28 Comments

  1. I’m sorry, Penny! It’s so frustrating to me as an educator that teachers aren’t allowed to be professionals and do their jobs without so much oversight. They are “overseen” and fussed over to death. As a contractor, I had virtually NO oversight, and that was equally frustrating to me. It meant that somewhere, an ESL contractor was doing a terrible job and no one was even noticing.

    I hear you on the starting over. It’s so much more work when you have a different grade level to teach. It always felt like virtually starting over to me every time I did it. I always felt like I was a much better teacher once I had at least an entire year of the same grade under my belt, so I had a better idea of the yearly flow of things.

    Anyway, thank you for being a great teacher for my kids’ generation. I’m sure your students’ parents feel the same way!

    • I’m lucky to have my students. I really do love my job. But as you said, it’s frustrating when you feel like you don’t have an opportunity to really get good at anything.

      I suspect at least part of it is that administration changes so frequently across the board that they approach it from that perspective.

  2. Thank you for posting this!!!
    I’m trying to understand what more control looks like for you in a district that continually treats it’s teachers like pawns in a game of 3-D Chess. (how’s that for a Sheldon Cooper reference?)
    I’m now struggling with the fact that the one thing I was hired specifically to handle is the thing I hate most about my job. And that outranks dealing with the septuagenarian public who don’t/can’t understand why we require them to elevate their homes above expected flood heights, because they’d rather not have stairs…. Ughhhhh
    But I think, like you, I take solace in knowing I am damn good at my job. My residents are safer and your kids are smarter for us being in our positions.

    • I think that’s exactly it, Josh. We just have to take solace in the fact that we are good at what we do and we are helping people…and almost always enjoying the process of that!

  3. One of the main reasons why my wife decided to take a few years off from teaching was the complete lack of control over her job (despite receiving tenure last year).

    One example, last year the school made the decision to move to standards based grading. All of their professional development was around moving to this new grading system. This was expected to be a huge change. Teachers spent much time over the summer preparing for this change as well.

    Two weeks before the start of the school year they made a decision to ditch standards based grading and went back to their previous grading scale. So much time and effort wasted.

    Before this all happened my wife had already decided to take a few years off with our second child born last year (today is her 1st birthday :)). This was just one example of many but helped her confirm that it was the right one.

    She loves teaching and plans to teach middle school English for the rest of her career when she goes back in a few years. However, she will be much more selective of the schools she decides to apply for.

    • Do your wife and I work in the same district? Are we in the same building?! 😉

      I think that there is often a disconnect between things done at a district/school board level and then what happens in actual classrooms.

      I’m glad she’s been able to take time off. Hopefully, at least some of the growing pains that are happening in education will be more sorted by then!

  4. Wow, a lot about this I don’t understand. When you’d mentioned it before, I assumed your current position was going away because of restructuring, not that they were just moving you arbitrarily. Also, the split notification (with a weekend in between!) makes no sense t me at all. I certainly understand your frustration with it all.

    Seeing things like that, and my own need for control, is largely what pushed me into administration. Control there ended up being mostly an illusion too. Whoops!

    Sadly, in almost every job I’ve done, but particularly in the military and in education, those who are most flexible and skilled end up being asked to constantly be more flexible and skilled to compensate. I work hard now to be aware and not make the same mistake with people – probably with mixed results.

    I’m sorry this happened, and hope it doesn’t happen again.

    • To borrow a phrase from my students, it was a weird flex. LOL

      I wasn’t the first domino to go. I think I just got caught up in the staffing shuffle. The good news is that I wrote this post last week and I am already feeling much better about next year. I’m meeting with another teacher at another middle school who has one of the same courses that I will have next year, and he and I are already working through what Unit 1 will look like!

    • Nail on the head here: “those who are most flexible and skilled end up being asked to constantly be more flexible and skilled to compensate” This times a THOUSAND percent. The year of my worst schedule all the teachers the admin thought were mediocre or bad got DREAM schedules. I briefly considered “pretending” to be a bad teacher to get better schedules, but then realized a) That was stupid and b) I was thinking about working the educational career ladder up and that was not the correct move.

      I did build up the courage to ask why and basically found out they made my schedule last in the department–so I got all the “leftover” classes.

      Sorry for your frustration, Penny. Administrators often forget how important the next year’s schedule delivery is on teacher morale.

  5. I loved the post! You did a great job of showing what it’s like to be a teacher to us outsiders. And I loved the way you were able to analyze and get to the root cause of your frustrations with the current situation. It wa so well written and well said! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Oh, wow! Thanks! I always try to put “Teacher Talk” in the title of posts like this. I fear that I really only write them for my own benefit. But I am thrilled you read it!

  6. Leigh

    I actually think I got into organizing my money because it felt like a place I could actually have control in my life. That was really helpful when I was single and less helpful now! I’m sorry your career has so much micro managing – that always drove me crazy when it would happen.

  7. It’s mind blowing to me how unstable teaching is. Not only is the pay lower long term than many fields, but the idea of tenure level teachers not actually having the security of tenure…? Thanks for sharing Penny, and it goes to show why this FI thing is so important even if you DO love your job.

  8. WHEW I am full-on Sheldon in my view of change imposed on me from the outside. Hate it hate it hate it. I deal with it because that’s what you do as an adult but I HATE IT.

    So even if it can be good and will be good when you get through the year, I fully empathize with all the extra work you’re going to have to put in to make it happen. Sigh. So unnecessary.

  9. It seems that some things are the same whether you’re teaching in the US or Australia!
    For me, it’s the relentless creep of admin and bureaucracy that will eventually force me out. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years and over that time I’ve seen teacher workloads go through the roof while our working conditions and pay haven’t done the same.
    That power play over the long weekend that you wrote about? Divisive and petty. Seems like your admin is a 3-year-old.
    Hope you enjoy the new cohort of kids and that you’re able to have a few years to consolidate!

  10. Becky

    To answer your question – you have the answer. When faced with constant and inconsistently consistent change – I would usually have a few words (in my head) about how I felt and things like “seriously?!?!?!!” grrr…etc. Then I would immediately go about being the best prepared for the new vision/direction etc. Like you, I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer from my lack of preparedness or planning. My taking back control would also include being prepared to provide specific, data driven measurable feedback with alternative solutions. Each year the wheel is “re-invented” by those above who fail to see impacts of constant change. So I would be prepared to have current plus historical data of successes and near misses in my toolbox.

  11. That sounds like such bad management on so many levels! It makes staff unhappy and it hurts the kids because you all will have lost the class-specific human capital (learning what works for what you’ve been doing the past year) you’ve built up. Much better to keep people where they can be kept and offer some kind of compensation to the folks they have to move. How frustrating!

  12. This is an interesting personal reflection and thread. I’m glad you can at least see these changes as good decisions for your students.

    Financial Pilgrimage summed up what my building is going through right now with standards-based grading. You summed up a lot about what I am going through with co-teaching.

    This post really helped me to clarify several thoughts I have had about control. I’ve never had the same position two years in a row. I thought I was in a stable place, but now I have vibes that I can’t be too sure about that! The waiting game and the delivery really matter – even to people like me who are easy going for the most part!

    Sometimes I think, “At least I have a job. I’m a lucky person.” However, that is a very low bar job expectation in a place where people should be bringing their “A” game every single day. People need autonomy to thrive. In short, sometimes I look at the psychology behind how we are supposed to effectively motivate students. Then I look at the psychology behind what is suppose to keep highly motivated, gifted, caring adults with several options in the profession.

    I really respect your commitment as a professional. You are doing amazing work.

  13. I’m so sorry this is happening. I taught for a very short while and remember not at all feeling in control.

    I remember autonomy being one of the three keys in Daniel Pink’s “Drive”. It is important for everyone to have some degree of control where we work.

  14. Karen

    Love all the comments and reflections on management shuffling professionals around like chess pieces. Also the very sad, but common fact that the least effective and hard working folks get assigned easier positions (that one really stings).

    Just as you’ve said, you adjust, you rise to give your all to your students. This is your power and your talent and your students are all the luckier to have you for it. There will come a time in your career when you can use your years of flexibility and professionalism (and with union support if you have), insist on staying put in order to do more for your students. The trick is knowing when you can pull that card out of your deck–kind of like folks that renegotiate a raise or ask for project assignments in business. Teachers have to know when they can negotiate for themselves but within the bounds of the union (if you are part of one).

  15. Jody

    I’m a federal contractor, have been for 20 years. I never know from one 2- to 5-year contract to the next what’s going to happen with my job or what company I’ll be working for. Sometimes the companies are amazing, sometimes they are not.

    My contract is up the end of January 2020. I have less than a year. The way contracts have been awarded the past couple years raises big red flags for most of us here because people on other contracts have had pay cuts, hour cuts, terrible benefits packages, and some of the companies sound like they’re run by clowns. In most contracts a few people have been let go. I have no doubts the same thing is going to happen to our contract next year.

    I’m in a position right now where I don’t really want to do this particular job anymore, so for the past 2 years I’ve been putting money in an emergency fund with the sole purpose of supporting me for a few months while I look for a new job if I decide to walk away instead of seeing the next contract in.

    While the money is giving me a feeling of control, I’m also in a situation where I don’t know what I want to do after this, and that’s the hardest part. I’m at the point where I’m out of time. I need to push the button on one of my options, take the training necessary (if applicable), and move forward. Start applying and interviewing to get the experience. Decide if I want to stay in the area or move.

    It’s been very hard, and I am the type of person that analyzes everything to death and I get Analysis Paralysis. But I can’t afford to be in that spot any longer. Sigh.

  16. Control is a tricky and sometimes illusory state of being. Anytime your emotional state can be affected by another, you do not have control. You can limit the number of people who have that power, but you can never completely eliminate it. Never. The best defense is confidence in who you are, what you believe and what you bring to the table. And sometimes, it means you pull up stakes and go somewhere where you are subject to less control by others. Your power is in your ability to control your actions and your emotional responses. You consolidate that power by limiting the number of people who can change your emotional state.

    Teaching is a tough profession, in part, because the real work is done under the ultimate control of people who don’t do it. This disconnect can, and often does, create a professional dissonance that can’t be reconciled. Public school teaching will always be this way. You can limit the number of people who can control your emotional state by either having f/u money so you can just absent yourself from bad situations (which is what FI is all about), or always having another option you can move to if it becomes necessary. My wife ended up teaching in private schools for largely this reason. She and I are both products of public education and it was a difficult decision to move into private school, but ultimately the transparency and the consistency was worth the salary reduction. She’s happier, the family is happier and it was a serious reduction in bs from working in the public sector.

    Controlling the number of people who can affect your emotional state is one answer to having a happier, more fulfilling life.

  17. First of all, I’m sorry. That sucks. You’ll absolutely get through it and your work ethic is admirable.
    I’ve recently moved to a management position (department chair) and feel like I’m in a boat, tugged by current, with no oars and no sail. I can absolutely relate to the lack of control! I’m taking spring break (next week) to really focus on what I want and need from this experience, and what I need to give to others in order for things to run smoothly. I’m hoping I’ll figure something out…

  18. Thanks for sharing your experience as a teacher. That sounds very frustrating. I have a few teacher friends and they sometimes seem frustrated with the changes in the education system as well. Hope things work out in the end.

  19. Tre

    Thank you for posting this. Many of us don’t realize how the school system works and how much uncertainty teachers have in their work lives. Also, the delivery of your change in assignment sucked!

  20. I’m not a teacher, but my best friend is and I spent several years covering educational policy as a reporter before transitioning into the job I’m in now. I am always AMAZED at how little people understand about how the profession works. That said, I am constantly impressed with the way many teachers are able to keep that “students first” mindset in spite of it all. This is my wordy way of saying I think teachers are incredible. Thanks for sharing.

  21. TJ

    Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, because I missed this particular bullet, I have no idea what it’s like to be a teacher. I am self-employed. Teaching sounds like a career I’m glad I missed.

    The reason I’m commenting is to answer the question you ended with. “So Tell Me…How do you build more control into your life?”

    The way I build more control into my life is to work, constantly, at increasing my savings rate, and where do I put the resulting savings. The way I do that is with a micro managed budget. Every time I see something in the store I believe I would like to own, I ask myself if I want that more than more control over my life. It has helped me save thousands.

    I also respect I have a couple of advantages over many, one being that I’m alone. I don’t have to answer to a spouse or children. That makes my choices much easier. Another advantage is that I’m self employed and don’t have a boss telling me what I have to do next. I never fit into the corporate world, mostly because of the lack of control. Guess those are two choices I’ve already made to have more control over my life. Would I recommend those choices to others? Not necessarily.

    Glad you are here and blogging. It’s interesting to hear your feelings as you make progress.

  22. Gosh, I wish I knew. Struggling with this exact thing. Husband’s business still ain’t making profit; work is restructuring and I have no idea what I go back to come May. <3

    Your attitude is so admirable. You were made to do this work!

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