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Choosing to focus on teaching

by Mr. Gillbury, high school English teacher

I am criminally overworked. “Preps” seem to be a thing of the past, as we now have department meetings or grade team meetings during the day. “Lunch” is no longer an eating period as the microwave in the teacher’s lounge seems to have been misplaced. In fact, the entire teacher’s lounge has been misplaced, and yes, that can happen. I’ve been staying late to decorate my room and make a sorry attempt at planning and grading, but it’s usually just a time to try and get some energy back.

I’ve had meetings with the principal and AP where I had to choose how often I will be observed. They seemed to be trying to figure out the new system, and are more confused than the brand-new teachers. We were passively threatened to have our sub lessons submitted with copies of the work for all students done, though the person that makes copies for us is overwhelmed with an insane amount of copies to make.

I’ve had meetings with my department. Meetings with my grade team. Meetings about what we should be talking about in meetings. No, seriously, we actually discuss how to properly have a meeting, what an agenda should look like, all of the stuff to make a school look like it’s a well run corporation. The humanity on that side of things is gone. Perhaps forever.

My new students are calm and respectful…for now. They say that every year you teach, it gets easier as your confidence grows. I do feel that way, that I have finally come into my own as a teacher. Too bad there are all of these new changes, so everything I have mastered over the past few years will be viewed as obsolete. I can hear the chaos in the hallway as I teach my drop-dead-silent classes, and I act as if I don’t hear a thing. The kids take their cue from me and stay focused. Again, I don’t expect this honeymoon period to last. Because…

I teach students I had last year. One group of them is doing great. Focused, working hard, respectful. The other group is not really disrespectful, but they’re wild. Oh, they are wild and they make me laugh, which is fun and we get along, but it’s not the best for teaching.

There’s a lot going on in the classroom, and I have planning, co-planning, and grading to do. But it just feels like there’s so much beyond what you’d expect from a teacher now. It’s hard to even keep track of all the emails and the vague threats if we don’t fill out forms and send emails to the right people and go to the right meeting, have the right things up on our walls, and, I suppose, even teach how they want us to teach. Though teaching itself seems to be the least discussed part about “teaching.” And yet…that’s what I’m choosing to focus on.

Mr. Gillbury is the pseudonym of a 4th-year English teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to submit a column for the New Teacher Diaries, please email edwize@uft.org.



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  • 3 anne w. giddings
    · Sep 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I totally concur with Mr. Gillbury….I’ve been retired 3 years after a 31 career teaching elementary school. Our district offered a great buyout package and I took it without even thinking about it….and for once, all my stars and planets were in alignment and it’s worked out very well. I do volunteer for a couple of former colleagues and even with less income, I’m welcomed as Santa Claus when I bring edible treats or boxes, not reams, boxes of copy paper! As things stand today, I’ve advised my top students to avoid teaching as a career like the Plague for at least ten years……optimistically, it’ll be ‘better’ by then. I’m thankful my children are grown and in wonderful professions, but I fear for my grandchildren as they get older. We were all fortunate to graduate without student loans and buy houses at the ‘right time’…..but as an Historian, I’m hoping the pendulum will swing in a positive direction as the grandchildren get older. Fortunately they are all very bright and may qualify for scholarships….but may end up in a tent as housing is so crazily out of reach for most. I ran into a former crossing guard yesterday who’s had to retire because of health issues…both he and I have been sworn at, spat upon, and disrespected in general as our population has spiraled downward economically, morally, ethically, etc. Remember the bus monitor in CT who was so injured on her bus? The whole country rallied around her and she’s fortunately been able to retire. Our nearby middle school runs two identical bus routes with separate buses- one for the males, one for the females…..what’s wrong with that picture? What message is that sending our students and their parents? And what is that costing us as taxpayers in cash and use of natural resources? My former district scheduled parent conferences the week of the County Fair; teachers have been given half-days to teach and the rest of the time is for conferences. Guess where parents chose to go? School or Fair? I’ll leave that conclusion up to you. Please keep the faith and I wish you and ALL your colleagues strength, courage, and the will to keep doing your wonderful jobs! Anne in Bako

  • 4 phyllis c muray
    · Sep 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Surely, the new evaluation process will pass. In 1960 …Why Johnny can’t read..was the topic of discussion. Who remembers how the 21st Century was to produce a “nation of readers.” And what happened to Whole Language? And who closed The Open Classroom? When were the Basal Readers discarded?( Although Dick and Jane tried to make a come back.) Fortunately, even though religion was pushed aside in public schools, the holy days are still with us. There is hope teachers will be able to teach one day. And test prep will disappear like the other fads. BTW isn’t teaching supposed to be synonymous with education? Or has that changed too?