The Teachers: a Year Inside America’s Most Vulnerable, Important Profession by Alexandra Robbins

4. November: “To Teach Your Kids, I Have to Leave Mine”: COVID-19, the Disrespect for Teachers’ Work, and the Disregard for Their Lives

  • It isn’t unusual for experienced teachers to unofficially diagnose students with disabilities who haven’t been diagnosed yet. They usually have to share this news with parents who have to get the child tested if they choose to. In essence, all teachers are special ed teachers so they should be certain to get some training on the subject. Miguel reminds us that teachers should take up disciplinary issues with students in private and offers tips on how to talk to parents about such matters.
  • Teachers are likely to get a new student on any given day and new kids can upset class chemistry. It isn’t unusual for new students to arrive without records, which makes placement difficult. (Doug: I had a very difficult time getting records for kids from New York City. In some cases parents enrolled kids with special ed IEPs without telling us. This was often the case for emotionally disturbed kids.)
  • Today, teaching social and emotional skills is a big deal. Teachers are expected to do this on top of what they are already doing and sometimes without the necessary training. They also have to be prepared to deal with a live shooter situation and make quick decisions to protect their class. There is a discussion of problems related to the pandemic here that sounds like what you probably have heard from your media. The theme of lack of support from administrators continues as is the idea that teachers experience joy and tragedy along with their students.

5. December: “Safe Harbor”: The Most Underestimated Teacher in the Building – “Fluff Subject”: Subject Misconceptions and the Marginalization of Specialist Teachers

  • The emphasis here is on teachers who may not be viewed as important because they don’t teach core subjects. Foremost may be PE teachers. Along with art, music, and librarians they may be viewed by others as providers of daycare so the “real” teachers can have preparation time. STEM teachers are immune from this. “Special teachers” are often not taken into the social fabric of the school’s culture, which can result in social/emotional issues. Teaching behind closed doors, however, can make anyone feel isolated.
  • Librarians are a special case. They are often technology leaders. Even though students perform better in schools with full-time certified librarians, they are increasingly being replaced by teacher aides who cost less and can still sign out and shelve books. In small schools there are a number of teachers who are the only teachers in the building who teach their subject and some even have to travel between schools. Many such teachers are turning to online professional development to find support from people who do what they do.

6. January: The “Dirty Little Secret” in Schools

  • According to Alexandra’s research teachers bully each other as much as students do. The profession is second only to the health care profession when it comes to the proportion of individuals who experience bullying. This is certainly ironic as both professions are known for caring. The stress caused by bullying poses multiple health risks. Rumors and gossip pose a serious problem and high performing and popular teachers are often targets due to jealousy.
  • The number one bully seems to be the principal who has the power of the purse, scheduling, and evaluation. Teachers seldom report bullying to HR as they feel it will do them no good. They also think it may make things worse due to retaliation, or that no one likes a complainer. Bullies may resort to cheating on standardized tests to avoid looking bad. Other than surveys that have uncovered the extent of bulling, there is scant research on the subject. On a more positive note, there is also talk here of joys like hearing how great you are from former students, seeing significant growth, and snow days.

7. February: “Classroom Contagion”: The Myth of Teacher Burnout

  • The term burnout is often found in the literature. It’s defined as a combination of stress, depression, exhaustion, and overwork. It’s a top reason why teachers leave the profession. Of all professions, teaching may feature the highest incidence of burnout. Avoid negative self-talk and striving for perfection as they can stoke the burnout flames.
  • It may be that some school systems are the worst when it comes to supplying the necessary support. Lack of supplies, substitutes, support staff, and support when problems with students and/or parents arise are common. Teacher aides and assistants can make a huge difference if they have sufficient skills. Alexandra also explains how the negative impact of standardized testing can make life worse.
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