I read an article that resonated loudly with the kind of days I had as a music teacher. It was titled, “Teaching Is Like An Abusive Relationship” (http://culturedvultures.com/teaching-like-abusive-relationship-stay-children/
and it touched on the same issues I found increasingly more difficult to swallow in my job.
I’ve been teaching in some capacity for thirty years. I ran a piano teaching studio while gigging as a pianist/vocalist for over twenty years. I taught various music exploration workshops for both students and staff from pre-K to seniors and every age in between. I’ve taught keyboarding, drumming, vocals, choral ensembles, music theory and piano both privately and in groups in my studio as well as multiple facilities. Mostly, I enjoyed teaching and it came naturally to me somehow, despite not having a degree in education (I hold a bachelor degree in music composition).
12 years ago, I became a public school elementary music teacher in Florida. I went into the job with gusto, determined to do quality curriculum and ensemble performances, and to inspire my students with the love of music as my first music teacher had done for me. I worked hard and harder to establish the quality of my programs.
I saw the impact of my efforts on excited, proud and happy faces of my students, whether it was at their performances or within the classroom as they mastered a skill or discovered something new about music. That spark in a student’s expression is what true teachers relish, and what keeps good teachers motivated.
Eleven years in, though, I discovered I am not a true teacher. I am no longer willing to put in the overtime necessary for me to have a quality curriculum or ensemble performances. This is unequivocally what it would take but my schedule of meetings (irrelevant to lessons for students or my truly professional development as an educator), back-to-back classes and my babysitting job known as ‘bus duty’ had my day so jam-packed that there was just not enough time to significantly plan quality instruction for 8 different grade levels, much less for performing ensembles. I got tired of working so hard in my non-paid hours without compensation, recognition or appreciation and to the detriment of my physical wellness and social life.
I was also finished with being devalued as a music educator by an administration that is so tied to political, bureaucratic agendas that my music curriculum got tossed to the wind whenever a mandated test or documentation scramble popped up. More and more, these tests and scrambles for documentation have become the norm, while music curriculum takes a backseat and the music educator is downgraded to a babysitter.
‘True’ teachers also endure the blame for lack of student growth despite constantly jumping through hoops to ensure accommodations are applied and documented for each student with a learning issue. The paperwork alone is enough to warrant at least a part-time job position, but teachers spend enormous amounts of time dealing with documentation, on top of the time spent with actual students.
I am no longer willing to work overtime so I can review all the accommodations, IEPs, health documentation, etcetera for the entire student body (600+) that I’m required to teach. I didn’t have the luxury in my schedule to allow much individual rapport with these students either.
‘True’ teachers are in it for the children. They take all the abuse from administration and political mandates, overwork, irrelevant meetings that cut into what could have been quality curriculum planning, and a questionably low salary for the sake of the children. I used to be that dedicated to the kids.
Until my classroom became a field of disturbing behavior as those students with traumatic social histories and their accompanying learning deficits and low self-images began to completely derail my teaching environment with their temper tantrums, defiant physical outbursts, and verbal disrespect. I was left in such a chaotically disastrous situation without any effective strategy to deal with the turmoil, much less continue to teach.
Students who cause unsafe circumstances or disrupt the learning environment for self and others are basically given no negative consequence; they don’t lose recess, they don’t miss out on school reward day/events, they don’t have to make up any missed work, they are not expelled from school. They instead get teachers (yes, me) pushed toward “positive reinforcement” and “behavior plans” that focus on rewarding students’ minimal positive behavior while primarily ignoring the negative behavior. In fact, I have been asked to write the lesser office intervention form three times before using a referralform, which effectively lightens the consequence for the student while simultaneously keeping the school from unfavorable light that multiple referrals would bring to its reputation.
I am sympathetic that these children have such traumatic histories, but since I am not their parent nor trained in behavioral counseling, I was not equipped to give them the individual attention they desperately need. And I am no longer willing to put up with their blatantly disrespectful behavior, particularly when it is intent on destroying my remaining students’ music education. If I stayed in the classroom with such a disruptive student, I would have no recourse for dealing with such behaviors other than to attempt teaching while ignoring their bizarre, blatantly loud, abnormal actions (i.e., screaming on a high pitch for duration of class, doing gymnastics, kicking or throwing chairs, or rolling across the floor in the middle of student area of the music room). I didn’t have the option of ignoring the 24 to 46 other students (I was told class-size limitation did not apply to music, so I was teaching double or triple classes) to have one-on-one conversations in an attempt to create rapport or pursue an accommodation for each of these difficult students.
Requesting administration or the behavior specialist to assist gave little improvement as they typically stayed in the classroom to observe the rash behavior without actually dealing with the student or scenario. On occasions that they did address these students, they removed students briefly then brought them back into the environment for further observation. Either way the classroom environment and learning was severely affected and diminished. Did I mention that students have music once per week?
I did not sign up for this kind of nonsense when I chose to teach in a public school setting. Between the rapidly increasing numbers of such challenging student scenarios, the lack of respect or time given music education, among other aspects of this job that bear no relevance on my role as an educator, I have had enough of teaching. You know it’s time to leave the teaching profession when you can’t do the job of teaching.
In light of the current climate of teacher walk-outs and #metoo movement and protests, I truly hope more of these wonderful human beings who give their all in the teaching profession will have the same gumption that I have had to leave the public school system.
Although I left my teaching career behind me for personal reasons, I believe if more teachers walked out of these deplorable circumstances, the public school system would be forced to change in a way that gives teachers what they need to do their job. Those who would benefit the most from this would be the students, our society’s future.