Friday, May 23, 2014

Should I Bail?

I got into education when my son was a year old, in part because I thought it would help make me a better dad (it did, as much as being a dad made me a better teacher).  And to be honest, it was very useful and helpful at some points along the way for me to be a teacher, because it probably doesn't come as a surprise to readers of this blog that sometimes, schools try to BS parents.  It happens.

So now that my son is graduating, I have a reason to question whether I want to continue in this job.  Prior to teaching I'd never held a job for more than a couple years; even in the three years I spent in the army I held several different positions.  Now I've been in the same classroom for 11 years.  It's something I consider.

It's not that I don't like teaching, I do.  It's just that I'm kind of bored with it.  And no, changing what I teach or changing to Common Core standards isn't the kind of change I need.  I need change.  It doesn't have to be immediate--again, I don't hate what I'm doing--but I don't want to spend the next 13-15 years doing exactly the same thing.  I don't know what; if I did, I'd go do it.  But before too long something needs to change.

And with stories like this one impossible to ignore, should that be an impetus?
California discovered a $2.4 billion budget surplus from what it projected in January, but that money won’t be going to any new, exciting program. It won’t support the state’s transition to new academic standards. It won’t be going to expand kindergarten or offer pre-k to 4-year-olds. Governor Jerry Brown has other plans. He wants the money to go toward paying down the state’s debt, especially the $74 billion unfunded liability from the state’s teacher pension plan (CalSTRS).

To be clear, this is undoubtedly the right move for California. Governor Brown deserves credit for recognizing the problem and resisting calls for new spending when the state has such significant debts. Brown’s pension funding proposal is merely a plan at this point, and politicians don’t have a strong track record of fulfilling their pension promises. If Brown, future governors, or the state legislature aren’t able to stick to a long-term funding plan, the problems will only get worse.

The current debt, and the plan to pay it down, are simply staggering. In order to pay off the full debt over 30 years, Brown’s plan calls for increasing contribution rates across the board. Over a 7-year period, teacher contributions to the fund would rise from 8 to 10.25 percent of their salary. School district contributions would have to rise from 8.25 to 19.1 percent, and the state itself would contribute 8.8 percent, up from the current 5.5 percent. By 2021, nearly 40% of California teachers’ total compensation will go toward paying down the pension plan’s liabilities.


pseudotsuga said...

That's a tough question, Darren. Perhaps the answer lies in what exactly you want changed.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Can't tell you what you ought to do but I can give you a pretty good idea of what's in store for California and the CTA, and by inference, you.

The first is that Brown's intentions are based on essentially no financial changes for the foreseeable future - no raises, no pension bumps, no nothing. Any increase revises the requirements on the state upward and as Brown's already admitted, and anyone with a lick of sense knows, the situation's untenable as it is.

Since all a union has to offer is more, a "foreseeable future" freeze on wages/benefits sort of obviates the need for a union. The prospect of a raise-less future will be a, you should pardon the expression, red flag to the more radical elements of the CTA. So they'll be gunning for a union leadership that's got nothing to offer the membership.

Whether those radicals win or not will largely determine how quickly radical change will have to the California public education scene.

A state-wide strike will shatter union power resulting in California dealing with the situation more quickly and if the radicals are turned back the descent of the public education system will be more gradual.

In either case the single largest element of public education that can be done away with are all the non-teaching professionals that currently make up a significant part of education expenditure. That approach will, by then, be rationalized by the realization that it's only district-based schools that are burdened by administrative and non-teaching bloat. Charters, always held to a smaller budget then district schools will be the example used to justify law that trims head count.

With union and school district political power on the rocks the lefties who reflexively support both won't have much to support and moves to make district schools more independent, de facto charterization, will become inevitable. That move will be abetted by the natural desire of principals to be more in command of the school they run and parental desire to exert more influence over the education of their children.

That thumbnail prediction is, however, very incomplete. While all the politicking is going on technology's not going to be standing still and I very much doubt it'll aid in the maintenance of the public education status quo. Quite the opposite is more likely.

So the future's going to be interesting in education and while there'll be plenty of suffering among the currently-comfortable the fleet of foot and the capable will have plenty of opportunities in that tumultuous future.

PeggyU said...

Run for a political office maybe? :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Darren,

> It's not that I don't like teaching, I do. It's just that I'm kind of bored with it.

I've been there. Multiple times :-)

I can tell you what *I* do when I get there. Maybe this will help you
figure out what you should do.

So ...

1) First I wait a few months to see if the boredom goes away. Especially during
winter. My guess is that you have already done this.

2) Next, I look around to see if/what I can do to make me unbored without changing
jobs. I suspect that I have more options than you do here. I program computers
for a fairly large (~5,000 employees) company. Often I can spend some time
exploring a new technology. Sometimes my day-to-day activities can change (a
bit less programming, a bit more other stuff).

My guess is that you have a lot fewer options here unless you (shudder!) want to
go into administration.

3) So ... next step is to update my resume and start looking to see what is available.
Sometimes it becomes clear that there aren't a lot of good jobs out there (the
Bay Area right after the dot-com bust was a poor time to be looking for a job).
But ... you haven't quit yet, so this isn't a disaster. You may find that your job
becomes less boring if/when you realize that having a job is something you've been
under appreciating. I've found this myself! The job hunt plus finding nothing
actually made my current job seem much better. And if this happens, you can always
keep looking, or put the job hunt on hold and then try again in a year or so.

But maybe you get some interviews. These can go two ways. You may not get any offers,
and, in my case, maybe this causes you to like/appreciate your job better. You've still
won! Or, you get an offer and now you have a choice. Even if you turn down the offer
(I've done this), you'll feel more in control of your own life. Obviously your job
isn't *so* boring if you actively choose to keep it. Or you might accept the new job
and then you aren't bored any more!

In short: looking for a new job while keeping your current one (and not burning bridges)
has worked out well for me in the past, even when it didn't result in a new job. My
morale at my current job went up, and that's a good outcome too.

Good luck!

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

Facebook owns Blogger now. I'd give that comment a "like".

Darren said...

Allen, I've thought for years that I'd like to run either a synchronous or an asynchronous distance learning program. I'd still get to do what I enjoy doing, and what I'm pretty good at, but I'd be free from the bells and many of the unpleasant parts of the schoolroom teaching experience.

My next idea is to finish my master's degree and try to get into an exchange program.

maxutils said...

You're a good teacher. I found that every year's students were a completely new experience, and I knew every day of class would be a new experience ... but if you're bored, you're bored. My one caveat ... you went for the Masters (and a legit MA, not those BS education ones) to make more money ... why not give that a shot?

allen (in Michigan) said...

One of the rarely mentioned advantages of distance learning, and why it's generated so much excitement, is that it's such a breeze to scratch your own creative itch.

Downloading and installing Moodle's a snap and then you just do it; build the lessons your particular insights and skills demand and then, if you're so moved, make them available on the internet.

Sal Kahn didn't do anything more then that and his lessons, valuable if for no other reason then the brevity enforced by Youtube's old restrictions, don't particularly address the list of common misconceptions, sources of confusion and inherently difficult topics every teacher amasses and the good ones find ways to address. Given that the "mage on the stage" model would be treated with bored recognition by Socrates there's a lot of room for improvement. A lot.

Ellen K said...

A long time ago I saw a sign in front of a church asking "Are you closer to God? If not, who moved?" In this case I think education has attempted to become a slick operation that can program even the most disabled students into productive adults. At the same time the education establishment wants to impart liberal ideas of all kinds as a type of massive social experiment. We spend far too much time serving social needs rather than teaching. And yes, that includes the destructive action of simply dropping severely disabled students into regular ed classrooms based on a feel good philosophy that has nothing to do with grade outcomes and everything to do with placating their parents. I am too close to retirement to leave, but if I could afford it, I would go. We are seeing many of our most talented teachers take early retirement rather than dealing with the nonsensical distraction chambers our classrooms have become, thanks in no small way to superintendents that make sweeping mandates for technology over using money more wisely to cut down class sizes. I personally believe every administrator should be required by law to sub two weeks at each level .