Laura adamantly believes that something more should be taught in school than reading, writing and arithmetic. She says that unless someone tells the students and their parents that school is work - sometimes hard work - you're not teaching the students correctly. Someone has to tell the students that you never get something for nothing.
But, no, Laura says, the current mode is the let-me-entertain-you teacher.And she says that's not for her. She calls it "an extremely destructive form of romanticism," and she says she'll save her romanticism for the likes of John Donne and Sir Walter Scott. She makes it a point to tell you that no one said you necessarily have to enjoy school to learn from it.
That's why the obscence assignment was handed in to her, she says. It was the student's way of telling Laura that she doesn't like the way she's being treated at school.
When Laura took the assignment to her principal she was told that she should forget it, something she couldn't quite do, and so she made it plain that the girl owed her an apology.
The principal and the counselors and the parents of the girl didn't agree. Let her wait, they said; when the girl realized what she had done, realized what she had done, she would be ready to apologize.
"Ready," fumed Laura, "she'll never be ready if this continues. Who's ever going to make that girl responsible?" Laura was told she was taking it too personally.
"Look," she says, "I'm not a prude. I consider myself modern, and I could have embarrassed the girl - made her blush in my class with my comments about her paper, but I didn't. It wouldn't have been right or proper.
"That's what this was all about," she says. Moral scruples on all sides. Propriety. But, there was no backup from the administration, parents, anyone. And, frankly, she says, she didn't want this to become "just one more incident in the deterioration of discipline in the schools."
"Maybe," Laura says, "I was stuffy, but I could never compromise my own moral ideals. My job was to teach - theirs was to learn.
Less than a week after the incident, Laura resigned from the school system and teaching.
The lack of leadership within the administrative ranks irks a lot of teachers - many complain that the administration and school board put too many pressures on teachers in an attempt to go along with what they think the public wants.
"What backbone," Sally asks. "They're so afraid of what the parents are going to say they buckle down. You know, if a parent pushes hard enough he can get a failure changed to a passing grade without any trouble! Talk about grade inflation. How'd you like to be a student who's worked hard for a grade and know that any other student with a pushy parent can make the same grade?
"And, instead of the school board really sticking to its guns about costs for classes what they do is put a few more kids into each class.
"Maybe on paper two or three extra students in each class doesn't look like much but with five classes each day that's a minimum of ten extra papers to be graded and ten extra bodies to be taught. And one of those two or three could be a problem and what happens to the other twenty-nine or thirty students? There's no way I can reacch all those students, and to me teaching is interreaction between a student and a teacher.
"Some principals I've worked for are so afraid to stand up to anyone - parents, school administrators, the board, that they'll go to almost any length just to maintain the appearance that nothing is wrong in their school. They're willing to sacrifice standards of academic performance.
"They figure they have to look good to someone more powerful than they and so they push. Well, they pushed me out."
Sally doesn't have a job yet - she's just going to see what opinions are open to her. She says she has some savings in the bank and dipping into them makes sense to her just so she can leave teaching.
Verbal abuse isn't the only type of abuse heaped on the teachers - stories of students deliberately slugging a teacher are not uncommon. An elementary school teacher talks about "the three times I got punched - really punched."
"The worst one was when I was on the playground and a student, a big sixth-grader, started to hit another student. This kid practically beat up other smaller students routinely, but this was the first time I had actually seen it happen.
"I reached for the bully and he looked me in the eye, cursed me and then punched me - full face. You should have seen me.
I reported it to my principal and you know what she said - that they couln't do anything about it and that I could call the police if I wanted to - that it was up to me. You bet I did and you know what happened. . . I became the trouble-maker.
"I got known as the one who went to the defense of other teachers and students in fights . . . I was the one who reported a child-abuse ways rocking the boat. There was such extreme apathy in the school."
Terry left the system this year - she says she'll glady work anywhere as long as it's not in a school.
"There's a void between what is supposed to happen in education and what really happens."
Lois came into the system with all sorts of ideas on how to teach students. Like a lot of teachers she became disillusioned when she realized that what she perceived teaching to be isn't necessarily what it's like in the classroom.
She picked a school system that was known for its advanced ideas and methods of teaching. The year she became a junior high school English teacher the system changed. Tracks - groupings of like students with the same capabilities - were dropped in favor of homogeneous groupings.
Lois says that was the beginning of the end of her teaching days. She stuck it out of four years and left this summer."
"Look," she says, "despite what they like to tell you, all that this has accomplished is that you've geared the classroom to the C-level student. The higher students get bored so you find other ways to keep them occupied . . . to try to teach them. You give them extra problems, individualized instruction.
"For the opposite end - the slower learners, I have to spend lunch hours - theirs and mine - before and after school, and in-between classes to try and get the kids to understand the work.
"It's not their fault - they should be in a basic-terminal class, a class that has no pretensions of trying to accomplish more than it's designed to - enough to teach them the fundamentals.
"So, what happens to the middle class? They see I'm busy with the other groups and they act up. Where am I then? I've lost it three ways."
Other teachers who have left the system says reputations of schools may not be justified. Those who choose a school because they've heard it fits into their concept of teaching may find that the school administrators actually have done a super-selling job of ideas that never materialized.
"You know," David says, "I really should have investigated more. I chose this school because they said it was an open school. But what they've really done is mix up every class and mix up the kids as well.
"We're supposed to emphasize individual teaching. I like that one-on-one basis. But when it comes to giving us the tools - extra books, field trips - that's where they draw the line.
"Then, they try and test the kids on a traditional basis. They use standardized testing to measure individual learning.
"This whole system - all the objectives, the guide plans, the department meetings - it's just a bunch of doubletalk."
David negotiating with a firm as a salesman beginning in September.
Some teachers leave the system because they begin to get a boxed-in feeling. They don't like knowing that every day at the same time they will be in the classroom, locked in for fifty minutes until the changing bell rings, with no time for a cup of coffee, to go to the bathroom, or just to shake the cobwebs out of their heads.
Then, a ten-minute breather and it's back in front of a group of students, trying to teach them, knowing that their answers are the ones that count in the learning process. Knowing that they have to be sharp, attentive, and knowlegable.
"I didn't feel free to make my own decisions during the day. If I had to make a telephone call, I had to wait for a break. If someone wanted me - again, not until the break.
"You tell a lawyer or a salesperson or a housewife that they can only get a drink of water at a certain time and they'd look at you like you're crazy. But, that's what my life was like. I had to wait until a bell rang all the time. Everything is so regulated - there's no allowance for flexibility.
"Don't get me wrong - I liked my school. I never had any problems with the students or principals or teachers. But, I didn't like waking up with a cold and knowing I couldn't stay in bed until I found a substitute to take my classes.
"One of the best time I can ever recall was last September when I was driving to work and the radio announcer reminded the drivers to be careful - that it was the first day of school. And I hadn't even thought about it. What a tremendous feeling of relief - not to know that I was expected to be at my desk when a bell rang.
"What a tremendous feeling of freedom!"
Many teachers mention parents' attitudes when trying to deal with discipline in the schools.The parents, tey say, are afraid to come right out and tell their children they have to do certain things.
Beth taught in an elementary school in a wealthy area until June. Her students, she says, were pampered by the parents, the administration and the principal. So the brunt of the problems fell on the classroom teacher.
"I used to call the parents if the kids acted up - or if they weren't in school. Then I found out two things - one, I was a babysitter for them, and two, these kids took vacations whenever their parents pleased. I was told it was good for the child's development to be allowed to go on country-wide or overseas vacations with their parents.
"Never mind that I was trying to teach their children how to reach and write - they felt it was important that their kids learn to ski in Switzerland.
"Then, when I really made an issue about the students not handing in an assignment or not really working in a class, the parent usually said to me," 'I can't get him to do anything at home, either.'
"Well, there was this one girl - she gave me a note from her mother saying she was allowed to do something during the day - like helping to decorate the halls or something like that. I said to her, look, I've got an important lesson today and you don't know it and you won't learn it if you're not here.
"The girl said her parents said she could miss it, and I just decided then and there - no, there has got to be a limit. I told the girl I wouldn't excuse her - she had to stay for the lesson.
"You know what. She never even made a fuss. In her own way she wanted some limits and I gave them to her."
There is a resentment among many teachers of efforts to redesign courses as if they had to be marketed to the students.
"Horticulture, for Heaven's sake," exclaims an eight-year math teacher in a high school. "What for? What's wrong with a basic science course? I'll tell you - students aren't taking science anymore. They're not interested in putting in the time so the science department comes up with a course that's definitely blatantly appealing to the kid. It's a way of saying to them you don't have to studey so hard - this course is fun. And then what they don't tell you is that sure, the kids get a grade for it - probably a good grade - but that that grade doesn't do them one bit of good when applying for college.
"Or, take psychology. That's offered by the history department because history is too dull and no one is taking it anymore. The students want to be able to find themselves and know what makes them tick. Great, but good Lord! some of these kids succumbing to the attractive courses can't even read or write. How are they expected to comprehend psychology?"
"Colleges are waking up, though. They're going back to the required courses and I figure it'll take a few years before the high schools reorganize it.
"But I'm not waiting around for it to happen I can't stand to see what's happening to education."
Part of the disillusionment of the teaching profession comes when teachers realize there is no reward system . . . no classroom at the top. Despite the unions that plug for cost-of-living raises and tenures, school teachers have no concrete way of knowing they're doing a good, fair, or poor job. Everyone gets the same raise at the same time each year.
Everyone moves up the scale at the same time, they say. There's no competition and there's nothing to compete for in terms of rewards or incentives.
The only place you can move to is to the administrative level and that's not what all teachers want. Most say they want to remain as teachers - they want to stay in the classroom, but the classroom has nowhere to hang certificates of excellence, if there were such things.
You might be judged the best teacher in the system, but there wouldn't be any internal or monetary rewards. Try such a system in private industry, they say, and see how fast you lose an employee.
But, with declining enrollments and a surplus of teachers available in all jurisdictions, something is being imported from the business world: a cut-throat attitude. It's a growing trend, teachers say, and it's getting worse.
"You're called in to the department head's office and asked to defend the premise that you should retain your job," says a ten-year veteran of the system. "They're asking us to tell them why we should stay and another teacher, your friend, should be sent packing.
"They're pitting you against your fellow teacher and I can't take that. We've become embroiled in the most ruthless aspect of the corporate system.
"And, you can see the changes it's made among the teachers. Two years ago when someone had developed a particularly good lesson plan they were eager to share it because it helped all the students. We had a good department - most of the departments here at my school are good - and we really thought of teaching in terms of the students first.
"Now, there's much less sharing. Why should there be? If you have a good plan it's a way of keeping your job in the department.
"No thanks.I saw this trend away from the humanistic approach and I made my decision this would be my last year of teaching."
Several teachers cited a lack of understanding of special programs as a reason for leaving. The teachers involved all found the realm of special education challenging and most put in extra time learning different skills in order to teach.
But, they say, some principals don't understand the programs, some set up roadblocks for the teachers, and some, frankly, want to eliminate the classes from their schools.
The teachers say it results in a huge waste of talent.
Ben spent five years at night school learning how to teach students with IQs over 140 - the truly gifted children. Now, because the principal is dealing in numbers of classroom teachers and because Ben's methods are working for his fast students, his principal wants to shift him back into the regular classroom. He was told "anyone can teach that class." And anyone will, because Ben wrote his resignation effective this summer.
Graham is a math specialist in a hard-core problem school. He says frankly he's a black man teaching black students and he's getting through to them. He thinks it's important that they relate to him, especially the young boys because "where they're coming from there aren't too many adult male figures in their lives."
Graham's class became a dumping ground for all kinds of problem students - so finally he said no more babysitting - he was trying to teach.
"Man, that principal said you either do this or else. I took the 'or else' and left. No way I'm going to get through to my kids when the principal doesn't respect the class or me or what I'm doing."
Lisa had a classof retarded students. She enjoyed teaching them, but she left the school system last year, although she still refers to "my children" as though she were one collective parent.
"When I got them to do something - when one of them learned a new word - that was a trip." But, she says, "the principal didn't really want those kids in his school - and when it came time to give me a rating he kept giving me these low radents were learning, they loved me, I loved them, I was getting through to them, the parents liked me and there were no complaints and all he could tell me was that I was still too young - too new. I know it was just an excuse to get rid of me because he just wasn't comfortable with my ways of teaching my children.
"Well, they got an older teacher in there and when I see my children now I could cry. But I couldn't take that attitude of looking down on me - that father-child relationship he tried to playact with me. That principal really thought he was God!"
In most cases the reasons for a teacher leaving the system are complex, mingling the teachers' general dissatisfaction with the school system and the way they're being asked to teach.
Usually one or two negative reactions can be held in check, but when the reasons begin to multiply, going in any random order from lack of discipline to breakdowns in administrative functions, to increased class size, economics, and pressures from outside the classroom, the teachers begin looking around for new careers and new professions.
As teachers drop out and schools lose some of their best people, educators fear they will reach a point where students are exposed to first-year teachers at every grade level. Many people think newer is better, but in education that's not necessarily true.
Experience, they say, is really the best teacher.