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TEACHER TRUTH



When I was in high school, I worked at several different fast food restaurants. It was a lot of grunt work and I remember my mother saying, “This job is fine for now, but if you don’t want to mop floors all your life, you need to get an education.”

 

Fast forward several years. I earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Art Education.


During my almost 30-year career as an art teacher and art education instructor, I taught hundreds and hundreds of students starting in PK/Young 5's through graduate students. I taught in public schools, of course, but also in private and charter schools, colleges and universities, art museums, and continuing education departments.


I'm telling you this to illustrate that educationally speaking, I've been around!


Heeding my mother's advice, I got an education, but damn if I'm not still mopping floors.


True story. From 2012-2017, I taught at a K-8 charter school.* I was the sole art instructor for 800 PK-8 students. In addition to teaching eight classes a day, my special area colleagues and I were required to set up the lunch tables, clean the lunchroom afterwards including wiping down all the tables and putting the tables away (they had to be folded and rolled into a separate closet). Then, we cleaned the floor.


As if all this weren't enough, special area teachers also had duties before and after school. You may be wondering when I went to the bathroom, planned my lessons, or talked to my colleagues. The answer is: I didn't.


I have SO–MANY–STORIES about inequitable, suboptimal working conditions, unscrupulous principals, unreasonable parents, and so–many–students. Many of my students had special needs in which there was little or no training or support.


Some examples:

• At an elementary school in Maine, there was no art classroom and the art supplies were stored in a locked cage the girl's bathroom.

• At a different school in Maine, I schlepped art supplies from the basement up three flights of

stairs (no elevator). Difficult with a class set of paint, or say, a 25-lb. box of clay. • At a public school in Connecticut, the principal told teachers she didn't want to see water

  bottles (or any other beverages) in our hands or on our desks. EVER.

•At a charter school** in Michigan, we were told by the principal to "flag" students with special

needs, then purposefully fail to meet their needs so they'd leave (special education services

are expensive). There was no paper trail for this "policy," meaning she knew it was wrong. It's

also illegal.

• At an elementary school in Michigan, I reached out to the principal for ideas on how best to

work with our many ASD (autism-spectrum disorder) students. She replied by shaming me,

saying I should already know how to work with this population.

• At an elementary school in Michigan, the art supply budget for our 350 or so students was

$150. That's 42¢ per student.

• Finally, my son makes more per hour delivering pizzas on the weekend than I do as a teacher


What other profession has to endure such conditions? It's no wonder there's a mass exodus. The system is broken and a signing bonus isn't going to fix it. Systemic change is the only way forward. I have ideas on how to make this happen. Lots of ideas.


*National Heritage Academies should be avoided at all costs.


**Charter schools, from my experience, are notorious for questionable ethics as well as wringing every single drop of educational energy and joy from teachers before they (teachers) finally get fed up and leave.


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