One thing about teaching that is easy for parents, policy-makers and others to forget is that working with students for hours every weekday to help them learn is very, very hard work. Even in the best of schools and even with supportive administrators, teachers have unrelenting jobs. In recent years, a growing number of teachers have found that reforms which force them to test students more than ever, collect more data than ever and attend more meetings than ever, are making the job literally impossible.
That’s what happened to Scott Ervin, who has worked as a teacher, principal and discipline specialist over the last 15 years. Ervin loved working with at-risk students, and for years requested that the most difficult be placed in his class. But in this post, Ervin explains why he is quitting his job as a third-grade teacher at Fairborn Primary School in Ohio.
Ervin is an independent facilitator of The Nine Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom® and Parenting with Love and Logic®. He travels the country teaching educators and parents how to be calm and assertive with even the most difficult kids through explicit and systematic skill instruction. Ervin can be contacted through his website at www.askthekidwhisperer.com.
By Scott Ervin
For over a decade, I have requested that the most difficult kids in my school be placed in my classroom. Most days during my 15-year career, I have arrived at work when it was dark and left work when it was just as dark. Working straight through lunch and straight through my limited planning periods, I have built relationships with kids and monitored our common areas. After my wife (also a teacher at my school) and I put our daughter down for the night, it’s time for at least an hour of grading before getting to bed so we can get up by 5 a.m. and do it all again.
The job is difficult. What makes it even more so is that no matter what my district does to improve, no matter how hard we work, the policies of the Ohio Department of Education and the dramatic cutbacks to public education have changed my job of educating at-risk kids from being “very difficult” to being “impossible.”
I have loved doing a job that has been very difficult. I am not, however, willing to do a job that has become impossible. That is why, although I will continue to serve at-risk kids and their families until the day I die, and although I will miss teaching, I am resigning my position as a third-grade teacher at Fairborn Primary School in the Fairborn City Schools district in Ohio.
Part of the tragedy of this situation is that in all of the ways that my district can control, my teaching job is the perfect job. Our committed and hard-working administration allows me to have the really tough kids that I want to teach. My wife teaches down the hall and my daughter goes to the school and has incredible teachers. Our staff is wonderful. We have an amazing district, from the world’s hardest-working custodians, to the fantastic office staff, to the dedicated and talented and resilient teachers, to the board office staff that does everything in their power to keep the lights on and keep us going.
Unfortunately, the “help” provided by policy-makers in our state’s capital is killing us.
I would like to direct the remainder of this column to the people who work in the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Legislature as well as to Gov. John Kasich: the people who have cut our funding while asking us to jump through multiple, time consuming hoops that don’t help anyone. To be fair, this applies only to those legislators and ODE workers who have voted for or supported the policies that are destroying my profession. You know who you are, and so do we. So now I’m going to ask you to do what your tests ask of my students: read for comprehension.
First, understand some basic facts about education that appear to have eluded all of you up to this point. Here it is. TEACHERS ARE TEACHING CHILDREN SEVEN HOURS A DAY! They can’t do anything besides teach during that time. That is a full work day. When you ask a teacher to do something, when you ask a teacher to do ANYTHING, you are forcing them to stop doing something else that they are doing outside of their workday. Teachers do not have “down time.” It isn’t like being, let’s say, a member of the state legislature or the governor of a state where you can make your own hours and go on vacation while other people are at work.
During OUR work day, we often don’t have time to use the bathroom, let alone sit down for a mandated, weekly 45-minute “Teacher Based Team” meeting that has little or no positive effect on our school. The teachers at my school are often seen running–not fast walking– from one place to another. This is not because we are late for something. It is because we don’t have time to walk.
I used to be able to do things that are absolutely necessary when working with at-risk kids: home visits, calls home, and taking time with kids outside of school. All of that has gone away so that I can take the time to do all of your data collection, data entry, test grading, and Ohio Teacher Evaluation System requirements (so I can prove to you that I am a good teacher), Student Learning Objectives (to show that my students are growing in two arbitrarily selected areas) etc., etc.
I used to be able to take the time to come up with unique, engaging lesson plans. Now, frankly, I find myself arriving at school, bleary eyed, and looking at the plans I threw together with no time to gather the materials I need. Often times (every single Thursday, actually) I literally do not have a single second to get things together so that I can attend one of the meetings you have mandated that I attend.
And why? Why are you requiring all of this? Is it because we are “failing” as a school? I’m not really sure how any of you are coming up with that position. My school, even with our 60 percent poverty rate, was listed as “excellent” with your old rating system. The next year, with almost the same scores, in your new rating system, we received an “F”. How does that make sense? I hope you can understand the position of many educators who feel that you all don’t even want us to succeed.
And, yes, higher poverty rates do negatively affect student performance. Most of our students come to preschool or kindergarten with a huge word deficit and most are likely to have traumatized brains and toxic stress that make learning significantly more difficult and the exhibition of positive behaviors less likely. You may say that all students deserve a great education. I agree, and that is why I have served in the communities in which I have served. I would also say that just because our tests scores are not quite on the level of wealthier school districts, this does not mean that our students are not receiving a great education. What I can say for sure is that you are not helping us.
With this in mind, I would like to extend an invitation to all of you. This is an opportunity to start helping kids in Ohio instead of hurting them. I invite you to please obtain a teaching license and get a teaching job in an Ohio public school. I invite you to do what you ask of us. I invite you to work 12 hours per day. Teach without any quality training in dealing with the behaviors present in kids today. Teach to all of the standards with a laughable lack of resources. Look into the eyes of your students as you tell them that they need to take yet another test that you know isn’t doing anyone any good. Clean your room every evening because of the lack of funds to pay enough custodians. Give up every Sunday so that you can do data analysis, Ohio Teacher Evaluation System nonsense and other assorted garbage. Try to explain to your own kids that this is just part of your job.
After all of this, try coming into work every day knowing that you are told by the state of Ohio that you are ineffective because of a rating system that does not take into account the real reasons (poverty, hunger, neglect, etc.) that many of your students are not doing as well as their wealthier peers in other districts.
A couple of bits of advice: If you do get a teaching job, wear your running shoes and make sure you go to the bathroom before you leave the house every morning. Good luck. You may want to apply to Fairborn City Schools. There is an open third-grade position in Room #331.
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(Correcting word in introduction from “worked” to “working”)