‘I Was a Bad Teacher’: Five Months In a Corporate School Reform Nightmare

“Run away! Really, run away now.” This is not the kind of encouragement anyone wants to hear right before a job interview. But this is exactly what was whispered to teacher candidate John Owens at the South Bronx high school where he was applying. Owens brushed off the warning from the veteran teacher and the negative comments about the school he read online. Owens, who was leaving a lucrative position in the publishing industry, was determined to make a permanent career change and become a full-time educator.

Owens was hired as English/language arts teacher at a new, small (350 students) public high school in the fall of 2010. A mere five months later, he received the dreaded “U” from the principal – “unsatisfactory. “And just like that, Owens had joined the national ranks of “Bad Teachers.” Was it his students? Not really. Yes, they were disorderly, to say the least, and some were impossible to reach. Nonetheless, Owens believed that he would survive and even thrive in the classroom if given the time and necessary support. But that never materialized. He also wasn’t prepared for a principal who scapegoated her teaching staff, not to mention the gobs of paperwork and data that devoured so much of his time.

Owens’ teaching career lasted all of five months, but now he is telling his story and taking an urgent message to the public in a provocative and compelling new book, Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education. Recently, Owens spoke to NEA Today about his experiences and the so-called “reforms” that have degraded public education.

Five months into your teaching career, the principal gave you a “U” for unsatisfactory. What made you a ‘bad teacher’?

I was a bad teacher because the kids in my class were too noisy. Even if they were learning, but making a bit too much noise, I got in trouble. I was told that the school was a “cathedral of learning,” so this was not acceptable. I was a bad teacher because, I admit it, I had difficulty keeping up with the data. My background is in the private sector and I am used to dealing with a lot of numbers, including million dollar budgets. None of that prepared me for the volume of data and spreadsheets that I have to deal with at my school. It was unbelievable. This is not what teaching is supposed to be about.

Why do you think the term “bad teacher” became such an accepted term in the education debate. It’s hard to have a conversation about schools with anyone without that expression being front and center.

It’s culturally acceptable to beat up on teachers. Nobody thinks twice about it, right? “Bad teachers” are blamed for everything. You have these very prominent, savvy people – Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates – who have the attention of the media and they spout this nonsense about bad teachers.

Some of what they say makes sense, at least on a superficial level. It makes sense that small schools can work, it makes sense that a strong leader is required, it makes sense that you track data. It all sounds like common sense and so the public buys it. I believed a lot of this before I became a teacher. Of course, once you enter the classroom, you realize what the real problems are. But this is a sound-bite country. We look for sound-bite answers. “Let’s just get rid of all the bad teachers” is a sound bite – and an extremely destructive one.

There does seem to be a fixation in the U.S. about running everything like a business, isn’t there?

Yes, and the problem is that these reformers are distorting the business practices they think will work in the schools. I saw what business is really like. Yes, it can be full of jerks and crazy people, but not like anything like I saw in my school. The administration took the notion of management and accountability to absurd lengths. They would basically say, ‘Here’s this great thing that you can do’ but then not give you the tools to implement it. So, yes, by all means set goals, but how am I going to achieve these goals? The answer would be “Well, if you were a good teacher, you would know how to achieve these goals.” So they threw me into the classroom where a quarter of the kids are serious disciplinary cases and I need help, I need training. But no, I was immediately accountable for this. So they push these things too far. They push the notion of data way too far. The reality is our schools are not a business.

Obviously you knew the kids were going to be challenging, so what did you expect from the administration?

First of all, I thought the administration would be glad that I was there. They weren’t. I expected them to help me and not penalize me when the students made noise. I expected we were all going to be on the same team trying to do the same good. Again, a good business doesn’t treat new employees as if they are about to fail. That’s what my school did. You have to understand – people don’t teach at that school because of the neighborhood or that the kids are hard to handle. It’s primarily because the school blames the teachers. They get pushed out and it’s impossible to get evaluated fairly.

Do you believe that no real progress in education– or at least progress in the public dialogue – can be achieved until everyone recognizes that poverty is a huge drag on student learning?

Absolutely. School reformers don’t want to see it as a problem. What they want people to think is that academic success is totally a classroom issue. What happens during that 46 minutes every day is what determines if they succeed or fail academically. Of course, that’s not true at all. There are all these other factors. I had a kid who was homeless. He and his mother were going shelter to shelter. But we’ve had wars on poverty and we haven’t won. So now we’re having a war on education,I guess.

You were only in the classroom five months, but do you think you were able to accomplish anything?

I don’t want to sentimentalize my time there and say that I taught them lessons they will never forget. I really don’t know. But I do know that I got them to the point where they enjoyed reading and writing. I tried to engage my students by assigning them work that got them thinking about music, culture, what they like, what they don’t like. To see them actually get into writing  – actually enjoying it -was thrilling.

What would you say to a teacher who may be on the verge of leaving the profession, frustrated at how these policies have taken their toll on the profession and students?

I think we are going to have change soon.  I really believe that. I think the public is beginning to see through all the nonsense about the data and the testing. I think the opportunity for teachers and other education activists is to really express clearly what we really want to do for the kids. When teachers speak out, the public often takes it as a demand for more money or more this and more that. The teachers I worked with wanted what was best for the students. They wanted more time to work with them. They wanted more training and smaller classes. They want their students to achieve. That’s the reality. So if teachers keep hammering that message, the public will listen and turn away from these corporate reformers. We’re getting close, so don’t despair. I would still be in the classroom if they wanted to keep me.

  • Jason

    Luckily, This is not my experience, but I am appalled that so many teachers are out through this.

  • Phyllis Boros

    When I started teaching (1966) the school wasn’t responsible for everything in the child’s life; now we are asked to fix everything. You can’t treat a school as a factory when you don’t control the raw materials, the equipment, and the procedures. With business people trying to impose their methods on a school system, failure is not a surprise. Additionally, we no longer get the best and brightest since most other professions are paid much more than teachers. (My daughter’s starting salary was equal to my salary at retirement (I earned a BA and a MS in a science, and have no education degrees. I taught because I wanted to, not because I had to.)
    I am not surprised at the firing. The feces flows downhill.

  • Mike of the Bayou

    Nurses are not blamed for the type of injuries their patients have.
    Police officers are not blamed for the type of crime offenders did.
    Why should teachers be blamed for the difference between kids?
    Mike from the Bayou.

  • George

    I’ve seen this happen in my building. Several good teachers here have been railroaded because of children with the idea that they can do and say whatever they want, whenever they want in a classroom.

  • Sue Anne Whitener

    I have been saying forever that schools cannot be run like a business….yet that’s what so many are doing. And I think school boards are just as much a part of this problem as school administrators. A group of people who most of the time have never been in a classroom (or have forgotten what it is like) make decisions in a business format. I am so glad that the author is putting this out there….thanks!!!!!! (Oh, yes, and what other profession makes their workers stay on probation for 3 – 5 years when they start a job??? – just asking.)

  • M Dwyer

    This guy was a MONEY-MAKER IN PUBLISHING and now he’s telling the story of why he couldn’t make it as a teacher?! And every problem is SOMEBODY ELSE’S FAULT?! This is so SERIOUSLY LACKING IN CREDIBILIY as to be obscene.

  • Susan Dewey

    I have so many things to say about this! But here are two important ones:

    What he says is true. I have been chastised by my administration for having an unruly classroom. In my case it was a free-ranging discussion on some point made in an article we were reading. Another time I was “arguing” with a student when I was observed explaining why, yes, we were going to do this activity and why, no, the activity was not stupid because they were going to learn …. Apparently arguing with students in a convincing way (one of the CCSS, by the way) is not done and shows lack of authority. And I even had the improved scores to show that I was being effective in my classroom.

    The public feels free to castigate teachers, because it is the one profession in this country that everyone has multiple years of experience with. Nearly everyone has been in school (or been schooled) until they were 16 or 17 years old. Doctors, lawyers, used car salesmen — those are all people we brush up against from time to time, but we have spent hours each week, for months at a time, with teachers. Not everyone is even a parent or an employee, or a boss, but we all have worked with teachers. If we were rambunctious students, we know what they could have done (and didn’t for whatever reason) to keep us in line. Although what that seriously could be in today’s world, with no meaningful punishment at our hands is bewildering.

    So with the paperwork to defend your job (no – everyone can’t score above the 50th percentile, are you stupid?), with the combative nature of the work environment holding students, parents, administration, and government at bay, being on the public weal (Bill Gates was privileged to say “My company, shut up, go away for much of his career) I am not surprised that teachers are walking away in despair. I know I did after 14 years of fighting the good fight.

  • j nich

    This guy taught for 5 months? That isn’t enough time to learn classroom management OR to speak with authority on education. He was forced out? Or did he refuse to attempt to quiet the kiddies down, and decide the principal was forcing him out? He still wants to teach? If that were true, he could find another job. But I think he got what he went into education for- material for this book. Why is NEA giving him a forum? The issues raised are legitimate, but this guy has no cred.

  • D Engle

    I taught for 6 years, well 5 1/2 years, I was forced out as well. I was doing everything the administration asked of me and a whole lot more. But the previous principal was booted (oops, sorry promoted, seriously!) and the new principal didn’t see what she wanted to see no matter how much effort and work I put into my daily lessons. They asked me to leave or go through the hassle of a hearing. I chose to leave because she had data that showed that I was not a good teacher. When the test scores came back, my students improved and our school made two of three learning goals it sought to achieve this past year. Leaving my students was very difficult and now I was unable to get a job in teaching anywhere in the county or surrounding cities. The system is broken!

  • Bill Younglove

    Thanks, John (and Sue, too, for hitting the nail on the head). Simply put, people in charge of education today (or are very influential therein) are too often those who have never taught a single day in their lives. If they had experienced the ongoing reality of facing students (at secondary, often 150-200+) each day, they would never make many of the statements, or claims, they do. How can we all help to bring such baptism about?

  • Randy LaFontaine

    I too was a “bad” teacher although I used everything that I learned in school, life and from other teacher mentors(at other schools). It was my first full time job (after going back to grad school for a K-6 cert.) after substituting (long term and daily) for 7 years. I know the kids liked me, I know the parents liked me and am still trying to figure out what I did wrong. I walked into a room with no technology, not even an overhead projector! The files were full of yellowed worksheets from the 80’s and were not even for the grade I was teaching. There were silverfish in them! I am a creative person, I gave this job more than 100%, stayed late, came early, took three required additional grad courses and aced all of them,( I hold a 3.98 GPA- I did all this after my husband died and was raising three teenagers!) worked at the after school program and still, in March, was told that I had a choice, to resign or to be “terminated” with a poor rating because I did not meet the standards of the school district. Maybe I was lucky, since it was “my choice” but I haven’t been able to get a job since then. It’s not easy to explain why I left a job I loved. Yes, I’m older and less experienced than those who are my age, but I have years of experience in the world with children, retail, contracting and practical life problems. The worst part of this whole experience was the fact that the principal announced over the intercom, on the day that I was being observed by my entire grad class, including the person who got my job, that I was leaving and how happy they were to have so and so to replace me! I had to maintain a cool demeanor while teaching a class, while I was shaking inside. The principal was the most insensitive person I have ever met and there was nothing I could do. I look forward to reading your book Mr. Owens. The union could do nothing for me as I had the two “required” observations by the principal. Both those being bogus and fake. Yes, I was observed but the written up report was not what was happening in the room. No, I had no mentor, there was nobody to support me and I had a “quiet” classroom except for one child who had transferred from another school who started to stab people, so they had to take him away. My students blossomed (I saved many copied pieces of their writing) and cried when I told them that they would not see me again at their school. The parents were very sad also. So, I have to say, I agree that something is wrong with schools. I still substitute, but I can’t get a job, I have been blacklisted by this district. I believe that schools are NOT looking for creative people, but cookie cutter types who will not cause waves. I see so many teachers who do not teach as I was taught, and it disturbs me. I have no confidence in the school system nor the way that the government is trying to fix our schools. The administration gets paid way too much. There is no solution that I can see. Thank you for being brave enough to write your book.

  • John Smith

    One day the top administrator came into my classroom to read to the kids. He struggled through Dr. Seuss, stumbling on easy words and reading with no expression. This man earns 3 times what I do. I was sickened.

  • Tom J

    I do not wish to blindly defend the Mr. Owens; I have only the interview at this point as a reference. Still, a few comments have been ad hominems and not substantive arguments. These sentiments fall back into the laziness of dismissing the author as a “bad teacher” (or even worse a “bad human”) when they point toward his short time teaching. If his aim is to tell people that something is wrong here, we should listen instead of begrudging him. If he attempts to present a map to complete reform, that is another matter. However, graduating from a firefighter academy is not required to identify and warn people of a fire.

  • Tom J

    I do not wish to blindly defend Mr. Owens; I have only the interview at this point as a reference. Still, a few comments have been ad hominems and not substantive arguments. These sentiments fall back into the laziness of dismissing him as a “bad teacher” (or even worse a “bad human”) when they point toward his short time teaching. If Mr. Owens’ aim is to tell people that something is wrong, we should listen instead of begrudging him. If he attempts to present a map to complete reform, that is another matter. However, graduating from a firefighter academy is not required to identify and warn people of a fire.

  • AKschoolRN

    I understand Mr Owens’ frustration, but sometimes there really are BAD teachers. My son’s 5th grade teacher was the perfect example. She was verbally, and at times physically, abusive of students, often in front of parents! She kept my son after school, outside, behind the stair-well, where no one could see them, for 30 minutes! She was chewing him out because she had received one too many emails from his parents. And it’s not like she ever answered the emails we sent, or the phone messages we left. If we asked a question about homework (which, by the way is in another language) her answer would either be, “Johnny knows what to do” or “have Johnny come talk to me.” We are not the only parents who have had issues with this teacher; when people hear that she is my child’s teacher, they frequently roll their eyes and say, “good luck. Just make it through the year.” Our son learned nothing in 5th grade, and has had to be privately tutored to catch up. A group of families tried to get this woman fired, but she is protected by tenure. And the school’s answer to the problem? Move her to kindergarten! Now she has all of those 5 & 6 year olds to abuse, and who’s going to stop her?

  • Linda Johnson

    I have no way of knowing whether John was a “bad” teacher or not, but I am thrilled that he has written this book and (hopefully) embarrassed the people who failed to help him.

    Teachers are being treated this way because of the economy. When the economy was good, teachers were difficult to find and so they were treated fairly well once hired. Now, there is such a surplus that employers push teachers around with impunity, knowing that they can replace them easily.

    Well, has anyone noticed that the baby boomers are retiring in droves and there are no more captive women to take their places? I predict a huge shortage within the next ten years and I hope I live to see it. Teachers do not have to put up with this treatment and I predict they will not.

  • Marcia M

    Yes, it is not easy when you are good at your job and someone says you are not good enough. I will find different ways to teach. There are many ways to teach but it may not be back in the classroom so you may have to take a different direction. It hurts

  • Anete M

    I got the dreaded U in my fourth year after a set up situation. My situation was similar to Randys post.. I was given an “experimental” class of all 1st grade handicapped kids with the mentality of 1 to 2 year olds. now granted I already had 15 years of experience with this population. the next step was moving the teacher next door who taught the 4 5 and 6 graders like mine across the campus and putting the art teacher next to me which pulled any support I had. then I wasn’t given subs for my assistants.. suspect principal told secretary to not put them in system, so I worked short handed. first evalation was a failure, was told I didn’t follow plans which was bs..I finally got reliable aide only to find her terminated at the beginning of winter break. I came back after break to find out my other permanent aide had been transferred to another school. I started the new year with NO aides, had to pull aides from other classes which didn’t help the situation any, how I found out. aide didn’t show up.. was not told I wouldn’t have an aide until I was getting kids off buses that morning.

    this went on and one, second evaluation same thing I asked for a third..principal walked into classroom, I had kids ready for adapted pe which was the normal event,, she kicked the pe teacher out and told me to teach a lesson,, IHAD NONE PLANNED for that time as it was PE time.. ii winged it but was dinged for not being ready and not having materials out. that got the 3rd U that resulted in a nonrelect. By that time I saw the handwriting on the wall and was finally relieved to have a resolution. I was so stressed I had to use up 3 months of sick time over the spring semester just to get though.

    The whole situation was a set up to get rid of me because I was actually teaching the kids.. and people in the system got jealous.
    I took a year off, moved outta state, I am unable here with 15 years as a para and 4 as a teacher, highly trained in sp ed to even get an interview for a para job. I work as a sub ta. because of a vindictive administrator.

    It took me a year to even go back in a classroom as a sub TA..I have PTSD from that year. I cope but I have no desire to go back into that war. Ive been in classrooms here that the teachers are so stressed out they take it out on the kids and the paras.. sad, how can one teach when it is a battle zone. Part of the issue is that principals have total control over a teachers job.. in my case I was an intern and interns in some states have NO job protection, union is pretty much helpless. A administrator can fire a intern and have to give no cause. I stuck my situation out to get unemployment but I paid the price mentally.

    And we wonder why the school system is such a mess.

  • TSBlechner

    This is ridiculous. What person that has a job for only five months can be taken seriously about being an expert about that job, let alone write a book about declaring the so-called “truth” about the state of that industry. Anybody can talk to a disenchanted teacher and come away with a picture of how things are. Give me a break.

  • Analog61

    This story is familiar. I did a career switch from engineering to teaching, high school/middle school math. One week into the first full time job, I wondered how I was going to get through an entire year of that. It was the classroom management thing. A month in, and I was on Cymbalta just to get through each day. Finished one year, and was moved involuntarily to the middle school. Felt from day 1 that the admin really didn’t want me there, and I basically had to create my class roster and curriculum on my own ( it was pullout intervention, no grade for the students). The admin was desperate to show improvement. My observations were these scripted things that would have made sense in a standard classroom, but not with a pullout class where you work one-on-one with students. The last observation seemed to almost have been pre-written, as it had little resemblance to what actually went on in the room that day. I was able to provide a written refutation – so what? Still got the non-renew, so I resigned. My health was more important at that point, although I wanted the kids to do well. I never did know quantitatively if I made any difference at all, as the only feedback that was given to the teachers was negative, and I got each group of students for only one quarter.

  • frustrated

    I completely understand what being burried under data and mounds of paper work feels like. The evaluation system is quite frustrating as well. I have only been teaching in my own classroom for two semesters, but I am already exhausted. I miss having my nights and weekends to enjoy. Now I am plagued with countless hours of work. I am so stressed out I fear this job is going to kill me. For all the joys of teaching, there are 20 more things that make it miserable. I’ve never cried so much as I have in the last year. I need to figure out what other careers I can get with a degree in education. I want my life back!

  • Disappointed

    I am disappointed that NEA would publish this article in their online newsletter. This man taught for 5 months and he’s some kind of expert on teaching? This is my 7th year teaching and I still consider myself a “new” teacher. NEA, I think your time and resources could be better spent on more pressing issues in education. Why are you advertising for this guy. I hope no one buys this ridiculous book.

  • Terria Wright

    I sincerely appreciate this article. My situation sounds somewhat identical. All I can say is that I genuinely enjoyed teaching. I was young, sassy, and I made some mistakes. But I didn’t make 15 years of mistakes. I was worn down, literally beat down at the very end. I believe that America should revamp its’ entire school system. Especially for inner city school students. School reform sounds good. Turn education upside down in America. I have some ideas, but it will take real work. First of all, inner city students are spending too much time in school, sitting in desk. Somehow once they leave grade school to matriculate high school, they should already know which career path to take. Therefore, let’s keep them in school a half day, then send them to their hands on learning post (nursing, welding, auto mechanics, doctor, lawyer). But make sure they are learning and working. As a matter of fact America, renovate old buildings turn them into high school hospitals where poor people can get medical attention on a high school level. America, let’s open auto mechanic shops where the high school mechanics are actually changing oil instead of cutting school to go and cut someone’s throat. I am no longer worried about who wronged me in the field of education. The field of Education is my passion. America better wake up!

  • Thank god this crap is finally coming out!!!!! 14 years of satisfactory teaching at my last district, and 26 years total in education, and I find myself laid-off. Why?, for all the reasons John states. My principal filled my room with tough to handle kids, and proceeded to harass me any and every time she could about their behavior, noise, test scores, etc. Education has become a joke!!!Especially when they give someone, that has no qualifications to do so, the power to evaluate. Also, our new evaluations are all subjective…so if someone doesn’t like you…good luck!!! That being said…Ireally don’t mind not having to deal with all the STUPIDITY!

  • Terria Wright

    I sincerely appreciate this article. My situation sounds somewhat identical. All I can say is that I genuinely enjoyed teaching. I was young, sassy, and I made some mistakes. But I didn’t make 15 years of mistakes. I was worn down, literally beat down at the very end. At any rate, I believe that America should revamp its’ entire school system. Especially for inner city school students. School reform sounds good, but we must do better. Let’s turn education upside down in America. I have some ideas, but it will take real work and educational experts. First of all, inner city students are spending too much time in school, sitting in desk. Once they leave grade school to matriculate high school, they should already know which career path to take. Let’s stop wasting our children’s time America. Let’s keep them in school a half day (1hr.-math, 1hrs-reading, 1 hr in science, 1/2 hr.lunch), then send them to their hands-on learning sites (nursing, welding, auto mechanics, doctor, lawyer). But make sure they are learning and working. As a matter of fact America, renovate old buildings. Turn them into high school hospitals where poor people can get medical attention on a high school level. America, let’s open auto mechanic shops where the high school mechanics are actually changing oil instead of leaving school to cut someone’s throat or to burn a building. I am no longer worried about who wronged me in the field of education. Education is my passion. America, wake up!

  • Gina

    Really, after 5 months he can write a book about being a teacher? Please No One Buy This Book!

  • Experienced

    Magical thinking from pie-in-the sky paper pushers will never change the realities. The critics who think it’s all on the teachers should be required to sub (not just observe) for a month in a tough school with a lousy support system for new teachers.

  • Clover

    An analysis of the syntax of “Disappointed”, “TSBlechner”, “Kevin”, and “MDwyer” indicated they are likely all written by the same person. The opinions are stated without supporting experiential evidence. Is anybody moderating?

  • beyondbullied

    I agree that teaching is in a terrible state and it all boils down to politics and money. It’s so depressing and I don’t think it is going to get any better until everybody wakes up and smells the coffee. I keep thinking I’ve seen it all and then I see something else ridiculous every day. And I’m not talking about the so called bad behavior or performance of the teachers because its not on the teachers. Its on the governors , administration, the parents, and everybody that blames the teachers…

  • TSBlechner

    Clover-incorrect analysis of syntax, sorry. What would be the point of the same person commenting on the same article 4 different times? I have been an educator for 15 years and would have never felt that five months into my first job as a classroom teacher I would know enough to write a book about the state of education in our country. Can you not see this? Do you believe that if you started a career as doctor that in five months you would have enough background knowledge to write a book about the state of the health care industry? And if so, do you think that the AMA would/should promote it?

  • beyondbullied

    Go ahead and analyze my grammar and syntax. What do you want? I’m in bed watching Americas Got Talent. kinda hard to type and text. I must be a bad teacher.

  • DrDick

    It is also amazing, how many teachers get the “U” the closer they get to 30 years in the profession. The longer you are there, the less you know! Right!!

  • Disillusioned

    I have 5 years to go until I can retire, and I work in a great school with a very supportive principal. But I feel the same way. I am exhausted from all the “accountability” paperwork, the lack of paid time away from children to plan meaningful lessons, the lack of resources as the district removes more and more each year while piling on more and more work. I’m frustrated that I am worse off now financially than I was half of my career ago since we haven’t had a raise in years and those we did get did not keep up with the cost of living. I’m tired of hearing talk show hosts express deep disrespect for me (yes, I take it personally). Most of all, it is really, really aggravating that organizations like ALEC have the power to write legislation that gets passed in many states that are killing the public schools (and at-risk populations) by diverting enormous amounts of public funds into private bank accounts.

  • Rachel Summers

    In my opinion, In education there has to be a scape goat and teachers are the ones being blamed. The truth is no one is perfect at their job. Even doctors! Teachers are human and they do make mistakes, but I have met very few “bad” teachers in my career. Most of the people I work with (I am a 4th grade teacher in Utah) are there because they love children. Many realize that children are our bright future and they want to help mold the world. We teach many academic subjects, but the most important thing taught in elementary is values. We let students know they are loved and cared about. For some students this is the only stability in their young lives.
    Let’s look at all the wonderful things teacher do. Let’s support children and their education by connecting and supporting teachers who are on the front line in this very serious problem. Instead of pulling schools apart and grading them on ridicules standards they cannot possible live up to lets get behind education and do whatever we can to celebrate the great job these amazing people are doing. Instead of being upset because teachers want a little more pay lets look at their reality.
    I usually spend many hours working on things for school projects or grading. Last weekend I spent hours working on grading papers and planning for the next week. This summer I left school the middle of June and came back the middle of August which is not three months. Often during the summer I take classes to improve my ability to teach. This is the reality.
    If you do not believe me I challenge you to come and teach 29 students for one week with no supplies. If the Utah Legislators did this they would realize how hard it is to teach students with all the restrictions and lack of funding being placed on teachers. They would fund Utah schools instead of being proud of the fact that they get a high quality of teaching without a lot of money.
    Utah teachers preform miracles everyday and they spend their own money doing it. For example, after four week of school I have spent over $600.00 buying supplies for my students. Right now the Utah legislature is reporting an over abundance of money left from the budget and I know it will not go to funding Utah schools (we are one of the lowest funded states for the number of children we have to educate.
    If we continue the path we are on now one day no one will want to teach. They will not want to work for criticism, poor support, and lack of income. Teachers also need to feed their families and the pay scale in Utah is so low teachers can almost collect food stamps. Maybe we are all bad teachers or maybe we are courageous souls who love the future so much we are will to put up with almost anything to achieve our personal goals of teaching a new generation of leaders for our country. Sincerely, Rachel Summers

  • Ed Jaworski

    For this author, 5 months as a new teacher with no support… they might as well have just fired him on day one.

    I was forced out in my 12-13th year when, after returning from a 1 yr medical leave, my previous 10 yrs of good-to-excellent evaluations suddenly disappeared and all reports became completely unsatisfactory beginning the first eval in the second week of school. I spent that year with a total of 11 85-minute evals (plus many other drop-in visits), each followed up by a meeting with admin during my planning period. Plus I was eventually required to have a once a week meeting with him to discuss my lesson plans.

    When I returned the next year all these negative evals got worse and the meetings continued. But this time admin added a suggestion (read that “requirement”) that I sit in on other “good” teachers’ classes at least once a week to see how to do things right. Extra paperwork and reading assignments were given to me to complete outside of work. I did everything they asked… never missed a single meeting,, observation, or write-up of another teacher’s class.

    Still, I was constantly told my class/teaching was ineffective. Ineffective despite the fact my students tested well even on tests designed by admin’s designated good teachers. On being told students didn’t understand objectives and content of science labs, I challenged the evaluator to choose any few students he wanted and to quiz them on what they did and see if they could replicate the lab without my help (this was days after that lesson). He refused.

    I was eventually asked to resign or be fired for a year and a half of poor and declining teaching. I tried to appeal through my local “union” (actually an association with bargaining power since I’m in as right-to-work state). While prepping for the appeal process, I asked how many appeals had ever been successful once the “intent-to-terminate” process was started and/or sent to the school board. The answer: NONE! I resigned.

    You get older, they want you gone. You get sick too long, they want you gone. You try fighting the system, they definitely want you gone.

  • Donna

    I was in the same situation with a principal that was the highest paid in the district with the least knowledge of what the students needed. This principal claimed that she could turn the school around and still claims she did on her bio. Mostly, she made thing worse.

    In the end, the school was repurposed and the staff was moved or given a nonrenewal notice. I was not able to find a contract for three years. Some staff members retired and others left teaching. The principal was quietly forced out of the district.

    The students have since moved to the high school which is also doing poorly. Many of them have quit school or struggling just to pass.

    Every time I think about my ex-students I become so angry with the people who have created their situation! So many people judged me and them. Constant judging and blaming with NO help from the so called administration.

    I care so much about my students and it hurts me to think about what has happened to them.

    The principal is loosing no sleep. She is still earning $140,000 a year for poor performance.

    How can any lawmaker think

  • Geraldo

    It’s about time the teaching profession is infiltrated by unbiased professionals from other lines of employment who are able to reveal the absurdity and the incredulity of administrative practices that impact all classroom teachers and their students (and parents). This business professional learned in five months what most teachers learn after five or more years because they often prepare for a career in teaching after successful graduation from high school and don’t have any other full-time work experience to make an educated comparison. I regret to say that most of us were, or are, extremely naive when the subject of “administrative power” arises. Additionally, as a group, we teachers are so idealistic we don’t want to even imagine that our princi-pal isn’t really our “pal.”

    The author, armed with real-world business experience, is helping to inform the public of the calamitous state of our public K-12 educational institutions and the miscreants who pose as “concerned” administrators who are mostly concerned with their high paying salaries while the per pupil, state-budgeted educational funding continues to receive spending cuts. The offending administrators should be ashamed of their greedy motives for working in the field of “education.” I hope more experienced non-teaching professionals will continue to “spill the beans” about what they learn when they choose to become teachers so that our Nation can experience an K-12 educational revolution. Most every school district in our country is top heavy with administrators that never see the inside of a classroom. If I were in charge, each building principal would be in each of his or her classrooms at least once each week; and every superintendent would be in each of his or her buildings once each week to view the educational processes as they happen, good, bad, or indifferent. Finally, whoever withdrew the “board of education” from the “seat of knowledge,” needs to retake a remedial classroom management course.

  • tonenotvolume

    M Dwyer – PLEASE quit YOUR job and become a teacher in the South Bronx. Then make a comment about this article. As a TEACHING TROLL, you will always find a few other compaticos that echo your nonsense but the majority of us know the whole story, the real facts, and we live it every day. John Owens was converted the hard way. Let his lessons reveal the truth about “education reform”.

  • Amen! I am so glad that someone finally stood up to announce the appalling conditions of our schools. They have been chained and made ineffectual by so much politically correct nonsense and bureaucratic debacle. NOW… THE QUESTION IS… WHEN ARE WE GOING TO STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT IT AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT? The older teachers, like myself, who are retired and who remember the days WHEN WE REALLY TAUGHT are gone. Often the new teachers KNOW NOTHING ELSE AND HAVE EXPERIENCED NOTHING ELSE BUT THIS APPALLING MESS. Do we need a grassroots movement? Let’s get serious!!!!

  • k stellman

    I recently retired after 22 years in special education, running self-contained alternative programs for, lets say. non-traditional students who were tearing up the regular high school. I was seen, alternately, as a hero and a zero, while basically implementing the same program. The difference was the administrators. Some felt I was doing the best possible job with few resources and others came in and saw a completely different circumstance. Some wanted to reform the alternative program to make it more rigorous and reflect the new standards. Some wanted to idealize the program and make the alternative a smaller model of the regular high school. I was able, through the strength of my experience and personality, to rise above the politics and maintain a realistic program that used kids strengths to help them prepare for post-secondary adulthood. I would not have been able to do that early in my career. My point then, is that the power lies in good administration. Most teachers will find a way to connect with kids. The problem is the new “Intervention of the Month” and the extreme data-driven response by poor administrators. We really need a better system to keep administrators competent and relevant. Teaching is a “hands-on” business that is being drowned by poor administration and paperwork, not to mention the ridiculous politics by mostly conservative legislators.

  • Nancy

    This thread brings back memories that hurt just as bad today as they did 3 years ago when this 3 year special ed teacher was thrown under the bus for the assistant principal and a student’s GAL. The offense was “failure to report”. They took me out on administrative leave, but were unable to substantiate the allegation. The HR lady was angry at me because I got a little snarky with her after 1 hour plus of 3 on 1 bullying. She kept saying she had a letter of complaint by social services. No letter was ever found and they non renewed me “for cause”. This seems to be perfectly OK in Colorado. I was now forbidden to work for Denver Public Schools ever again. The non renew has prevented me from getting a job 3 years latter. The 2 years I worked for DPS I received a glowing performance review and all my students were progressing. I was replaced by a Teach for America candidate in my cognitive special ed classroom. He was just back from Iraq and had never spent a minute in the classroom other than as a student. They were paying him something like $25,0000/year. I am still brokenhearted 3 years latter. Most of my student’s parents are still in touch with me.

    All this happened because I made the HR lady mad and she decided to take me down. The Vice Principal jumped on board. This was because she was afraid of the HR lady and was covering her butt because she is the one who failed to report. The GAL also failed to report (Auntie was selling pot). There was no evidence other that a student with an IQ of 40 and was a known pathological liar.

    I think another reason this happened was in 2010 there was a big who ha about eliminating tenure for teachers here in Denver. The Union here is useless. You can decide if you want to join and those that don’t are still getting the benefits w/o the cost. I am pretty sure there are not really any benefits as I believe the union is snuggled up pretty close to the district. This scenario is also true for hundreds of teachers across the district that year. As you can see, I am still deeply impacted by this as I thought I had found my joy:) I have never been so happy and motivated as I was as a special ed teacher in “The Hood”. I left an extremely lucrative career in telecommunications designing data networks, for a job where I am required to do hours of professional development on topics that just don’t apply to the SPED population. This was on top of the 22 IEP’s I had to collect data for and design an individual plan for each student along with a meeting. Last but not least on the priority list was teaching every subject to 22 cognitively low teenagers. Oh well I am still very sad about what I lost. I was so disappointed in the public school system. I would start my own school if I had the dough.

  • beyondbullied

    Dear Disillusioed,

    I feel like I know you. I could have written your exact commrnts and I feel exactly the same way.

  • Susan Dewey

    Having read the previous comments and referencing those who complain about his lack of experience:

    1. Mr. Owens does the service of saying, to those non-teachers who think teaching is a cake-walk, it’s a lot more difficult than it looks. We know that, but the public often doesn’t.

    2. Based solely on the NEA article, Mr. Owens is not damning education, but rather the way it is administered.

  • Don

    I agree, this guy doesn’t have enough credibility, but are you reading about the other stories posted below his review/interview? These are real stories of people unfairly targeted by principals and kicked out of jobs they loved to do. There are those of us who have been in it for years and are now being labeled and unable to find another job.

  • Reggie

    I can totally relate to what the teacher has experienced. I recently received the same label “poor teacher” from the DoDEA system in which I only worked a year. I had over 13 years of teaching experience upon being hired, and was selected “Teacher of the Year” twice. I was a victim of profession jealous, and received very little support from the local Union (FEA). Since I was a probationary member, there was very little FEA could do for me. However, FEA had no problems with taking my probationary dues (money).

  • While I agree that writing a book after 5 months experience in the field is presumptuous, I understand the guy’s motives. I was stunned during my first year of teaching at how bad the management was . . .and I’ve had a few other bad managers over the years in government and academia and business. Many of the people who rise up in education are motivated by ambition, the desire for personal power, and incompetence in the classroom. The top down management mentality is a sad excuse for “managing.” I am at my fourth school and have only once felt valued (and that was due entirely to the personality of the department head). At my current school, both administrators are new and neither has ANY management experienced – they, too, are set up by the higher administrators for failure with unrealistic schedules, lack of support, a dangerous environment without adequate security, and a constant need to keep enrollment up. Without the ability to expel students (due to enrollment needs) how can they be expected to have any authority? I am only safe because I teach a non-core subject, but I feel a distinct unease at the constant expectation that I put in more than my 30 hours (I was hired as “part-time” — what a joke) without a thank you. The students are great. Until you experience it, you cannot fully comprehend how dysfunctional many schools are. That is why this man wrote a book so quickly.

  • IWillTeach

    I teach for a large school corporation; 4 HS, 4MS, 16 ELM, 1 performance academy and a college prep HS. My school had an 85% pass on Math ECA scores last year, the next highest pass rate in the corporation was 42%. We had an 87% pass on English ECA, the next highest score in the district 67%. Combined 6-12th grade ECA and istep scores improved by 17.6% from the previous years. My principal, who is a teacher first, is being audited. There are consultants coming in to check his evaluations because “his teachers scored too high on evaluations.” Consultants? Is this office space? My school killed it because we work so hard, and we have amazing support from our admin team.

    We receive raises based on evaluations, and “bonuses” based on test scores. We double whammied the corporation, we get raises and bonuses. Our scores should speak for themselves. My principal should be receiving an award, not receiving criticism on his eval process. It undermines our scores, and why we collect the data, dissagrigate the data, differentiate instruction, offer tutoring. We do what they want yet they are still not happy, the are suspicious. Geehse!

  • moby jones 4

    My comment has to do more with the corporate raiding of public schools. This “new” common core brings with it a huge consortium of who knows who, PARCC and the new MAP testing. Someone is deciding curriculum for each grade level for the 30+ states who have signed on with them. They then design objective tests (MAP) where kids sit in front of the computer and answer objective questions in a silent computer lab. Then all this data is mashed into some sort of “value added” score that is publicized, showing the public how “effective” we are as teachers. Yet, I have no say as to my curriculum, I cannot write the test that measures the curriculum someone else created for me, I cannot determine the pacing that will actually work for my students, and the kids sit in front of a computer, clicking on A,B,C, or D to demonstrate their “growth” and my “effectiveness”. Yeah, right. Most of us close to retirement say,”whatever. My kids are out of school and I’ll try to hang on a couple of more years and then get out as soon as possible.” The public bashes us at every opportunity. Our district can’t pass a school levy to save their souls. We are drowning in paperwork and meetings. We’re supposed to go to the phone banks and hit neighborhoods knocking on doors to plead for a “yes” vote for yet another levy on our weekends. Seriously? Wait, who will grade my papers and do my lesson plans then?
    When do we sit and think about crafting good lessons for our kids? Well, not during school hours. The public says “quit whining. Get another job if it’s so tough.” Wow. No clue. And administrators are either drowning, too, or are a part of the problem. The teachers’ union collects my hundreds of dollars every year so they can donate it to whatever democratic candidate is the flavor of the month. As for me, I spend a few bucks a week playing the lottery…

  • Somewhere out there

    Someone forgot to mention this No Child Left Behind law. Kids with special needs are being placed into regular classrooms without the proper support. Then told, “They will simply learn the material everyone who is at grade level will learn. It will work itself out.” DISASTEROUS!!! Mainstream teachers, who most do not have credentials or training, are forced now to deal with Special needs and behavior issues that are far beyond the scope of a regular classroom. Anyone figure out why so many more classrooms are unruly than in years past. Kids are frustrated.

  • larry Cronin

    Lower salaries,decrease benefits, take away pension plans,require longer working days, make teachers get more college credentials , load them down with more testing,have more meetings, and demand they be the best. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? the politicians privatize the schools with public financing and say that the best and the brightest will be drawn to teaching. Well ! I guess we know the best and brightest do not serve us politically.

  • Rhonda

    I left teaching after 15 years in the same district. I can honestly say that I did not get into teaching to become rich or famous but to make a difference in the lives of children. It is hard to do a job when administration is not supportive and your union is weakening by the minute. Colleagues are afraid to stand up and be supportive, or are cut throat attempting to get to the top of the heap. Any teacher that has a voice that opposes the status quo in districts or is at the top of the pay scale should be concerned at this point in time. Currently, I hold a bachelors degree and two masters degrees in the field of education and am applying for paraprofessional positions just to get my remaining 8 years in for a full 30 year pension.

  • I’ve got the same dilemma. I’ve been in the business for 15 years, and I’m desperate to get out. It’s tough, though, since you get pigeon-holed by potential employers. Our evaluation system in Indiana is highly subjective; at one school the principal would not rate anyone higher than a three on a four-point scale, and at another in the same district the principal rated everyone at a four because he thought they all worked hard. Such subjectivity makes scores meaningless. It becomes a matter of personal politics. Does the principal like you? Awesome! You get a four! Does your teaching style match the latest fad literature your principal is into? You’re a star! Are your children learning the subject? Irrelevant, as far as your score goes. Do the random pop-in observations look like the video clips your principal is showing at staff meetings? That’s all that’s important.
    I’ve got a blog post on this at http://theuseofreason.blogspot.com/2012/06/realistic-accountability-will-retain.html for anyone who’s interested.

  • Maureen Williams

    Reading this encourages me to hang on in there. I’ve been teaching for 5 years now and I’ve grown to loathe Tuesday staff meetings. I’d much rather tutor students than to hear at each weekly meeting “we need you to do more for less and with less”. Oh and by the way you’ll need to write a mini IEP and call it student planning team, fill out 144 question questionnaire for school psychologist, try this new teaching trick or that new gadget, but spend your own money to get all the materials you may need. Oh and as your admin I know you’re not paid for 90 days during the summer months, but you just gotta manage your money better despite student loan payments. It’s extremely disheartening and negative.

  • diana

    After 14 years, I was forced to retire early due to a principal (and administration) or be fired for charges such as allowing a student, who was not suppose to be in my class, get me a cup of coffee 7 years ago; putting my grades in late (before computer grade books) a day late; etc. In 09 I received my MA with a 4.0 GPA and received a Star Teacher award for the second time. In 2010, my primary class was eliminated without any discussion by any principal. Then without any warning I was put on a PIP. Mid year of ’11, before contracts were out, I was called in with my two principals and a letter ending with I didn’t take my job seriously was put in my file. My response letter, addressing each allegation, ended with any teacher that stays 10 hours a day takes her job seriously. The building principal just replied things had better improve or the next step would be taken. The end of the year showed improvement so I signed my contract.
    First day of ’12, I was ordered to report to administration with no explanation and was given my 30 day warning letter from the new HR (who we hired from an unaccredited district) and was told this was the first step at releasing a tenure teacher. The charges, including the above, were addressed one by one by my union reps at scheduled after school meetings. None of their comments were included in the principal’s minutes.
    Surprised observations came 2 or 3 times a week, with negative reviews (and nothing regarding what I was teaching). The only “scheduled” observation was rescheduled for later that day, when the HR could unexpectedly stroll in, visit with the students while I was lecturing, and after the building principal and students left, strolled up to me and asked how I thought it went. When I told her I thought pretty well, she proceeded to tell me she didn’t understand anything I said, students weren’t listening (even though some answered my questions) and that “. . . we just don’t want you here.” That took place the day after my union reps submitted a letter to them from my doctor stating that they were affecting my health and all I wanted to do was teach.
    With 157 accrued sick days, I was advised by a union lawyer that no company was

  • diana

    (finishing earlier posting)
    . . .required to give you EARNED sick leave once they’ve determined to “relieve” you. In order to receive leave under FMLA, I had to sign a “settlement” with an intent to retire, and agree not to sue them. Once I signed that, the HR said I would be on sick leave through the end of the year and I could then apply for Medicare. I had to tell her I wasn’t that old.
    My union rep told me afterwards, not to take it personally, they were doing it everywhere. Enjoy my retirement. I was replaced with a part time teacher.
    Over the past summer the building principal mistakenly sent out to the entire high school (obviously meant for administration) the high school teacher evaluations by ranking with (misspelled) comments such as “lazy”, “too old to observe, retiring soon”, “doesn’t know what he’s doing”, etc. The new “hit list” puts older, tenure teachers on the bottom of the list.
    Even with a vote of 65% of no confidence by the teachers, he is still there.
    If he is still there next year, I’m withdrawing my life time NEA membership.
    To all those that have and WILL experience this, my advise is–don’t take it personally.

  • Leslie

    Coming from industry as well, I was not prepared for the fights in the classroom between students, the noise, the attitude that I cannot do anything to them because there is not a working phone at home. Adminstration calls it “classroom management”, but all it is, is the attitude of the students; many of whom do not want to be there. Adminstration is as frustrated as well, but the buck is pushed upon us. Unfortunalty, there is no overtime for the work I perform on saturday and sunday, tutoring after school, or any of the other student activities I must attend in order to keep my job.

  • Just wrote a note to Van Roekle. Discipline is the number one problem regardless of any treatise on ‘expectations’. This story reminds me of the video ‘The Knights of the South Bronx”. Don’t expect the NEA to learn anything from a bunch of chess players and their mentors. Sad. 30 counties have chess in their curriculum, and many schools in the U.S. offer programs. A leading nation in chess, among many others, is that nasty place Venezuela. I disagree with that, of course, but between music,chess and academics Caracas is a world leader and they don’t take ‘poor’ as an excuse either.

  • Geraldo

    My first contract ended in a situation mediated by the local Uni-serve director near the end of my first semester (Fall 1998). One day at the beginning of class the last week of school before Winter Break, a male student in one of my classes placed his open hand (palm up) on the seat next to where he was sitting, as a female student was about to sit down in the adjacent seat. Upon sitting down on the male student’s hand, she was embarrassed to have been touched on her “bottom” by the male student who promptly tried to remove his hand, “fondling” the female student’s lower anatomy. I was passing back the previous day’s homework assignments and unfortunately did not see the incident, but from previous times that he had “attracted my attention,” realized that the male student was capable of such a deed. After thinking about her body being violated over the Winter Break, the female A+ Honor Roll student had decided to share the unauthorized touching incident with her parents. They, in turn, contacted the principal to try to understand why and how such an incident could happen in an academic classroom. That same day after school I was asked to visit with the principal in his office to discuss the situation. He told me that I should resign due to my failure to prevent the incident from happening due to my apparent unsatisfactory ability to manage my classroom, and that was cause for administrative termination. After our discussion, I requested another meeting, this time with the local National Education Association state affiliate Uni-serve director present. The results of that meeting awarded me a suspension from my teaching duties at the end of the semester (a week or so away) and an uninterrupted continuation of my salary and medical benefits for another three months (into mid-April 1999). Reflecting back, I should have held out for two more months of salary forcing the school district to honor the length of their contract with me, but the Uni-serve director advised me at the time to accept the school district’s offer explaining that it was unusual to be awarded that generous a settlement being a new teacher working under my first contract. School districts are not accountable for dismissing untenured teachers and don’t have to give any reason or explanation for doing so. Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, I realize that the administration’s “scapegoat” from sexual harassment charges being filed by the female student’s family was to offer the over-used educational lie that the teacher was incompetent and expedite his or her termination to remove the “problem” from the classroom. All the while, the administration lacks the intestinal fortitude to take responsibility and discipline the offending student.

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  • Spike

    I can fully feel the pain from Mr. Owens situation. I too was a “bad teacher” because I was told by the principal that my music students needed to use “whisper voices” in my class because they were too loud. This was what I was told after my principal walked through my classroom while students were in small groups writing a Christmas carol. I also was told by parents that their child should not get the grade of a “C” because, “Music is not a real class.” These attitudes make it very hard for a teacher to go to school in the mornings. Principals should realize that they do more damage than good when they label a teacher. I gave up teaching music, which I dearly loved, and moved to computers. The subject is taken more seriously by principals and parents, but not nearly as fun. All you “bad teachers” hang in there!!

  • Bruce Wayne

    From the students perspective, its all true. Most students don’t care about school, and seriously think teachers got there job because they hate students. The same students that will cuss out a teacher are the ones that report a teacher for any and every word that could be considered offensive, and find offense in it if it was not put that way, and put it out of context if needs be. Teachers tell us all the time to be respectful, but if we’re not, so what? Worst they can do is have us call home, send us to the office, or give us a detention. Most parents take the side of the student, and even reward the student for acting courageous to there teacher. Office doesn’t care, and usually sends them back, or rewards them, by talking to them few a few moments and letting them spent the rest of the period in the office, and out of class. Detention is not mandatory, so if you don’t go, we just get lunch detention once or twice. But all that students friends will be there, so what lesson did they learn? Cheating the system solved problems? No punishments for the immoral? I’m not kidding, and my smart moral friends agree, that the school system needs to reimplemented the paddle into the school. It is not assault, but the only punishment these brats will take seriously. Then wee need to make rules about Administration. Lets have all the people who make the rules apply them by having them teach a class with all the students who they think are only bad because the teacher, and have them teach a class once a week for the rest of there career and be held accountable for that the same way teachers are. We can fix this system. But it is not going to be easy.

  • ExTeacher

    In today’s teaching world, a “bad teacher” is one who does not conform to any and all things, reasonable or unreasonable, which are demanded by administration. It’s really that simple. I found that the only solution was to resign, permanently. That’s what I did and have never been happier. Nobody deserves to be a mental punching bag. Nobody.

  • Joseph B

    Thanks so much for sharing the review of this book. I am also a career-changer, currently in my first year of teaching. After reading the review I picked up the Mr. Owen’s book and finished it in a week. In a bittersweet way I shared many “Yes, that is my story” moments while reading the book. My area of teaching is high school mathematics and my experience of attempting to make sense of how to teach amid the public school adventures of a low-performing school have led me to repeatedly question all year whether I should career-change back out of teaching. Thanks for offering a lot of good thoughts for me to ponder.

  • Michael Silvia

    I didn’t make it 15 years…I was labeled a ‘bad teacher’ in a turbulent school district with sky high poverty…After 14 years, what I have to look at is that I’m a bad teacher…It’s so discouraging and disappointing…I thought the world of education was above this kind of cannibalism…so much for the corporate model in education…