Confessions of a Bad Teacher: Why I Left my Dream Job
Mary Flegler

This will resonate with a lot of people. Well said.

I no longer teach, for all the reasons you so eloquently explain above, and more. I had a history of alcoholism and civil disobedience before getting into teaching, which meant that I was likely to blow up the school, apparently. Administration countered this by having creepy people follow me around and devise every manner of entrapment scheme to catch me, well, doing my job. I’ll bet we know some of the same people.

Have you thought about independent schools? It sounds like you have a lot to offer. Smaller classes, more freedom to design your own curriculum. It sounds like you are dedicated to teaching disadvantaged kids. Independent schools don’t have that, much. But it’s something to think about.

I’d like to add to your 170 minute math example. I used to use that exact same analogy, except in my case it was 180! I like 180 better, because it adds up to three hours. If I spent 1 minute of each day in one on one instruction time with each of my kids, that was 3 hours a day. If I spent 5 minutes of one on one instruction with each of my kids, that was 15 hours a day. And of course, those fifteen hours came after regular instruction to the class, driving to school, lesson planning, going to the bathroom, and everything else that happened in my life. Sheer lunacy. But the helicopter parents all thought that I had an hour each day after school to tutor their special kid. And if I was unwilling, they went right downstairs to administration.

I will say in my defense that I rarely thought of kids as bad kids. I may have grumbled once or twice with the other teachers, and even called a kid a bad kid in a moment of weakness, but that style of thought was never my basic orientation. I was a holy terror as a student, had a difficult life, and things got better for me. Based on my own trajectory, I saw potential in every kid. I still do. But I see little potential in large public high schools.

I had some kids with issues at one of my schools. Lots of IEP’s, lots of cigarette burns on arms, lots of convictions for grand theft auto and the like. A tough school. But I liked the kids. Oh, they put me through my paces. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to you. But they were good kids. One day one of them, who was never interested in class, put a huge cicada on my desk. He found it outside during lunch. I was pretty sure I was supposed to act scared. So I did. He was pleased. It gave me a chance to talk to him. I got him to look up information on the bug online. It was the best work he did all year. But there was nowhere for me to go with it in that situation. I had 30+ kids in that class, and pressure to complete a state-mandated curriculum which there was no earthly way to complete in the time allotted. I didn’t have a week to build on the bug. It bothers me still, years later.

I taught biology. All energy in living systems on Earth (well, most of them) comes from the sun. I devoted a class to the sun. One day my V.P. came in the room with a clipboard and observed me. After the class, he pulled me aside. He had a copy of the state curriculum on his clipboard. You know, lots of “IV.a)iii” and “IXc)vi” and “cell cycle” and “recombinant DNA” splattered on the page. He looked at me, puzzled. “Bob,” he said, “I’ve looked everywhere on this page and I can’t find the word ‘sun.’” He let that sink in, then raised his eyebrows at me as if to say, “Gotcha’.” He marked me off on my evaluation. Seriously. That was one of my “kill me” moments.

My wife and I have a game we play. Whenever we drive through a new town, we try to pick out the high school and the jail from a distance. Usually we can. Why? They look exactly the same. Try it. It works often enough that you will amuse yourself. But the bottom line is that’s a sad commentary on the philosophy behind our schools. In one school I worked at, we even talked like we were in jail. We were “on the inside,” etc.

O.K., I’m done. You said it all anyway. This was a state-of-the-art commentary on the teaching profession.

If the trolls come after you for summer vacation, just tell them where to apply to get the wonderful job that you had. That will shut them up. Best.

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