I’d like to continue my conversation with veteran teacher David Farkas. We have been discussing the sustainability of teaching as a career. In Part 1, we had just started talking about teacher burnout, and how it might start. Dave let us know, that even when things in his classroom were at their best, bureaucracy posed a challenge.
Dave: Most of the time, and for me all of the time, I see those at the top far removed from what is actually happening inside of schools and thus what is actually impacting our kids. Superintendents and other central building personnel are caught up in the national hype and ridiculous educational movements directed by others at top levels who think they know what’s best for kids yet haven’t spent more than five-minutes in a classroom in many, many years. They’re in bed with publishers and other media outlets who are financially driven in our industry, and also these “leaders” tend to hop on bandwagon’s, toting instant change from a suspect source. Let me ask you this…”What does the National Education Association (NEA) really do”? Ask any teacher how many times they’ve been directed by their superiors to do this or do that, try this and try that, none of it with fidelity, none of it with follow-up, and none of it with vision. I have “unwrapped the Colorado Standards” a half a dozen times in my fourteen years of teaching during so-called “Professional Development” days and this takes time. What did we really do with this PD work? Almost always…nothing…yet the Administrators write this down in the documents as “proof” that we’re collaborating. Wanna burn out a teacher, give them mindless work that achieves no tangible results and then ask them to do it again and again and again. Sure it looks good for Admin yet it begs to ask deeper, more poignant questions:
What impact will it have on our school culture?
How does it benefit our student population directly?
Does the effort equal the reward?
How much time will it take and is the scope and sequence achievable?
Is this another task or will it actually do good?
Nick: Wow Dave, I’ve been a classroom teacher for over a decade myself and can definitely say that my professional development experiences have been a mixed bag. However, despite the varied nature of my trainings I have had some that are quite memorable, practical, and still applicable to my current teaching. I have been a charter school teacher for my entire career, and perhaps with less district influence, my employers were able to design, or find, more targeted and pertinent trainings.
Dave: I am now working in a Charter School where I see burnout happening for other reasons. Our school is EL-based (expedition learning) and project-based which requires an enormous amount of energy and time to make the classes operate with integrity and fidelity. I am in my classroom ten hours a day and even on weekends most months of the year. I also grade work and work on classroom content one to two hours a night. I have to do this in order to provide the best education I can to my students. I do not hand out worksheets, ask students to read textbooks, and bore them with mindless pursuits. I engage students, provide guiding rubrics that they can refer to, and create and supervise exciting projects that require them and myself to commit energy to. None of this is scripted, none of this cookie cutter. It requires creativity and constant evolution. This doesn’t happen easily.
Nick: It seems like more targeted trainings can be chosen in charter schools because of the greater autonomy. This can have a positive effect on teacher sustainability. The other side of the progressive education coin however seems to be an inordinate amount of work to get things to work well. Thanks again Dave. Let’s continue this conversation about the time crunch many of the best teachers are facing, and how it affects the sustainability of the profession.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado