In my first year of teaching I was told how hard it was going to be as I signed my contract. I just wasn’t listening. I didn’t have the ears to hear. The Assistant Principal who hired me (because we didn’t have a Principal that year, not really anyway) told me before the ink was dry on my carefully crafted signature, that she would count this year as a success if I came back the next.
Let that sink in for a moment. The same woman who thought that I was passionate, and competent, who wanted me to teach at her school. She was merely hoping that I would make it through the first year and on to the next. Survival was her only goal for me.
I suppose I could get all defensive, tell you that she didn’t know me and how tough I was. I could tell you that she was judging me by my perky voice and the color of my skin and she didn’t know who she was talking to. I could get all defensive, but that would merely mask the truth. I barely survived that year. I came back the next only because I wasn’t offered a different position before contracts came around. Still, I was tucked securely in the success category, I came back.
It takes about three years for a teacher to get her feet under her. If you have just come off your first year of teaching, take heart. You did it! You survived. The second and third years will be exponentially easier. But it takes about three years to really feel like you are making headway and not just treading water. (But treading water certainly beats the perpetual drowning feeling that is your first year.)
This is because teaching is tricky. There are a lot of skills that need to be developed that are used simultaneously in a classroom. You have to learn the difference between productive noise and chaotic noise. You have to train your brain to quickly remember everyone’s name. You have to know your material and how to explain it to a brain that isn’t developed. You have to train your body to only need to pee during passing period (and you need to be able to pee in under 5 minutes including travel time). There is a lot to learn, and about half of it needs to be done in the background, simultaneously. Three years is the mark where some of it can go on auto pilot. Three years is the point you can really begin thinking about curriculum and instruction.
In the state of Georgia, three years is also the point you will no longer have a job. There is new rule: teachers who miss the raw score mark three years in a row will be fired and have their license revoked, never to teach again. But every education professor I have ever had tells me it takes three years to figure out what you are doing.
Three years and you are out is a terrible idea. For a number of reasons.
1. Cheating You may have heard that there is a massive cheating scandal in the city of Atlanta. Like, the largest they have ever found (look a little harder big cities, I have no doubt you could find one!). Three and out gives teachers no incentive not to cheat. Let’s say I love my job at my high needs school. I barely didn’t make it my first two years. Despite the fact that it was my first two years of teaching, miraculously my scores are the highest at the school. My third year, my principal notices my success with the tough cookies and moves me to teaching remedial kids. It is spring and I know my kids aren’t going to make it. If they don’t I lose my job. If I cheat and get caught I lose my job. But if I don’t get caught I am safe for another three years. Why wouldn’t I?
2. Teacher Flight One of the problems with urban schools is that there are too many new teachers. The suburban schools have more applicants, so they can be choosier. The already succesful schools tend to hire the teachers who have a few years under their belt. This leaves the urban schools, that really need the most experienced teachers, as a place to make all of those newbie mistakes. Currently, there are teachers that stay (not enough, but some). But with the three-year clause, after two years of working with under-scoring kids I need to go where I know the kids will make the grade, or I will lose my job. Even thought I want to work with high needs kids, and I am good at it, I can’t afford it.
3. Cyclical Placement Let’s say that I love working with and am better at remedial students, so I have had two bad years score wise. Meanwhile my colleague is a rock-star honors teacher. If I have a wise principal who wants everyone in my school to stay certified he is going to leave everyone where they are for two years, and then the third year when I (his remedial teacher) am about to lose my job he make the rock-star honors teacher teach the remedial kids, and I spend a year with the honors kids. Everyone hates their job and none of the students are serviced well, but then we can get another two years of what is good for everyone. I suppose parents just hope their kids aren’t in the classrooms in the off years.
4. Georgia Needs Teachers I am a little unclear as to why the legislature thinks that kicking teachers to the curb is a good idea. The state is already in a federal state of emergency for many teaching positions. You can’t find a science teacher to save your life around these parts. If they fire every “failing” teach they identify, who are they going to get to fill those classrooms?
I understand the need to make sure that teachers are good at their job. I know the importance of a good teacher, it is why I became one. Three years and you are out isn’t going to fix the problems, it is a guarantee that things will only get worse. But what am I going to do? Those are the rules.