like that working at the school? Why are we employing them if we can't trust them?  If they don't do their responsibility then they should get in trouble for it!  They should be fired!  There should be some sort of accountability!"

"These are all tenured teachers.  We can't fire them for not proctoring an ACT."

"I just don't get how we can have a system where teachers don't do work and so they are given less work.  Teachers who do work are given more work.  And the teachers who aren't doing any work are getting paid more than me because they've been here longer!  If a teacher doesn't do a responsibility that he is assigned, he should get in trouble. You can't just throw it on the teachers who you know will do it and let the lazy teachers off the hook every time."

"Bonnie, I have nothing to do with the system.  I just put you on the list because I knew I wouldn't have to worry about you screwing me over last minute.  That's a good thing."

"So what you are saying is if I do screw you over and don't show up that morning I will never have to proctor another test again?  I am rewarded for bad behavior?"

The counselor sighed and it occurred to me that he was probably every bit as overworked and overwhelmed as I was.  And here I was, just adding to his plethora of stresses.

"Don't worry about, I'll do it.  I just don't think it's fair and I think the system is corrupt."  I shrugged my poor heavy laden shoulders and trudged back to my classroom.

The next day the counselor came to my room with a revised list for proctoring the ACT.  My name wasn't on it.  I felt an immediate sense of relief.  I looked at the names to see what poor unsuspecting coach they had made come in to do the job for me.

No coach.  Instead, a first year teacher replaced my name.  A guy that is teaching three different preps, struggling to find time to get all of his lessons together, and completely overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of that crazy first year.

"Mr. Thomas?"  I questioned.  "You made Mr. Thomas do this?!?  What about Phil?  Or Kevin?  Or Coach Bradfield?  That's who I wanted to have to do it!  Not Mr. Thomas!"

The counselor shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I just couldn't trust any of those guys to do it for me.  It is what it is."

I was overcome with guilt.  Guilt for passing my responsibility on to someone I know would never have the nerve to say no.  Guilt for ever having complained in the first place. I should have just shut up and did it.  But another part of me still screamed that I did the right thing.  Like I had to stand up for myself and let them know that this wasn't right.

Unfortunately in education there seems to be many more questions than answers.  Should I have just kept my big mouth shut?  What do you do with a "lazy" teacher- who refuses to help with extra small assignments like proctoring an ACT?  Do we just let them glide by and give this work to those who always come through?  How do we expect to have good schools if we tolerate this type of behavior?

And why is it so damn hard to fire a tenured teacher?


  1. preach!

    i mean, i don't know what else to say bc you said it all.

    i've worked in two schools and it's always the same -- the teachers who complain the most and do the least work are patted on the back and coddled and the teachers who work the hardest its like too bad.

    case-in-point - i just got told at my new school that i wasn't being asked back next year because after two pop-in observations (for 10 min each) the AP decided she didn't like me (even though i did everything she told me to do and what all the other teachers in my dept are doing) and i have 4 different preps, travel between two schools every day and have four different classrooms i teach in. yep, definitely IM what's not working out here.

    in other news, i've decided to leave teaching because after 6 years of it, i'm just done with all the BS. it's really sad.

    (side note - in the district i'm in it actually says in the union contract that english teachers cannot teach more than 125 students bc of the workload)

    in my old school i would have 8 proctoring assignments and other people would have 1-3 ...same reason, "we know you'll show up". awesome!

    blah sorry for the rambling comment!!

  2. These were the things that made my first year of teaching pretty nasty. My school didn't have tenure and we were at-will employees, but that made drama a whole new level. People that probably would have been tenure instead make a horrible gang bullying new teachers who they felt had less connections to be fired easier. Teachers made pacts to try to get other teachers fired and the list goes on and on.

    I understand why you opened your mouth, but it is sad that people are perpetuated to abuse the system and also rewarded for it. I agree the teacher tenure system isn't right and it sometimes can be the place where a lot of people hang their hat and then never do anything else. I think there should be requirements for it as well.

    If schools were a business they would be FAILING because of how unproductive many practices are.

  3. It's politics no matter where you work. I'm made for you. Some people are just bad eggs.

  4. My AP Spanish 4 teacher was caught fondling girls/grabbing their chest/sending inappro text messages to girls on the softball team he coached up in Washington and he was only on probation for these things, but then escaped to my lovely little school district in So-Cal to teach.
    One of my friends actually was the one to find the story about his disgusting acts on the internet, brought it to the principals attention...the teacher was given a "year off" then came BACK TO TEACH AT OUR SCHOOL. I was absolutely appalled, hooray for tenure. NOT.
    It doesn't give teachers/coaches the incentive to work hard, and the teachers who do make a difference and work their tush off, don't get recognized or rewarded for it. It's jacked up.
    Aka, I can see where you are coming from and sympathize with you. So lame!!!

  5. God, I know exactly how you feel! School politics is the biggest load of BS, and you are right, they constantly award bad behavior.

    This is my fifth year teaching and even though I am not teaching 260 kids, I still feel the burnout. I try to remind myself of the perks of teaching- summers off, no nights and weekends, blah, blah,blah. But sometimes it's the pits.

  6. There are politic everywhere. I deal with the exact same things everyday and I'm no where near teaching; I make roller coasters. It suck, suck, sucks.

  7. Oh man, it's like you heard my venting session after work last week! I teach elementary school....and was an administrator for a bit. It's the same EVERYWHERE! It's so disappointing to me. I've come to a place of.....I know that I do what's right. Some people don't. However, I still get regularly annoyed about it!

    At least you're one of the good ones!


  8. As someone going into teaching, tenure is such a tricky subject. Blah to all the unfairness. Plus, parents expect teachers to be miracle workers with their students. I'm sorry its been rough on you!

  9. you are exactly right and should not feel guilty for standing up for yourself. i taught in a high school for 2 years and my eyes were definitely opened up to the politics (which i'm sure occur in every occupation).

    but there is definitely a problem with the tenure system in education if bad behavior gets rewarded in such ways as you described.

    teachers work their butts off and are crazy busy!

  10. You are spot on with this post. I feel the same way so many times! I think those resource teachers (PE, art, tech, etc) are probably the ones that I hold a grudge against the most. At our school, whenever we have a half day or 2 hour delay, resources are canceled. Resource teachers get a free day when they don't really even need it while all the other teachers have a day of teaching with no planning period meaning even less time to get stuff done. I have done the same thing where I've marched into our principal's office demanding my contracted planning time only to have a similar reaction. Teaching is a tough job if you're teaching the "wrong" subjects, otherwise it's easy. I am a perfect case. I used to teach Language Arts and had so much responsibility. This year, I got switched (by my choice) to Social Studies and my life is so much better. Less testing responsibilities, less responsibility for collecting and reporting on data, less meetings, etc. The test is what drives the amount of work for teachers. So if you're in a highly tested subject there is no rest for the wicked.

  11. And this is why I decided against being a teacher. I used to want to be one but things like this annoy me. I had an issue with my second grade teacher. She kept yelling at me in front of the other kids for no reason and made me sit in an area where she put "bad kids." I wasn't a bad kid at all, I'd go home crying and she made me hate school for the rest of my life. My parents talked to the principal about her and they wouldn't do anything because she was tenured. I don't know how you do it honestly. It's an incredibly tough job and I'm sure it's a very underpaying job, unless you've been a teacher for a million years. I don't even know why I wanted to be one in the first place.

  12. you, my friend, have done it again!

    last year, as a first year teacher, with an extremely difficult (behavior wise and academic wise) classroom, little to no team support, and no previous experience in that grade level, I also had the biggest class size. as we got new students in the grade, they came to my room, no questions asked, while one of my teammates only had 14 kids. it was the same situation...basically my admin didn't "trust" the other teachers with new students.

    while it's flattering to hear that you're being given certain responsibilities and tasks because you are good, it is frustrating to watch sucky teachers continue to get away with little to no work and nothing can be done about it.

  13. Holy crap. this is so true!!!!!!

  14. "How do we expect to have good schools if we tolerate this type of behavior?"

    That's EXACTLY my question. We try as a society to demand GOOD behavior out of children in school, yet behind their backs we reward bad behavior with teachers who will pass all of his or her responsibilities onto others. School boards should not allow for teachers to perpetuate to abuse the system and then be awarded for such actions. The title of a teacher within all teachers should signify equality, not inequality!

  15. I learned my lesson at my school about saying anything. If you complain about something at our school they give that responsibility to you. Every morning I have to see "word of the week" with no word below it since over a year ago. It drives me crazy but if I say anything they would hand me a ladder.

  16. Bonbon replace teacher with counselor and proctoring with covering groups and you have my life lol I give you a lot of props for standing up for yourself because it is something I do not do often enough and you just gave me one more reason to do it!! Good luck playing catch up… I am there myself!! Happy Monday!!
    -Meesh :)

  17. I have a friend at my school who teaches the enclosed special ed class. She is a second year teacher and at the same time is trying to work on her Masters in special education. If she does that, as well as a few other items (which she is working on), she can go up to the next pay grade. She went to the District Office and talked to the counselor to see her progress and they told her sorry they couldn't give her a raise to the next pay grade because she wasn't tenured. She complained to us during lunch and we agreed with her. The pay raises and ladder system of pay grades is a system of incentive. But what incentive is it to get more education, etc, if you can't get a raise because you aren't tenured?

  18. There was a lot that bothered me about my principal, but one thing I really liked was that he knew how to work the system. I was able to keep my job and a less good teacher was transferred. . . um, to Copper Hills, actually. It could have been me, and we could have been besties :) We didn't get rid of the truly bad teacher, but it was nice to be recognized for my very hard work (since two of the teachers in my department pretty much refused to help with our club activities or over night trips) and to be valued.

  19. I love this post. You have so many great questions, and I share in wondering about these things too. I'm just getting started in the education field as a counselor and I don't look forward to the politics. In fact, politics are exactly the reason I wasn't upset when the principal of my internship school said he didn't have room for me on his staff next year as a counselor.
    Good luck to you!

  20. my mom has been teaching for well over 30 years. now she leads the union and teaches. everyone in my family is a teacher (except me) and it's all i hear about. however, i've seen that when the teachers stand together, they actually do change things. or at least start to. it's like this in every profession.. show business is no exception, it's insane. all of the actors on smash? 'favorites' at a specific casting office. warn the hubs! :) all we can all do is our best, i suppose.

  21. Amen sista friend! I see my father in law and many of our friends deal with this and it just stinks!

  22. My MIL teaches middle school math and she talks about this stuff all the time. It sucks!

  23. I taught for a year at a charter school, just as an instructor. I loved LOVED my kids. I loved to teach them (even though I didn't love the teaching system of the school) and loved building a trusting relationship between us. But I know I couldn't be a teacher because of things like this. I couldn't stand it.

  24. I'm going to have to go through and give some time to reading through these comments. But yes! Tenure is a big problem. My building is very pro union and my opinions are not all. But yes. I feel strongly against tenure...and I believe it silences teachers rather than allows them to have a voice which is the argument I always get. I could go on for days. Our state has tried to pass laws that would get rid of tenure...unfortunately these laws also held a lot of stupid ideas. Neither "side" has the's depressing sometimes.

  25. Maybe if everyone was made aware the teachers could hold each other accountable. I don't understand tenure. I don't understand how it benefits the school. It's only an incentive for someone to be a slacker.

  26. Many of my friends are facing the same struggles here in California. Keep your chin up.

  27. I hear this all the time from teachers, and I'm not gonna lie, that's part of why I went into teaching at the college level instead. Even my students tell me about their experiences in high school with these kind of tenured teachers who just didn't care-- it's very obvious to the students. Who can blame the students for lacking motivation when they see their teachers shirking their own responsibilities?
    Sigh. It sucks, but in the end, you're the type of teacher that at least the students will remember fondly.
    XO, Rachel
    With Love, Rachel

  28. i feel frustrated for you.

  29. I guess you can take pride in the fact that you are good at your job and people recognize it! And once you get to high school, you can tell which teachers want to be there and which ones don't.

  30. As a parent, I would love for lazy teachers to be shown the door. They stink even more when they are the teacher your kid has.

  31. Anonymous6:17 AM

    I am so grateful that there are good teachers like you out there. As a parent, I cannot express enough the difference between my kids having a great teacher or the unlucky years when we get the lazy ones. Thank you so much for everything you do everyday!

  32. I studied education in college (I wanted to be an English teacher), and then I got to my student teaching and realized it's all politics. Needless to say, I am not a teacher. And on some occasions I truly wish I was, but then I remember stuff like this. I have SO much respect for you; I couldn't do it.

  33. That's why Tennessee basically eliminated the tenure laws last year. Technically, you can still GET tenure, but they made it SO difficult to get tenure. It's literally almost impossible. You have to have almost perfect scores on every single evaluation for a few years in a row. And if you ever follow below a certain evaluation score, they can take your tenure away.

    Which in theory seems like a great idea. But at the same time, there are so many principals that score so easily on the evaluations and some that are SO tough. So it will never be an even playing field.

    Yay education!

  34. I'm not a teacher and I'm grateful every single day for people like you who are, because this entire post kind of spoke right to my core sense of being. You're right. The heaviest burdens are always placed on the most reliable--and most often, those are the same people who are already given 110%. It's not just in teaching, rest assured. Thank you for sharing this. Have a wonderful week.

  35. I'm the daughter of a teacher (and school board member for 8 years), and the sister of a teacher, and was a sub myself for 2 years (*shudder*). And tenure is absolutely the most bullshit political move ever, and it damages our kids. I had personal experience with that, in the 3rd grade, when a tenured teacher made my life hell for a year and didn't even get a slap on the wrist. Between tenure and NCLB, this nation's approach to educating our youth is definitely cracked. And I understand and share your frustration with that.

  36. As a current college student, I wholeheartedly agree. I'm currently enrolled in the honors program - a mecca for teachers of tenure - and, to put it plainly, I have been insanely disappointed by the caliber of professor. None of them were particularly concerned with learning, or with the course, or really with me - they showed up, showed the material, dashed home. Not exactly encouraging or "honorable" (had to sneak that in...). In fact, one of my professors snarkily joked that, no matter what she did, she probably wouldn't be fired since she had been working for over fifteen years for this college. How stupid is that!? It also makes me furious - as a student, I'm expect to work harder and harder the longer I stay at the college. By senior year, I should be busting my butt over making sure that I am allowed to stay in college...meanwhile, my professors enjoy a long lunch break. Now, by all means, I am not saying this is every teacher with tenure - my magazine professor this semester has been working for 21 years and is AMAZING and one of the best resources for my budding craft. sad is it that she's the exception? I guess I don't have anything really to add except the outcry from the student's perspective. Believe me, we hear you and mourn for the letdown the system is showing us. Lame.

  37. I'm a new reader and fan of your blog and I loved reading your little rant. It's so awful that the school system rewards teachers for bad behavior and that teachers who can be trusted and held accountable are punished in a sense. However it sounds like you're a great teacher and I look forward to reading more of your blog!

  38. Oh Bonnie this totally sucks. My mom teaches high school and the same thing happens to her ALL THE TIME! It is not fair that people are rewarded for doing the wrong thing and good people have to take up the slack. Unfortunately, this is what happens everywhere. For example, we were flying to Miami and my husband paid extra to have the exit row since he is tall. We boarded the plane and there had been an "equipment change" so there weren't enough exit rows and they reassigned my husband to sit by me. Instead of complaining he just sat next to me. However, another man threw a fit and caused the flight to be delayed. He wouldn't even get up and let the poor elderly man sit down, even though it was elderly man's seat! What happened to this guy? He got to sit in first class. NOT COOL!

  39. Hello, I'm your follower from Belarus and I claim that the idea of "scapegoatism" in teaching is widely spread not only in the US but well over the world.
    The thing here in Belarus is that there were a series of car accidents starring children who were running to shool in the morning (usually parents don't take their kids to school by car as the schools are usually really close to their houses). And...(drumroll)...every single teacher in the schools was made to stand on the crossroads in the area around the school in the mornings. In turns. Before the classes. No extra payment. No insurance in case of the accident. Genious, right?
    My mom has been a primary school teacher for like 20 years and she is used to all kinds of our Ministry of Education fancies so she just did it. Later, I heard a story about a primary school teacher (a male one), who had complained about this innovation to his class' parents and they somehow wrote a paper to the Ministry and he was set free from this obligation.
    The point of the story is that when I told about that to mom she looked at me kinda sadly and said: "I think that their principal will be told off if not fired (for nesting rebellious teachers) and this man will be de-bonuced for a couple of months". And it was oh-so-sad that when you try to improve the quality of education you provide and you (or others) are punished for that.

    P.S.: I do like the "Angry Young Teacher" photo in the post! :-)

  40. Unfortunately, there are politics in EVERY field. I don't understand the tenure thing but it sounds like a horrible BS thing. I don't think you should "have a job for life" just because you work a certain number of years. I think you did the right thing standing up for yourself. You can't let it make you feel guilty.

  41. Ugh so frustrating!! I originally started out in the education program and after my first student teaching assignment the teacher I was working with talked me out of it for this very reason. I'll be honest I am so glad I did! I dont know how you do it!

    PS commenting because I love your blog but also because of the MDH giveaway!

  42. I heard that! [Please tell me you've seen Rob and Big?]

    A few years ago MO proposed a bill that would do away with tenure. There were teachers UP IN ARMS about it, and I'm over in my corner all, "Let's DO THIS THING!" for the very reasons you addressed in this post.

    Unfortunately the bill was attached to some other crap that was bad, so it didn't see the light of day.

    I always have to remind myself: I CHOSE English, knowing full well ALL the responsibilities, when I could have been a PE teacher. And I'm not saying PE teachers don't do anything…they just don't do damn near as much as we do ;-)

  43. I don't have anything to add to the above except my own opinion that tenure is a load of bull.

  44. I agree with those who have commented before me.......teachers have it bloody hard and are often damned if they do and damned if they don't........

  45. Gotta love politics! My mom and sister are both teachers and have to deal with the most ridiculous tasks... ugh. I give you guys props.

  46. You could not have written a more perfect blog post for me! I am currently working as a fourth grade teacher at a charter school in Chicago, in my last few weeks before I move to Texas with my husband, who just got a new job.

    And oh, boy, I can't wait to leave! The politics here are out of control, and more pertinent, the accountability seems to be falling on just the teachers--and worse, like you said, only some teachers! I am burning out fast. The behavior in my classes is so bad that when I was out last week, my sub just picked up his stuff and left in the middle of class! But yet there is no accountability for the students or the parents--or the administration--for following through on discipline!

    Now, because I've only taught in charter schools for these first years of my career, I haven't encountered the tenure issue yet, but I'm sure that it's incredibly frustrating!

    Thanks for this post! I'm so glad I found your blog, and I hope you navigate the murky political waters of your school (at least somewhat) successfully. Do you at least have a spring break coming up to look forward to?


  47. And that is why I quit teaching after two years. The other teachers were bigger whiners than my 5th graders and I had no patience for the "politics"

  48. This post pissed me off so bad that I couldn't even finish it. EXACTLY. Why the hell do they have a job?!??!?! Tenure makes me SICK. So many crappy teachers who CANNOT get fired. What other business works that way? And sadly, this sense of entitlement, do-no-wrong, here's-your-fifth-chance crap starts in kindergarten. And then as adults, there are STILL no consequences. I had no idea what I would be in for in college. The elementary school I taught at was a complete blessing. But, I have worked in a middle school that was absofrigginlutely ridiculous.
    Sickening. Absolutely sickening.