This week marks the beginning of my summer break (which is about three weeks before summer school commences). People are quick to comment on how nice it must be not to work three months out of the year. To which I reply, “Yes, it is. And you should be glad we don’t, or the state of education would not be a crisis–it would be a full-scale apocalyptic meltdown.”
Take me, for example. I started the year in a division with five full-time English faculty. Even with those numbers, we all had about 130 students. (Load is 80 students, meaning that the state believes that is the number of students a community college teacher should work with.) Although 130 is a significant amount over load, I am used to it by now and can function with those numbers. Fast forward to spring semester.
Our online dual credit program added 82 students. Taught by another professor in the fall, their second semester of college English fell to me. At the same time, the enrollment limit of my Comp I class kept being stretched; a class that should have closed at 30 eventually closed at 43. I started the semester with 220 students. Then in February our dean, also an English teacher, left for personal reasons. Her classes were distributed between myself and an adjunct, bringing my totals to 246. That’s roughly three times the accepted limit.
Meanwhile, my mentor (another English teacher), announced her retirement at the end of the semester and another instructor decided to transfer to another campus. For those playing the home game, that means a department that started the year with five would end with two. Due to the state budget cuts, it was decided we would only replace two of those vacant positions. Then the state sent another round of cuts. My mentor visited me in my office to tell me administration wanted to replace only one English teacher, of the three leaving.
I shook my head and buried it in my hands. Then I actually started laughing like a character from Arkham. She just smiled knowingly. Finally I said, “I can’t do another semester like this one. Well, I can, but they are going to make me into a bad teacher.”
I meant it, too. This past semester was so exhausting. The grading never stopped, in part because much of the time I would have spent grading was spent replying to student emails. Some of the emails were valid questions; the majority of them were things that the students could have figured out on their own but were just too lazy. (My favorite was a student who didn’t want to bother to open the extra credit word file and just emailed me wanting to know what the file said.) By the end of the semester I tossed my traditional essay and short answer tests in favor of scan tron tests and one of the essays for Comp became a revision instead of an analysis.
The issues wasn’t just time–I was emotionally drained. Those dual credit students proved exceptionally needy, unable to do simple things like work in a group without emailing me multiple times to tell me that they “didn’t like each other.” Plagiarism rates were the highest I have experienced since I began teaching. The on campus class I inherited from my departing dean was filled with students who would not bring their books, no matter what I said or did. Instead of my traditional discussions, I spent frustrating classes spoon-feeding the material while they took no notes and did no readings. And apparently there is some sort of plague in Texas because during the last two weeks of the semester I had six deaths my students’ friends and family members.
Certainly none of these behaviors are out of the norm, but the sheer number of students and their behaviors amplified my stress, leaving me, for lack of a better term, weary. I’m worn out by the students, the administration, and the beating that is working education. When people wonder how teachers end up as bad teachers, I think this might be worth looking in to. Too many students, too much crap, too little pay, too little help. A few more years like this one and I could see myself as a check list, regurgitation teacher. If I get to that point, I hope I still have the self-awareness to quit.
For now, I am going to take three months to read, walk, cook, write, and spend time with my family. I’ll teach three online classes, but the numbers will be much lower. When August comes, I’ll be ready to head once more into the breach, optimism and inspiration flying as my standard.