With the state of the current education system, parents and students can sometimes forget that teachers aren’t the reason it has become what it is today. Just like students, they are trying to function within the system. In spite of current flaws they are attempting to best serve our kids. In order to find solutions, we need to better understand the teaching profession. We need to work with teachers to give our kids their best learning circumstances. Today I am proud to share an interview with a friend and teacher. Her unique perspective comes from a variety of education experiences, and she has graciously agreed to share views with us.
Thanks to Kristin for her time!
I currently am teaching 2nd grade Math and Science. I have been teaching for 10 years and have taught KG, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.
The first 3 years of my teaching were in Orlando. The first of those schools was an ESOL school and I taught in a 2nd grade sheltered ESOL class. So, all the students had another language spoken at home besides English. After that, I was teaching Kindergarten Dual Language. This school was considered Title 1. I partnered with another teacher and students were taught lessons in English in my room and Spanish in my partner’s room. This was a limited program within the county and only a handful of schools supported this program in addition to general education classrooms. From there I moved to Jacksonville where I taught 3 years in a Charter school. The first two years at that school were in a 2nd grade room and the last was in a 3rd grade room. Income levels were mixed in this community as well as cultures and races. Students were expected to wear uniforms to school and parent involvement was also an expectation. After those years, I had an opportunity to teach 4th grade in St. Johns County. These families were upper middle class, very involved in the classroom, as well as the success of their students. Supplies were in abundance and the PTO was very active. I worked another year at a different Charter school teaching 3rd grade Reading within Duval County. The school was Title 1 as well and enrolled many cultures and races. Students were expected to wear uniforms at this school. Since then I have been working within Duval County at a low income Title 1 school teaching 3rd grade Reading and now 2nd grade Math and Science. Students also wear uniforms at this school which helps to eliminate clothing issues.
The attitude of students towards education varied depending on what their home environment was like. Children tend to adapt the priorities of their parents/guardians, and if it not stressed at home that education is important, then students often times don’t see it as important either. Homework would not get completed, parent meetings were harder to set up, and overall motivations within the classroom were less. Some of those very same students also craved the structure and boundaries set within a school and classroom since that might have been opposite of their life outside of those walls. Having a teacher they respected and cared for would likely get more results rather than relying on their actual abilities as a student. In my experience, students that had more structure at home were able to have more freedom within a classroom but the opposite were also true. Students that had many freedoms at home with little boundaries often performed better within a highly structured classroom.
The world of education is absolutely a rollercoaster ride of emotions! You’re good days make you feel on a high and the low days make you question why you even wanted to do this in the first place. Sometimes the rewards don’t even always come within the same school year, but later when a parent or student comes back to thank you for what you have done. Changing schools often has been exciting, I love the arsenal of knowledge I have learned from other educators, administrators, and environments. The long hours and reaching deep into my own pockets has been difficult at times. But as a teacher, you go into it with your heart, so you never want your students to go without. Many times, I would make a choice to go without something so I could provide for my students. Adjusting to different counties has also been a challenge at times. Every county runs slightly different. Their expectations, curriculum, classroom environment, are some of those things. There have been a lot of curriculum changes throughout my time as a teacher as well. Sometimes it is not left in the classroom long enough for teachers to get familiar and comfortable with it before it changes again. Or, students don’t begin their academic career with a particular curriculum so the basic rituals and routines of a curriculum have to be taught over and over as opposed to the content. I believe the state testing has also been a challenge. 3rd grade is a pass or fail grade based on one test. That is entirely too much pressure to put on a student that age. Teacher performance pay steps are also based on how the students perform on the test as opposed to growth scores from beginning of the year to the end as in other grade levels. That is a nerve racking concept as a 3rd grade teacher.
I got into teaching because I always had a love for knowledge from a very young age and teaching just seemed like something I naturally gravitated towards. I was excited at watching students have “light bulb moments” where things finally made sense. I wanted to be in a position to make a difference in a student’s life as many of my teachers did for me. I do feel I have had an opportunity to reach some students along my journey but I have also discovered a love for helping other teachers be successful too.
I think there are many reasons why people are choosing other career paths besides education. The salary, at least in areas of Florida where I have worked, makes it difficult to support a single person let alone a family. With taking away tenured positions, there is also less job security. I could lose my position at the end of the year without much of a reason why, or due to budget cuts, or be transferred to another school. A free retirement and insurance plan used to also be a perk of a teacher, so that helped to offset the low salary a bit, but now a set percent is taken out of our checks to go into retirement. I currently have the option of free health insurance, but it is something our Union has fought hard to keep. After ten years of teaching, with a master’s degree, I don’t make much more than I did when I started. I think the pressure of state testing is also pushing excellent teachers out the door and to other careers. I also feel that I have less freedom teaching in my room now than when I started. A set curriculum guide is given by the county and it is supposed to be followed as far as what lessons to teach which days. What if my kids don’t master a lesson and they need more time on it? What if I want to go deeper into a topic because my students are enjoying? What if I want to do a unit that is cross curricular instead of teaching each subject individually? The freedom to actually “teach” isn’t there as much anymore.
I think that trying to get states on board with a common system of grade level expectations is something that has needed to happen for quite a while. It is difficult for children who move from state to state to continue their education seamlessly. This is still taking some getting used to, but I believe a benefit. I also think that having the class size amendments in place to control the number students in a room has been a huge benefit to educators as well as the students.
I believe that if people are looking for teachers to respect their profession more, then the people need to also respect teachers and their profession. It is very difficult to do our job with little or no support. Teachers have bachelor degrees like many other professions, but still get paid marginally less. This is something that needs to change. Teachers also need to be able to veer off the curriculum guides if it is going to benefit their students. Their judgment needs to be trusted. I would also like to see more projects for Title 1 schools for student to express an athletic side, a musical side, a dance side, an art side or whichever fits them to have a creative outlet. It seems that a lot of focusing on the child as a whole and developing their gifts has been overlooked by the need to pass a state assessment
Be supportive of the teachers, unless they are causing harm, and trust they know what they are doing. When we are in a room with 18 or more students, we have to do what is best for the group. Some methods may be different than what you know, but take the time to ask your teacher if you don’t understand the method, instruction, content, or class structure. Many teachers I know would be much happier taking 5 minutes to explain something rather than assumptions be made or a complaint given. Work with your students at home. We don’t assign homework just for fun, it takes more time for us too, but it is there to genuinely reinforce it with your student to make sure they understand. Turn school into something fun, not something they hate doing. Ask your student to explain what they are doing, in detail. When a student truly understands something, they can teach it to someone else.
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Emma B Perez