kitchen table math, the sequel: Teacher Burnout: Blame the Parents

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Teacher Burnout: Blame the Parents

From the New York Times Wellness Channel:

Teacher Burnout

While the data come from German schools, the researchers note that many of the demands of teaching, including disruptive students, high expectations from school officials and close scrutiny from parents, are universal.

The issue of teacher burnout is important because American schools today are experiencing high levels of teacher turnover as baby boomers retire and new teachers leave the field. According to the most recent Department of Education statistics available, about 269,000 of the nation’s 3.2 million public school teachers, or 8.4 percent, quit the field in the 2003-2004 school year. Thirty percent of them retired, and 56 percent said they left to pursue another career or because they were dissatisfied. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future has calculated that nearly a third of all new teachers leave the profession after just three years, and that after five years almost half are gone.


Here are some sample quotes, but you should go read the whole shebang (128 at last count)

  • Parents with complaints should be restricted to the principal’s office, and not allowed to barge into classrooms. A parent who interferes with classroom teaching should be required by law to spend 5 days in jail. Taken to jail from the classroom in handcuffs by police.
  • I have been far more affected by administrators who leave the teaching ranks after a couple of years without ever realizing what becoming a teacher requires or who fail to work with and inspire teachers.
  • Quite often parents come to school to fight, not for their children, but to win the battles they lost when they were young. The sense of entitlement, joined with self-righteous anger and administrators who fear nothing more than a phone call to their boss leave teachers with little choice but to “try to make overly demanding parents happy.”
  • In our neck of the woods, the most difficult part of teaching in dealing with indulgent parents who don’t necessarily want to put in the time to actually be involved with their kids’ education, but, blame the teacher when the kid fails to perform.
  • Parents are just as bewildered and concerned as teachers as to how to deal with the maelstrom into which their children have been dumped, and the disappearing resources.
  • I often would say that if the children boarded at the school Monday through Friday, what a difference we would see in attitude AND results.
  • What about parent burn-out caused by non-responsive and arbitrary teachers and administrators? This works both ways!
  • If parents get involved, it’s their fault teachers are burned out. But if they’re not involved, it’s their fault the teachers can’t teach their students to read. No matter what happens, it’s always the parents’ fault - apparently expecting teachers to teach kids is an unreasonable expectation; it is up to the parents to make the teachers’ classrooms run well.
  • In my 36 years teaching elementary grades, demanding parents have rarely been a problem. In fact, I’ve enlisted parents as classroom helpers and am extremely grateful for the time and support they have contributed. The BIG problem has been and continues to be the idiocy of state and district bureaucracies, whose infinite wisdom declares that even schools with good test scores enter “Program Improvement” status so we can boost the numbers.

21 comments:

Independent George said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but it seems like school choice is the answer to this, too. If parents get to choose schools, they're more likely to find one that fits with their own educational preferences. Also, my idea school choice also applies to teachers, and they could more easily quit and move on to another school if they feel the administration isn't supporting them enough.

Catherine Johnson said...

Good find!

I taught for 46 years, and was repeatedly subjected to unintelligent criticism from uncouthly belligerent parents whose education was drop-out High School levels.

Our situation is middle-aged parents with M.Ds, J.D.s, & Ph.Ds being condescended to and ignored by 28 year old teachers with Masters degrees from ed school -- being ignored and having their kids' Sacred High School Transcripts peppered with Bs & Cs.

wrong sociology

Catherine Johnson said...

I've just discovered that my district has a Code of Conduct for parents without, apparently, a Code of Conduct for teachers. (I assume we've got formal guidelines somewhere....but they're not included in the Code of Conduct the school board is required by law to create.)


B) PARENTS
A cooperative relationship between home and school is essential to each student’s successful development and achievement. To achieve this relationship with school, parents have a responsibility to insist on prompt and regular attendance by their children and to ensure that they are prepared to participate and learn. Parents are expected to show an enthusiastic and supportive attitude toward school and education and recognize that they and the school are jointly responsible for their children’s education. In addition, parents are expected to teach their children self-respect, respect for the law, respect for others as well as respect for public property. It is their responsibility to ensure that their children are aware of and abide by all district policies, rules and regulations. Parents are expected to follow a process for effective communication with school, which includes first addressing any concerns with the individual teacher involved and then his/her immediate supervisor before involving any other parties. Parents should also be aware that they are responsible for any financial obligations incurred by their children in school. This includes lost books, damage to property, etc.


Bear in mind that the union contract specifies that middle & high school teachers do not have parent-teacher conferences. Teachers can be emailed, but many fail to answer or even acknowledge email.

So...we are to "follow a process of effective communication with [the] school" which involves respecting a chain of command to which we do not belong and without any entitlement to a response.

This comes from the school board, our elected representatives.

Catherine Johnson said...

ditto this one:

Last year when our daughter was in fifth grade my husband and I decided to let her take the lead on her schoolwork. We didn’t ask her as much about homework or require that we check it over each night before she handed it in. The end result was that our daughter learned more about how to study on her own and manage her time. A great lesson in responsibility we thought. Unfortunately some of her grades went down so when she entered the local junior high the next year she was ineligible for honors classes. Now we have to check everything every night for fear she will miss out on challenging opportunities. Believe me, we don’t want to be this involved. We don’t care if she gets A’s all the time, we care that she’s learning. Unfortunately the system makes it impossible for her and us to take risks. Many of us have great respect for teachers and don’t want to be helicopter parents but the current environment with all its pressures on testing and high grades leaves us no choice.

This happens over and over again around here.

A parent decides that he is going to have his child handle his own schoolwork and pulls back.

Then the whole thing unravels and the child enters 8th grade NOT KNOWING HOW TO DO FRACTIONS.

Catherine Johnson said...

If parents get to choose schools, they're more likely to find one that fits with their own educational preferences. Also, my idea school choice also applies to teachers, and they could more easily quit and move on to another school if they feel the administration isn't supporting them enough.

Absolutely.

I would go further, though. Awhile back Ben Calvin told me that what I wanted sounded like a community college for K-12.

I think that's right.

I don't know that it would work for everyone - or even for the majority of folks.

But for many of us, it would. You would still have "school campuses," sports teams, etc....but you'd choose which courses your child was going to take and which teachers your child would have.

Actually, I'd bring choice down to a far more "micro" level: I'd have parents choose their kids' teachers and I've give teachers a veto.

Our school, by the way, does have a veto option for parents and teachers both (assuming the current superintendent hasn't done away with it).

A parent who had trouble with a teacher does not have to have any of his or her other children placed in that teacher's class -- and the same goes for the teacher.

At least, that's the way it was explained to me by an assistant principal a few years back at a school gathering.

Catherine Johnson said...

One way I see things evolving in the future, potentially, is the creation of informal "schools" brought together by homeschoolers needing to hire independent teachers.

I can imagine, say, an agency handling teachers -- teachers as opposed to tutors.

I can also see this function evolving into some kind of campus setting...

Anonymous said...

"One way I see things evolving in the future, potentially, is the creation of informal 'schools' brought together by homeschoolers needing to hire independent teachers."

I think we are already seeing this at the Junior College level. I expect it to grow a lot in the next decade.

I know that I'm planning on outsourcing some of my homeschooling once my child gets old enough.

-Mark Roulo

Pissed Off said...

I've been teaching for over 30 years and have only had a problem with a parent once (and event that was not too bad). I guess I have been lucky.

I know that I am passing kids that will need remedial work in college but it is not the fault of the teachers. The Math A regents lets kids pass with 35 out of 85 points (give or take a few points). The course work makes no sense. Things are taught out of sequence and administrators only care about passing rates, not knowledge. Kids go to summer school and night school and get passed for showing up. I am afraid that the new Algebra curriculum will be no better.

PaulaV said...

"you'd choose which courses your child was going to take and which teachers your child would have."

I like the idea of deciding which courses my children would take and who would teach them.

Currently, parents at our school are encouraged to let the principal know what qualities we would like to see in our children's teachers. However, teachers have the right to reject students with qualties they feel are undesirable or unteachable. This includes the reluctant learners, the unmotivated, special ed., LD, ESL, etc.

With this prevailing attitude and the "kids must take responsiblity for their own learning" meme, is it any wonder why parents feel the need to hover?

Catherine Johnson said...

I know that I am passing kids that will need remedial work in college but it is not the fault of the teachers.

Oh absolutely.

It's a nightmare all around for anyone who's paying attention.

btw, Steve, if you're around - I think situations like these are what Peterson is referring to. "Accountability" meant established state standards, etc.....and what that results in is teachers being forced to pass kids who aren't prepared for the next level while parents are led to believe that they are.

Peterson is talking about "accountability" as it exists in the real world (so to speak).

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's significant that "pissed off" has had only one angry parent to deal with in a fairly long career.

That's what I would have predicted, from the outside looking in.

We have some extremely strained relations between parents & teachers here...but the teachers who are the focus of parent unhappiness are a small group.

Teachers have reputations amongst students and parents. Lately I've been trying to figure out whether I've ever been led astray by a teacher's reputation, either good or bad.

I'm pretty sure I haven't. When parents universally think a teacher is excellent, that teacher is excellent, that teacher is excellent. I think that may be a lock.

Same goes for teachers parents universally say are ineffective.

I've also not infrequently had good relationships with teachers or administrators other parents weren't keen on. Not sure why. Some of it is that C. is an easy-going kid and doesn't get hammered a lot, so my protective instincts don't get activated. The rest of it is that I like strong personalities. So an administrator or teacher who rubs other parents the wrong way may be fine for me.

Years ago, when Ed was working on the CA history-social science project he was routinely told that about 15% of all teachers were spectacular and 15% were awful -- awful meaning everyone wanted them out.

When I say "everyone" I mean their administrators and colleagues (PISSED OFF --- THIS IS ASSUMING DECENT ADMINISTRATORS!)

the bell curve rules, I guess

Catherine Johnson said...

that was long-winded

what I was trying to say was that my guess -- and my own experience -- are that good teachers don't catch a lot of flak from parents

Catherine Johnson said...

pissed off teacher's comment stays with me..... I'm just hearing too much of this from teachers

I'm really beginning to feel that the entire accountability "apparatus" or mechanism or whatever you want to call it is such a mess we'd be better off without it

It's a strange thing for me to say; I've always felt that as bad as it is it's better than nothing

it's really the teacher blogs & my sister's experience subbing that are turning me against it --- added to the fact that New York state Accountability seems to be undermining our efforts to improve the situation around here

Catherine Johnson said...

Mark - I've got to get in touch with the playwright I was told about over in Riverdale who homeschools both her kids. She apparently is part of a network of Westchester homeschoolers. My agent told me she knows a great physics teacher!

SteveH said...

"One way I see things evolving in the future, potentially, is the creation of informal "schools" brought together by homeschoolers needing to hire independent teachers."

If the money followed the child, many more local schools would pop up. Some would evolve from home schoolers, and some would evolve from groups of willing parents. After a period of rapid growth and change, I would expect a certain amount of consolidation so that buildings could be bought and economies of scale could be achieved.

I've talked with other parents about doing what amounts to a collective homeschool (even without money from the town or state). Each parent would contribute money, teaching, and/or effort in some way or other. When I talk with other parents about this idea, you can see the wheels turning. Some of them are sending their kids to private K-8 schools costing $15,000 - $20,000 and the schools expect more money and effort from them.

Just imagine if the KTM parents lived near each other. Imagine 10 kids (for example), a budget of $150,000 per year, and complete control over the curriculum. You could probably finish all of the direct instruction by noon. Homework would be completed after lunch. Imagine the possibilities. Invest in a small bus. Think of the field trips.

SteveH said...

"I'm really beginning to feel that the entire accountability 'apparatus' or mechanism or whatever you want to call it is such a mess we'd be better off without it."

There are different types of accountability. Some states use "high stakes" where the penalty is imposed on the kids. (I think that's a horrible idea.) Our state sets penalties only for schools whose results are really, really bad. I don't call that accountability, but that's NCLB.

You have to have choice, but you also have to have some sort of testing (although some of the NCLB tests are horrible) All schools should be forced to give some sort of standardized test. (like the ERB) Perhaps each school can select one from a group of tests. These results could be published on each school's website. Parents might disregard the results, but there has to be some sort of published testing.

Accountability is not the problem. It's like killing the messenger.

Public schools will never, ever trade accountability for choice.

SusanJ said...

There is an earlier post titled "The future of education" that points out the growing diversity of the child population. An increase in school choice could likely exacerbate polarization in this country. I don't know the answer to this issue but it is something to keep in mind.

Doug Sundseth said...

"Teachers have reputations amongst students and parents. Lately I've been trying to figure out whether I've ever been led astray by a teacher's reputation, either good or bad.

"I'm pretty sure I haven't. When parents universally think a teacher is excellent, that teacher is excellent, that teacher is excellent. I think that may be a lock.

"Same goes for teachers parents universally say are ineffective."

It's too bad there's no way to tell which teachers are worth paying more, isn't it?

SteveH said...

"An increase in school choice could likely exacerbate polarization in this country."

I keep trying to find reasons why school choice won't work. I should change that to won't work as well as what we have now. That's the big difference. Some of those who argue against choice expect guarantees.

As for polarization, I don't know. I can't imagine that rules would allow choice schools to discriminate. Most charter schools operate by lottery. They can't pick and choose.

Catherine Johnson said...

Accountability is not the problem.

That's what I always thought, but I'm beginning to feel that's wrong.

btw, when I say "accountability" I mean "bad accountability."

I'm starting to think that bad accountability is worse than no accountability at all in my own case.

As I say, I'm not sure about this, but if I had to place a bet at this point I would freeze in place and scream silently...

Catherine Johnson said...

It's too bad there's no way to tell which teachers are worth paying more, isn't it?

hee hee

One of my lines is that we already have merit pay in Irvington in the form of parents hiring tutors.

That's why I figured C's math teacher would be good. He's the main guy getting hired to tutor math.

I said this once to the teacher & to the principal and the principal laughed.

It wasn't a "No, you're wrong" kind of laugh, either.