This PIX 11 news feature on two enthusiastic new teachers who started last year and gave up pretty much accurately describes what teaching is like in an average New York City high school in 2016.
Totally disillusioned, they both quit. They contacted PIX11 News to tell their story, provided we conceal their identities. They both spoke about having dreamed of being a teacher, getting degrees in Education and the excitement they felt before starting their jobs last fall.
What happened to their dreams? Reality got in the way. One of the teachers, who we'll call Ray, says "I was struck with an object the first day of school. I've been hit in the face. I've had objects thrown at me. I've been generally verbally and physically abused from day one."
The second teacher, we'll call her Susan, had a similar experience. "There were kids in my class that were so misbehaved and crazy, running around, screaming at me, cursing at me. The first day that I kicked them out of my class, I was told that I was not allowed to do that. They got brought back to my class and their behavior didn't change. Ray and Susan both complain of getting no support from the school Principal, Jason Wagner. "He doesn't care about teachers. He doesn't care as long as he looks good and there's nothing on paper or there's no points against him," says Susan.
Ray says none of the other administrators do anything to deal with the misbehavior because they are afraid of Principal Wagner. "He uses bullying, intimidation and harassment techniques against everyone." They both complain "there is no disciplinary action against the students whatsoever. All the burden is placed on the teachers." Susan says the teachers have no power. "You know, 20 plus staples in a cup of coffee, zero punishment. Zero punishment for the door being knocked down. I've been pushed by kids, cursed out on a weekly basis. Nothing I can do about it."
I am sure from the reports that come to ICE that these are not two isolated experiences of young teachers who just had difficulty with classroom management. This report could be repeated in many hundreds of New York City public schools. This is the state of our profession in too many schools at the current time.
New teachers as a work in progress is nothing new. The difference in New York City between now and the past is that a young instructor having problems before Michael Bloomberg became mayor could talk to senior colleagues and/or the UFT Chapter Leader who could file safety grievances and the Principal would have to answer some difficult questions. Now administration laughs at the UFT and does whatever it wants. Many senior teachers end up as Absent Teacher Reserves as mass school closings mean there are few veterans who know the ropes in most newer schools so there is no place for newbies to turn to for help.
The Union in the past was a very good check on principal unfettered power in a very complex system. It no longer is so students and teachers are often placed in serious danger. The lax standards in too many schools apply to academics as well as safety according to reports coming in here.
The situation is awful in a plethora of schools. I disagree with some of the people who comment here who think it is hopeless. I still feel we can build a union again from the ground up that will be the force it once was. Empowering teachers is a necessary, if next to impossible, task that must be completed if the schools are to be saved.