I ended my last post in a rather bleak place. To readers who are choosing to fight the good fight in our most difficult schools, I apologize. We can’t give up. We should not give up. Teaching is a calling. Few of us enter teaching for the pay or pleasant working conditions. Those tough, urban classrooms demand dedicated teachers. Schools that crank through four-thousand-some referrals over the course of the year require the best to even function.
That said, I think yesterday’s post reflects a truth. You are unlikely to be rewarded for having chosen to work in America’s war zones. Very few people will look at you and say, “You work in South Chicago? Wonderful!” Some of them will even ask you why you would do such a crazy thing. Then they will ask questions like, “Why don’t you go to work in Hinsdale or Flossmoor?” In other words, why don’t you find a tony suburb that has money? Good friends may even try to help, offering to talk to the Superintendent of their local district who happens to attend the same Cardio III class.
Expect curiosity. Don’t expect support. Don’t even expect support from your administration. The odds are that the people at the top of your school are under so much pressure to increase test scores that they can’t or won’t take a step back to ask themselves about staff morale. Their jobs now often depend on pushing up highly resistant numbers. With mortgages to pay, they may try to root out any weakness they perceive, and they may never find time to check their perceptions.
Stress will be high. I am reminded of Gimli in “Lord of the Rings.” When he says “Certainty of death, *small* chance of success… What are we waiting for?” he captures the feel of our urban and rural drop-out factories.
If you can handle the stress, those kids need you far more than the kids in Hinsdale or Flossmoor. But if you finish this year feeling like the orcs won, get on the internet. First and second year teachers have an easier time finding new positions than most. Districts like to hire people who did those first, underperforming years somewhere else and who now may be ready for primetime. But even older teachers can make changes, especially those who will consider moving to outlying areas. And I’d say let a few steps go if you are feeling extremely stressed. Money should always be secondary to health.
Eduhonesty: If you do decide to seek alternative employment, be ready with a set of questions. You don’t want to jump off the ramparts into a new sea of orcs. Almost the whole country is fighting to push up numbers. That magic school where you don’t spend the week in multiple meetings figuring out how to gather and present multiple new sets of data while learning the four new software programs of the year? Finding that school most likely will become a quest.
I view my last piece of advice as critical to any teachers who do get another, seemingly better offer later this year: Talk to teachers in the school. When trying to fill positions, administrators can seem like the kindest, most supportive bunch of people you ever met. If a Principal’s goal is to add you to a new, stronger team, that Principal may tell you exactly what you want to hear:
♦ “We get together regularly for fun, team-building activities.”
♦ “Yes, we have many professional development opportunities.”
♦ “We want our teachers to have all the planning and preparation time they need.”
Before accepting an offer, check these assertions with rank-and-file teachers in the building. Ask them about meetings and data. Ask them about standardized test prep, benchmark tests and other mandatory testing procedures. Ask them about teacher camaraderie. Where do most people eat lunch? Ask them if they believe their school is well run. Why or why not? How large are classes? Are disciplinary policies effective? What’s the best thing about the district? What’s the worst?
Teachers tend to interview the Principal and administration when seeking a new position. That’s useful, but the people in the know are the teachers in the hallways. At the end of a successful interview, I suggest you ask to talk with members of your prospective department/grade about their curriculum and approaches to that curriculum.
Before you buy that Spanish 1 house, you want to make sure no bodies have been buried in the basement.