Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Burned-INterview #3: DON'T QUIT TEACHING! This Burned-Out Teacher is Going Back Into the Classroom

Burned-INterview #3: 

This BiT Isn't Giving Up On Her Teaching Dream: 

She Encourages Others To Do The Same

BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers or current teachers are feeling and going through before they have either left or leave the education profession. 

AH: (Me!) Amber Harper   BiT: Interviewee

AH: How many school systems have you taught in?
BiT: Two.

AH: How many years did you teach?
BiT: I taught in two different districts. One each year.

AH: Did you always want to be a teacher? What made you want to be a teacher?
BiT: Yes! I always had really good experiences with teachers growing up. I had one specific one who always stood out to me and helped me when I needed it. I didn't struggle in school, but when I needed it, she was always there for me. Her helping me so much made me decide that that's what I wanted to do, so I never questioned it.

AH: Of all of the things that you found hard about teaching, what do you feel burned you out the most? Did you stop teaching because you were burned-out?
BiT: Definitely. I didn't feel like I had very much support from administration.  When it came to me voicing my opinion. Not so much my first year, but for sure my second year. I felt that I was told, "No." all the time. It burned me out. I was just done.

AH: Could you give me an example?
BiT: It was a school that was really far behind compared to what I was used to. So, I was trying to incorporate technology and  bring that into the school and show them what could be done with it. The principal, even though she was young, was very old school. She wasn't very open to anybody's ideas, unless they were her own. Since it was my idea and I was trying to push it, I did research on it and sent everyone articles on it. I tried hard to push for it and she completely shut down. She completely quit talking to me about it. I was super excited about it and I was like, "Oh my gosh! They don't know anything about technology!" I had everyone doing Facebook Pages at the end of the year, but after that, she didn't want to take the technology any further.

AH: Do you feel that was what burned you out the most? You felt like your opinion didn't matter and something that you felt would be helpful wasn't accepted?
BiT: Absolutely.

AH: Where did you feel the most unsupported?
BiT: I had a serious behavior issue in my classroom. He came in the middle of the school year. When he was put in my classroom, it was a huge change for him. His mom warned me and after one day, shit hit the fan. It was horrible. It was three weeks of pulling him out of my classroom. He was endangering my other kids. He was throwing things and trying to hit people. I didn't feel like enough was happening to help me with that situation. My principal was expecting me to figure it out on my own. This was everyday for three weeks straight.

AH: What happened after that three weeks?
BiT: He eventually calmed down and got used to his surroundings. I learned that I had to be very stern with him. He knew he could grab my hand and we would go to the hallway. I would use my "mom" voice with him, and that's what got him out of it and back into the classroom to do what he needed to do. I feel like I shouldn't have had to figure all of that out on my own. I should have had more support.
He would scoot around on his chair and try to run into others. I once called the office and asked for someone to come down and get him, but no one came. I had to teach with my legs wrapped around his chair for 40 min until someone finally came.

AH: Besides them coming into your classroom for the safety of your kids, how often was administration in your classroom?
BiT: She would come in only for observations. I was observed four times and those were the only times my students would see her in the room.
My first year of teaching, I felt like my principal (who was doing my observations) had a good grip of what I was doing because he was doing walkthroughs in my classroom periodically, throughout the school year, at different times. So I felt like he understood what I was doing.
But, with her (my second principal), it was different, because it was hard for her to come into my classroom for 45 minutes and critique me on so many different things when those were the only times that she was in there. Those were the only times of the year. That's four times out of 180 school days! That's kind of creepy to me!

AH: What do you feel is the best way to support a teacher who is clearly burning out? What do you wish you would have had?
BiT: I feel like, for me, I was really interested in learning more about technology. That's what I get excited about. Even a principal sitting down and asking, "What are you interested in? What are some conferences that you would like to attend?" That would have been really nice. Some administrators are like, "Well, we're going to send you to this conference, so..." And we're like, "We don't need that. That's not what we're interested in.  I already do that in my classroom."

AH: So you are saying that you wish administrators would give teachers the autonomy and choice over where they spend their time learning and what they are learning about?
BiT: Yes. 100%.

AH: Did you feel like you had other teachers to confide about your feelings about teaching?
BiT: My first year, there were several new teachers. We were all about the same age, it was all of our first year of teaching. We supported each other and were able to vent in each other's classrooms, we were able to pull our heads together.
My second year of teaching, if I went to someone about feelings about administration, I felt that I knew it would get back to her. I didn't feel like I had built enough relationships to vent as much as I wanted to. I didn't know if I would be there or not the next year, so I didn't want to jeopardize my job.

AH: What caused you not to go back the next year?
BiT: We moved, but if I would have stayed there, I would have sought out a smaller school. I felt like the school was too big and it was run more like a business than a school.

AH: What do you wish was available to teachers who are feeling very overwhelmed and burned-out?
BiT: There were times where my class was so bad that I would just need to leave the room for 5-10 minutes. I would have my assistant take the class for 5 min. I wish there was a system set up within schools that, if you did need the time, you could step out of the classroom.
I wish teachers would talk about this more. I don't think it's wrong, I think we should talk about it! I feel that teachers think that it's wrong, and it's NOT! We should be knowledgeable enough in ourselves that we need that!

AH: That's one reason that I decided to do these interviews. There is a huge stigma within teachers who have felt the way that we have felt. You don't want to tell anyone, because you don't want others to think that you are a bad person or teacher. I went through a serious period of burn-out my fourth year of teaching. I was crying in my car all the way to school, cried in my car while I sat in the parking lot before walking into the building. I was certain that I was not coming back the following year. I went through this again my eighth year teaching and then I still feel it sometimes now.
I wanted to know that I wasn't crazy! I kept feeling like, "I can't be the only one who feels this way." And, I'm NOT.
BiT: You're not! My first year teaching, I didn't have any problem talking to the other girls about how I was feeling, but, at my second school my principal was constantly comparing me to other people. She always talked about how empathetic she was, but she was so negative!

AH: If you could go back, is there anything that you feel you would have done differently?
BiT: Yes, I would have. I would have voiced my opinion more about how I felt about things. When you haven't been teaching for 10 years, I think it's really hard to go up to your administrator and say what you think, but sometimes I think that's what needs to happen. Sometimes, they think they are above you, when I feel like they should be on the same level as you.

AH: You are approached by a graduating, preservice teacher. They ask you for some advice. What do you say to them?
BiT: It's not going to be easy. I had a great experience going into my first year of teaching. You are going to have days where you are crying in your car or classroom. You will have to remember WHY you went into education. Look back and ask yourself why you even started. Talk to the people around you because they are going to the most supportive and find someone you can rely on and be honest with. Find one person who you feel that you can confide in and vent with.

AH: Were you regretful when you left? Would you ever suggest to someone who is burned-out to just quit teaching?
BiT:Yes, I was regretful. I would never tell anyone to quit. If there were a young teacher who approached me and told me they were going to quit, I would be like, "We're going to figure this out and get you though this." It is difficult to switch job and careers. I just can't think of anything else that I want to do! This is my life! This is what I always wanted to do!

Interview Take-Aways:

This interview proves it. Once a teacher, always a teacher. We put up with a lot. This teacher, and the couple interviewees before her, have said what needs to be said in reference to all of the stuff that we do and are faced with daily in our professional lives. 

We don't want to be pitied. We don't want to be coddled. We just want to be listened to, valued, and looked at as professionals. We need to grow, and help others to grow. That's what we do! It doesn't seem natural to ask a teacher not to want to grow, themselves, when we are in the business of growth. 

Administrators, if you are reading this, I beg of you to listen to your teachers and value what you hear. When we question or suggest, we are not undermining you. We are not challenging your authority. We just want to help! We are a smart, problem-solving, passionate, and evolving group of professionals. We want to have control over our own learning, just like we want for our students. 

This teacher also proves that not all building/administrators are created equal. She had a great experience at her first school corporation. She had others to lean on and a principal who seemed to be genuinely interested in what was happening in her classroom on a day-to-day basis. I venture to say that she would have stayed there, had she not moved.

This teacher had other teachers to lean on and trust when things got rough in her first school. She found that something, technology, in her second school to help her to inspire others. It's too bad she didn't have them both at the same time!

We are in the business of inspiring others. We should pick SOMETHING and SOMEONE to inspire US as well. Find that person. Find that 'thing'. Let them inspire you to keep going. If you can't keep going where you are, find SOMEPLACE where you can. Your happiness and self-worth are worth it. 

Burn on!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Tid-BiT: FIve Things I Should Be Doing As A Teacher, That I Don't

Five Things I Should Be Doing As A Teacher, That I Don't

How My Sanity Is Saved By Being Practical and Using Common Sense

This morning's post is brought to you by Pinterest and not in the way that you might think. If you have read my past posts, you know that I am not a huge fan of Pinterest or TPT, and if you have been on my Pinterest page, you may also notice that I don't pin often and if I do, it's normally to post something practical (which I don't find often).

HOWEVER, this morning I had an email from the Pinterest Gods, stating that they had some boards that they thought I might like. None of which I did. In fact, that damn email took me down the rabbit hole and immediately the feelings of guilt and self-loathing started to seep in. Again.

You see, this is why I don't get on the site often. But, it did remind me of why I quit getting on there in the first place and of all of the things that I quit doing as I was burning out. 

1. I quit getting on Pinterest. (Obviously.)

I really do respect it. Really I do. I have gotten some good, basic ideas from Pinterest and it is helpful when I am in a pinch and can't think of what to do when I am faced with a problem to solve. However, when I was on there this morning, I was shaking my head at how complicated things like Class Dojo were made. I'm talking bulletin boards, coloring sheets where kids keep track of their points daily, 20 different ways to reward and punish kids with points, depending on their behavior. I actually laughed. Are people feeling that this is normal?

 I am not coming down on you if you promptly give each student 5 points each day for turning in homework, after you fight to collect it, grade and correct every problem, and then pass it back. I really am not, but know that there is a simpler way. Which brings me to my next thing...

2. I quit giving homework. 

My daughter was on the phone with my mom the other day and they were talking about homework. My mom asked her if I give homework, I said, "No." She asked, "Why?" I said, "Because I don't want to grade it!" It's as simple as that. I get enough proof of whether or not a student needs more support at school. The students also work hard enough during the day, that they don't need to go home to more work. 

Communication with parents is key, however. If a student is really struggling. Parents are made aware and I give them suggestions. If they really want to help their child at home, they will either use the resources I suggest, or not. Parents have never been surprised by grades or report cards, because we communicate often, when necessary, in order to support their child. 

3. I quit giving reading logs. 

This was something I quit about 3/4 of the way through this year and I wish I would have quit 11 years ago, when I started teaching. Why did it take me so long to quit this obnoxious use of paper and my time? There was always great participation for the first two weeks, and then my highest readers were the only ones filling them out. 

Alice Keeler inspired me to ask myself this question, "Why do we ask students to do unrealistic things that adults would never do in real life?" Such as, write down the number of pages we read and record our thinking every time we read a book at home? 

Don't get me wrong, OF COURSE I encourage reading at home. OF COURSE, I have ways of getting books into the backpacks of my students. But, just as my philosophy stands with homework, either a parent is going to take that suggestion to read to and with their child, or not. All I can do is grow a students' personal love of reading as much as I can at school so they WANT to read at home. Am I growing their love of reading by making them mechanically fill out sheets of 'proof' that they did it? Nope. 

4. I quit weekly and monthly newsletters.

Before I lose you and you write me off as a terrible communicator who is closing the door to my classroom and letting no one in, let me make this very clear: I am AWESOME at communicating with parents of my students. I am very clear on all of the ways that they can communicate with me and ask me questions several times throughout the year and especially those first few weeks of school.

I send home many different pieces of information about daily routines, ways to get ahold of me, what my expectations are, and consequences for not respecting those expectations in my classroom. 

My favorite ways of communicating with parents are Seesaw and Remind. 

With Seesaw, parents are able to see, to the hour, what and how their child is doing at school. They see videos, picture posts, and notes that their child is working on every single day, several times a day. Isn't that better than me just stating the standards or learning targets that we are working on each week? I'm gonna say, yeah. It is. I also use it to send quick updates on classroom happenings and upcoming events. 

Remind is a free texting and emailing app that lets me privately send texts and/or class announcements to parents reminding them of upcoming events or updating them on their child's behavior, if that is what their need is. Instant, short, and practical. Done. Parents can also text me with questions and concerns. We often schedule conferences through this service too! All numbers are made private and it is really easy to set up. 

5. I quit feeling like my classroom was MINE.

Our classroom is organized, low maintenance, organized, clean, organized, and safe. Did I mention that it's organized?

My students know where everything is, how to get the things they need, where to put them when they are done, and where to go to find any resource they need. IF they can't find something, they know what to do then too... ask three friends for help. Still can't figure it out? Ok, NOW you can ask me. AND I DON'T NEED TO BUY OR MAKE A SIGN TO HOLD UP THAT STATES, "ASK 3 THEN ME." (Yes, I saw that on Pinterest today.)

Of course I get interrupted when working with students or small groups. They are six years old and I have 30 of them! I'm in the career of education. I deal with it. 

The students don't need colorful labels on all of my drawers. They don't need all of my walls plastered with smiling cookie-cutter children or frogs. (I'm referencing my first year of teaching here.) They need a safe, well-organized, and balanced classroom. They need love. They need to learn to be independent and that if they need something they know where to go to get it. They need a space that is theirs and OURS, not mine. 

Bottom line: stop feeling that because you see it online, that is what should be happening in your room. We teachers, as self-proclaimed perfectionists, control-freaks, and Type A personalities are burning ourselves out by comparing ourselves to pictures from classrooms we have NEVER and WILL NEVER go to. STOP. IT. Do what's right. Do what works. Do what's best for YOUR kids. Be happy. 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Burned-INterview #2: Learning to Let Go, Before Letting Go of Teaching

Burned-INterview #2:

This Burned-Out Teacher Wishes She Would Have Let Go; 

Before Letting Go of Teaching

BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers or current teachers are feeling and going through before they either have left or leave the education profession. 

AH: (Me!) Amber Harper   BiT: Interviewee

AH: How many school systems have you worked in?
BiT: I worked in one school system. Two separate schools.

AH:Rural, suburbs, inner city?
BiT: I worked in a rural school for 2 years and then an urban 100% free/reduced school the last half of my career. This school has a high Burmese population and I worked there for 2 1/2 years.

AH: Elementary, middle, high or special assignment?
BiT: I worked for 4 1/2 years in an elementary school.

AH: Did you always want to be a teacher?
BiT: Yes, I always said that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't become a teacher right away. I went to work and then went back to school and returned when I was 28.

AH: Of all that is hard about being a teacher, what is burning you out the most?
BiT: When I left, we were on our fourth principal in 2.5 years, our third assistant principal in 2.5 years.
The admin was not for the teachers, more of "I'm going to do whatever makes me look good."
A student who should have been put into an ED program and was not given the attention that she deserved.
I took a leave and then couldn't return for mental health.
I couldn't teach because of a kid I'm trying to restrain for 45 min. You call administration and they don't come to help you. Tables and chairs are being thrown. It wasn't safe. That's what pushed me out of it. 

I wouldn't say that I was burned out, but there are just a lot of things on your plate as a teacher. 

We started taking these "bundle assessments" on iPads, reading and math. Our success as a teacher was based on these tests. Half of my class didn't speak English, so it didn't matter whether I read it to them or not. My scores would be compared to all of the other schools in the district, including an affluent school.
They would question why the affluent school would score 80% and my school would score 60%. We were NOT allowed to bring up the fact that our kids were not English-speaking students. That was not an excuse. It was all about our teaching. 

You start to feel like you're losing your mind. You start to wonder, "Am I insane? Am I really an insane person?"

So all of this, on top of this student with these outbursts during the tests. This went on 1/2 the year. I finally just took a leave after November and resigned after Christmas. 

This was a daily thing. If you saw pictures of this, you would be astounded. 

Another big issue was the MASSIVE amounts of meetings. In the middle of the day, I would be pulled out of class. I'd have to get a 1/2 day sub every other week for some reason. Meetings about what we can better do to better serve our students. I could be in my class serving my kids. Why were we having these meetings? A meeting to talk about the last meeting? To talk about the next meeting?When you know you have SO MUCH stuff to do and your brain is just thinking the whole time, "...okay, I have this to do, I have to do this. Then, I can't forget to do this. Oh, and I need to do this." And everything they would give me during the meeting would go right into the recycle bin. 

Because we are a Title school, you are forced to have these extra meetings. WHY? I could have been talking to a coworker. We could have been planning or collaborating.

The year before, at the other school, we would have a meeting once a week. It would alternate. Meeting as a school, then meeting with grade level, alternating and it was GREAT! But, not at my second school. It was ALL. THE. TIME. 

It was a negative building to work in, because all of the teachers were so upset all the time. 
They were all crying. It is so sad. You cry because you care. If you didn't care, you wouldn't cry. I would sit and bawl. This was hysterical crying like my mom or dad died. I had a full on panic attack one morning when I walked into my classroom one day. I had to leave. I couldn't even do what I was trying to do, and now you are piling things on again. 

It will be interesting to see how many of my colleagues leave this year. 

AH: Did you have any assistants?
BiT: No. No assistants. I had 23 kids.

AH: Where do you feel teachers are most unsupported?
BiT: When you have concerns or let's say if something is presented and you feel that this is not what is going to help my students the best. Being able to be honest about whether or not you think this is the best for kids without any backlash.

Having to say, "Oh yes! This sounds GREAT!" Even though, in your mind, you're thinking, "This is NOT going to work. There is a better way."

You can't say that without being chastised, or being viewed as negative. It looks good on paper, but is not good in application. 

AH: How often were administration in your classroom?
BiT:Last year, we had an amazing administrator who wouldn't do what the district told her because she knew it wasn't the best for kids. She was let go. She was in the classroom every day and talked to the kids to see what they are working on. It wasn't just a walk-thru. She was always asking, "What can I do to help you? What can we do for these kids?" She was so wonderful and so supportive and had experience of 30 years working with EL kids. The school wouldn't listen to ANYTHING that she had to say. It was heart-breaking.

The current principal is only in the classroom to observe you. This principal is a "Yes" person. I feel like, I would like them to just show their face once in a while, you know? I worked in the business world before I was in education and I had a personal relationship with my manager and employees. And, then (as a teacher) I was like, how can I possibly feel comfortable around you when you are ONLY coming in to observe me? I haven't built a relationship with you and neither have the kids. 

You do these observations and and OH MY GOODNESS. DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY ARE 100% ENGAGED? They are looking at things that are so insignificant. These kids are 5 and 6! Yes . She's chewing on her shirt. Yes. She's touching her friend's hair. There are always going to be those one or two who have things going on. 

If you have an administrator who is totally disengaged unless they are coming in to do their walkthroughs, and they mark you, and then they ask you questions about the kids and you're like, "I guess you would have NO idea what is going on with this child, because you are NEVER around!"

I'm one who likes to take care of a lot of stuff on my own. I have good classroom management skills, but when you are working with an ED student, things are just different. When you are constantly running through administrators and they don't know me, they think I'm the problem. It's not me! I was highly effective and they would send in new teachers to watch my classroom management, because I was so skilled with that. Then I felt so unsupported. Finally when it came down to me telling them that and they were like, "You mean you feel like we don't support you?" I said, "No." After that, it just snowballed.

I wanted to do everything I could to support her, but I had 22 other students to worry about and I can't spend all of my time with just her. It was definitely affecting the other kids. It was traumatizing. If I was a child seeing that, I wouldn't have wanted to go to school.

What do you feel is the best way to support a teacher who is burned-out?
There is so much pressure put on a teacher and so many things that you are dealing with as an educator. People say, "I'd love to do your job and hang out with kids all day." THEY HAVE NO IDEA. 

I cried in my car and got medicated. 

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "I want to be a bad teacher." Were there a couple of bad teachers in my building, of course, but did they have the proper guidance? I don't know. We are rolling through administrators left and right and your expectations are changing every day.

Each teacher is struggling in different areas. They say, "Go ask this teacher to help you." But they are already drowning in their own area and don't have time to help.  They can't help me because I know they are struggling with other things (in their life) that the administrator doesn't know about because they never talk to the teachers. 

There is honestly not enough time to sit and support each other. I would like more time. 

You know you learn the most when you are sitting in collaboration with your colleagues and you are like, "That is a great idea!" OR if you could go into another teacher's classroom. You find answers to questions. How are they handling this? How are they handling that? 

Do you feel that you have other teachers to confide in?
Yes, but maybe that compounded things. She moved to another school and I would call her. She was someone I could go to about things. She was older and went into education later in life. She was more mature and gave me sound advice. As you get older you learn more about life. 

I knew that whatever she and I talked about, it was between her and I. I never had to worry about someone else finding out. 

In the building I was in last year, that was not the norm. In the school that I was in, we would get 10-12 new teachers every year. I was considered a 'veteran' teacher. 

When you taught, did you have anything that you did to help you decompress?
I didn't have anything that I could do at work, but I worked out. I would sometimes go outside and walk around the building. 

What do you wish was available to burned-out teachers?
More time for teachers to talk. Why can't we go to school 4.5 days and then plan and prep on Friday afternoons?  There is so much that is required of educators. I have so many high expectations and I want to be the best. I want my kids to grow and be successful. I feel like it's constant pressure. 

If you go back, what will you do differently?
I have to learn to let things go. Some teachers are good at that and I always wanted to be perfect. I feel like I can't do that, because then I feel like I'm failing the kids. 

What would you say to a teacher who is getting ready to enter the classroom?
You are never going to be perfect and you are always going to be a work in progress. 

You learn new things every year and every year is different. 

Find one really, really good friend at school. One that you can trust and one who can help you and support you. That makes a huge difference. 

Take Aways and Tips:

I have listened to this interview many times, and now read the transcript over and over again and it, quite frankly, makes me feel like I have no problems. 

This teacher has dealt with it all: unsupportive and inconsistent leadership, severe behavior problems within her classroom, struggles with perfectionism and depression, and consequently had to leave to feel like she could gain control of her life again. 

During the conversation there was a period of time where she and I talked in depth about how badly we need to 'turn it off' and go home. I have worked and met a lot of teachers throughout my career and most of them are self-proclaimed perfectionists and/or control freaks They care so much that they can't stand to leave before 6:00 most nights and insist on coming in over the weekend to prepare for the following week or to enter and organize data. 

My question becomes this: When do we just say, "ENOUGH is ENOUGH."? Should we wait until we are burned out from feeling like failures for years? Or do we wait until we feel that if our administrator gives us one more bad evaluation, after being absent from our classroom for months, we have no other choice but to find a different profession? Obviously not. 

My biggest take away from our hour long conversation is how important consistent and realistic expectations from administration are to a teacher's success. And, as I type this I think to myself, imagine if the way we treat teachers was the norm for how teachers treated students? Wouldn't they burn out too? Would that be considered acceptable?

I can imagine that if a teacher's life at school is a dash of chaotic, one cup of unpredictable, and baked on high pressure and disrespect all day long and then removed from that oven only to be sat back on the high heat of being a parent and spouse with other potentially stressful obligations, that can make the burn-out even more inevitable.

As I reflect on my experiences, I realize, also, that I constantly felt like the victim in my situation. I didn't do anything to turn that ship around either, until I was eight years deep, depressed, and felt like I didn't deserve better. I now know different.

As I have dealt with burnout, I have learned that I actually have more control than I think I do:

- I have total control over where I work. If I am unhappy where I am, I am responsible of that situation. I can leave. And I have. 

- I determine my attitude. 100% of the time. No excuses. I can either tell myself all day that I suck, or that I am doing the best that I can and that I am awesome. I choose the latter. 

- I am obsessed with being that friend to other teachers who is positive, helpful, and trustworthy. That is what I choose to do, and because of this, people are there for me too. 

- I believe in sticking up for myself as a professional. I have stopped living in fear of being fired for asking questions and defending my position as a professional. If my boss makes my life a living hell because of this belief, I will leave. Because I am in control of my environment. Period. 

- I have let go. I used to feel like my room had to be the prettiest and trendiest. I used to feel that I had to know, word-for-word what I was going to say for each lesson. This is no longer my truth. My room is organized, safe, and colorful. It is a place where I let my guard down and act goofy with my kids. It is a place I teach them to be kind and to think for themselves. Then, when the day is over, I plan to pick up where we left off the next day and... I leave. I "leave it all on the court," as I have heard NBA basketball players say. 

Before you burn out, know that you are in control. It may not feel like it, but you really are. Email me to tell me your story. We are in this together. 

Burn on!