Too Much!

Sometimes, I think that “advancing the profession” is just about NOT quitting. We all have those rough weeks as teachers, but I had a doozy the week before Spring Break. Between parents, policies, and the work of the job—it’s just too much sometimes.

I take pride in building relationships with families, so trouble with those relationships really gets to me. Preschool families are often under a great amount of stress, crisis, and/or grief while coping with (often new) diagnoses for their children. I can take these things in stride, but it’s tough when they come in multiples. I’ve been enrolling a lot of new students lately, so the opportunity for problems has been elevated. On Monday, I was told that a parent asked to be transferred out of my class because she was offended when I offered a couple behavior strategies during the enrollment conference. (The child was physically attacking her during our meeting, and offering strategies/parent training is part of my job). Tuesday, a parent came to school and yelled at me because I attached a note on the outside of her child’s backpack reminding her to sign two weeks worth of papers inside the backpack (that she hadn’t been checking). Both of those issues really knocked the wind out of me. As a teacher with really good intentions and appreciation for the struggles my families go through, I felt rather misunderstood. And it was hurtful that these families chose to express their feelings in these ways. It’s true when teachers say there’s not much respect for the profession anymore.

Also Tuesday, Quality First (state assessors) showed up to evaluate our program—the big evaluation where funding for the entire regular education early childhood program was at stake. I had slept 6 hours the night before because I was up writing IEPs for kindergarten transitions…and I was sleep deprived from previous nights doing the same thing. Quality First measures all kinds of things to ensure that equipment is safe. One of the things they measure is “swings.” I assume that the category of “swings” is meant to regulate outside playground swings. However, the program evaluators chose to measure my indoor carpet swing (a flat carpeted board that is therapy equipment). Since this non-playground swing equipment did not meet their specifications, they marked my program down on their rubric. When I asked the evaluator if I could chat with a supervisor to discuss why a carpet swing is not the same thing as a playground swing, she told me that it was not possible. Honestly? It’s just too much. Also while the evaluators were there, they completely ignored my students (they mentioned at the beginning that it would be this way). It was beyond frustrating to watch my preschool autistic kids approach unfamiliar adults (a very challenging task for them), initiate communication, and be ignored. Why is our state inventing evaluation designs to “protect” kids with trained evaluators that ignore children in those classrooms? It seems crazy to me. Quality First has evaluated two programs on my campus now, both special education programs. The score on these evaluations will determine if our regular education program continues to receive funding. Because the evaluators use a “random draw” system, the regular education program that does receive funding (a totally awesome program) did not get the chance to be evaluated. Instead, they picked two non-funded special education programs and marked us down for things like carpet swings. Really.

I worked over 60 hours that week, getting ready for kindergarten transition IEP meetings. I cried multiple times that week, feeling overwhelmed by the job—the lack of respect, the hours it takes, and the policies that persecute my students and their access to a Free Appropriate Public Education with the equipment that meets their needs. I usually feel like I’m in it for the long haul in this profession, but some weeks make me second guess whether it’s worth it.

But then, there are the really good days when I remember why I do this job. By Wednesday, I had kindergarten IEP transition meetings for two kids that mean the world to me. Kindergarten transition meetings are a big deal because teachers and families craft the plan for success in kindergarten. Talking with these families, celebrating the progress, hearing their gratitude, and making plans for the future—I was back on fire for the job. I thought about how these kids had grown through early intervention programs and what it difference it made for them. And so, this week post-Spring Break, I returned to the kids that I love to do the work that brings me joy feeling slightly reassured that it’s all worth it.  Regardless of the challenges it takes to be a teacher today, giving it up is just too much to lose.

 

Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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