I was going to try and keep the focus on living China, but that writing has been tough in coming, and something has occurred in the teaching realm that I simply must write about. If you sit through this, I promise more on Shanghai soon.
Today, I reached a nadir, the low point. In the four and a quarter years I have been a teacher, I have been angry, elated, miserable and bewildered. I have been frustrated, stunned, ecstatic, and giddy. I have been unenthusiastic, once or twice even apathetic, but today, I truly hit rock bottom. I got bored.
Not bored in the moment, listening to a student read the same fluency passage for the umpteenth time, but bored across almost my entire day. Bored deeply and frustratingly enough to think, “Wow… I’m bored.” So bored that I didn’t even look forward to my two classes, until I was in the middle of teaching again and suddenly remembered why I signed up for this job in the first place.
Professionally speaking, my goal in moving to an International School was to mix things up, to see the other side of the teaching world, as well as the planet. I was offered a technology specialist position or another year in fifth grade, and in keeping with the idea of change, I went for the tech. When I was interviewing for the position, I specifically asked what sort of support was available and if that would be part of my position. I was told that we had a solid local support staff and they wanted me purely for curriculum and instruction. They said 80% in the classroom, teaching or assisting, and 20% researching new resources. I believed them.
What a fool I was.
Perhaps there are schools that are truly serious about technology, where technology teachers are free to teach and develop their curriculum while appropriately trained support staff deal with the machinery. Mine is not one of them. We reassigned and laid off all of our support over the summer. Consequently, this week, I have spent the barest pittance of time teaching and the bulk of hours supervising the copying and recopying of computers. Last week, I spent the vast majority of my time scheduling and proctoring computer-adaptive diagnostic tests. It gives me time to research resources and polish up curriculum documents, I don’t idle away the hours blogging (you may have noticed), but after two weeks of five hours a day of seat work, I’m on edge, the slightest bit goes wrong and I’m ready to scream.
But in the end, this is a very valuable experience. First, it teaches me that our nation’s low-performing public schools don’t have exclusive rights to all the bad decisions in education. $30k-a-year privates have elbowed their way into the incompetency party as well. Hire an expensive, well-credentialed teacher and have him mostly just pressing “restore” at 24 minute intervals. It hurts! When I return to the public schools, I can remember this frustration and know that the grass is yellowing and sour on both sides of the fence. Next, it helps me realize that no matter what it does to my blood pressure, I want to be in the urgent, high-stakes, classroom environment. My prior philosophy of wanting to work directly with the kids, to make a difference on an individual day-by-day level, was spot-on. I thought I needed a break, but it’s only been eight weeks and I already want to be back in the trenches. I don’t want to sit at a desk all day, ever again. Give me a class three years behind and on the verge of chaos, give me a child running off campus, give me an irate parent or an incompetent policy maker. But not a quiet room, filled only with whirring machines and a comfortable chair!
This I just can’t handle.