I recently fought a little mini-battle at my school in order to be able to teach AP Art History. The struggle was real, folks. I won’t detail the long and arduous road I went down in an effort to have the privilege of teaching a college-level course to teenagers, but suffice to say it was difficult. This post is really about something else. Another battle that we fight as teachers and what administration really cares about in a school.
So I went in to discuss teaching this course with my principal, not expecting any real support, but asking for it anyways. I guess I thought I would at least get a bit of encouragement. But no. I was denied almost everything I asked for.
Can I change one of my existing classes to AP Art? No.
Can I at least get rid of my homeroom, giving me an extra 50 minutes of planning per week? No.
How about money? The College Board requires us to go on two field trips per year. No.
Will you help me promote and fill the class? No.
Are you going to place students in there who don’t request it? Maybe.
Can I get some textbooks? Probably. The state pays for that.
And I may get textbooks. In a school who’s mission is supposed to be focused on allowing every child the opportunity to take an AP course. Wow. Okay, so that was fine. About what I expected. But what I was not anticipating was yet another reprimand on how messy my classroom is.
Nice. I am here pushing for something you should be promoting and you not only block me at every turn, you then try to make me feel bad.
And honestly, my room is messy. Actually, the floors are filthy. We have charcoal, we have paint, we make a mess. We create! Its art! As far as I know, my job description does not include learning how to work the machine that is supposed to clean my floors. They literally got swept ONCE last year by the custodian. Once. Not to mention that half of my lights were out for an entire semester and I couldn’t even go in the closet without a flashlight because all those bulbs were broken.
But let me get back on track. We are getting a new building this year! Yay! A brand new WHITE linoleum floor. When they were planning it, we asked for a concrete floor. Preferably with a drain in the middle so we can just hose everything down. But of course, this would not look nice. So we get WHITE TILE that we are now under strict orders to keep spotless.
You may not think that this is a big deal. Obviously the higher-ups don’t think it will be that hard. But let me elaborate. Each class is about 50 minutes. If we are doing a project, the students take about 5-10 minutes to get everything out. Then, they take about 5-10 minutes to clean up. Normally, if they spill paint, its okay. We wipe it up and life goes on. There is a stain on the floor which will come up with the mopping machine thing.
But no longer. Now, when we have a spill, we must all take the time to get out the cleaning supplies and call the janitor right away and spray some chemicals on it and walk around it and generally make a huge fuss about it. And those 5-minute clean ups at the end of class? Forget about it. Now, you will need to thoroughly wipe down all surfaces, especially the floors, before you leave. So go ahead and plan on an extra 5 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a total of 20 minutes out of 50 for set up and clean up. Leaving 30 minutes of actual learning time.
So maybe I can just take my own time to clean up after the kids, right? Sure! Let me spend my precious 50 minutes a day not planning, but cleaning. Let me spend all my energy on figuring out ways to keep this classroom clean. Nevermind grading. I can do that at home. Nevermind planning or organizing my actual lesson. Who cares about that?
Nobody. That’s who.
In the past 8 years, I have not been observed teaching once since I completed my general training. Whenever principals come in, we are doing a project OR they leave. They stay for maybe 5 minutes and then get up and go. I realized that not one single adult at my school has ever experienced what its like to be a student in my room.
I learned a lot through this experience and I have learned that people do not care how I actually teach. Furthermore, they do not care whether or not students actually learn in my classroom. They say they do. Oh, yes. But they block all the good things I am trying to do and then focus on how our school looks. Every single time my principal has been in my room in the past 4 years, he has said something critical about my clutter or the dirt or something messy. Not once has he seen what I can do as teacher.
This is why teachers are leaving our profession. Because our administrators do not care about us. All they care about is how we look. And you know what? Its not their fault. Someone has written into their job descriptions the things that should be important in a school. Hmmm…who could that be? The superintendent? The school board? The state?
The disconnect between what truly matters and what we are measured on is staggering. Teachers are the bottom of this totem pole. The trickle-down effect of priorities results in situations like mine. Where I really just want to teach, but now I feel like a babysitter and cleaner.
Oh by the way- check out this article which sums up REAL research that proves a messy environment fuels creativity.