Graduate advisor thinks I'm being taken advantage of at my new job.
August 2, 2015 11:35 PM   Subscribe

I am a new teacher and also enrolled in an M.A. program for secondary education. Recently the head of the Education program at my university called me and gave a piece of her mind. She wants to contact either the principal or the superintendent. Should I take her up on this offer? Need to decide soon.

I am a science teacher and have been been hired at a good public school district. I teach both middle and high school. I teach advanced courses in all the core life and physical sciences. During my very first year teaching, I am assigned 6 completely different courses and I'm teaching 6 different grade levels.

Once the head of my M.A. program learned of this, she became very concerned at my prospects of success because she thinks this is unfair and overwhelming.

Even though I am the youngest and probably most inexperienced teacher, I have by far the heaviest workload in the school and I get paid very little even by teaching standards. I do this job because I absolutely love it, so money isn't really much of an issue.

My adviser (very experienced and well-respected professor at a major university), told me that since the union is weak in this state, schools often try to take unfair advantage of new teachers. She wants to speak to my boss about this.

The school is very well connected to my M.A. program. I am conflicted. I feel I was taken advantage of at my old job and while I don't mind a challenge, this woman has been around the block and I take her advice seriously.

Do I take her up on this offer? Worst case I am guaranteed placement at another school district. But I fear that if I end up enjoying this current job then I will alienate the principal and superintendent and it will affect my teaching evaluations. I can't predict how they will react.

And if I do choose to take this up, is it better for me to talk to them first or this highly regarded professor?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total)
I struggle with the "she wants to speak to my boss about this" part. It sounds... strange. And it really depends on the context. If she was going to the principle and saying:

"How could you put Pete in such a bad position? Don't you think you're setting him up to fail?" then I would say absolutely not. That would be well past weird (at least to me).

If what she would like to do is call and say:

"Hi Joe-- It's great that your school and my programme can work so well together. However, I'm concerned about a few things and I'm worried they could impact student perception of our programme. Can we have a chat about it? Specifically, I'm concerned about workload for new teachers who are also part of our programme. This came up again recently from Pete's advisor and it isn't the first case..."

Then maybe, but I have no idea how competitive the teaching field is and what the likelihood that your principle would hold it against you. If it's more about you as a person, can you ask her for some coaching for negotiating your own position instead?
posted by frumiousb at 11:56 PM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

As an experienced public schoolteacher here in the U.S., I would agree with the head of your graduate program that you are being taken advantage of here. Six preps at two schools PLUS grad school sounds incredibly difficult, if not impossible to maintain.

So-called "good school districts" can take horrible advantage of teachers, unfortunately; I believe some of this entitlement comes from the mindset that you're lucky just to teach for them. Frankly, it sounds like the school environment isn't very good because a kinder place wouldn't give you such a crazy teaching load. (I'm used to having multiple preps due to the subject I'm teaching but it's a bit different.)

Education programs do play a big role in their students' lives, especially when it comes to school placement. I absolutely say let her go to bat for you: the worst that can happen is that you're stuck with the same teaching load, and the best is that it gets lightened. Maybe it's an issue where people don't realize how thinly they've got you spread and can work to remedy it. I am grateful for the colleagues and supervisors who helped me when I started teaching, including making sure I wasn't being exploited. You can always pay it forward later. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 12:19 AM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

And, yes, as a new teacher in a so-called Right To Work State, you would likely have limited success with union intervention. (I say this as a union member myself. You could certainly try though!) However, your advisor does have clout and can probably help.

You deserve to be paid better and treated right. Regardless of what happens this year, I'd encourage you to consider working for a school district that is less prestigious but more fair. The pay might be lower but the conditions better, which would make you a better teacher; chances are that those students would need you just as much, if not even more.
posted by smorgasbord at 12:24 AM on August 3, 2015

Having your advisor call on your behalf feels a little like getting your mom to call your boss to tell them to lay off.

That being said, you are in a very challenging position. I'd be interested to know if other teachers at other schools around you have similar workloads though - in many small school/districts, people wear lots of hats. It's not uncommon at my school to have 4-5 preps. I've had six preps before, which includes two courses that had never been offered before, and 365 students.

However, burnout is real. I know it feels like the love and passion for the job will keep you going, but 50% of teachers leave in the first five years, often because of shit like this. Also: emotional labour. With that prep load, it won't leave you much emotional energy for your students or your real life. That's not sustainable.

I think a better solution than having her intervene on your behalf is to speak to the principal on your own. Express concern that this load seems out of proportion with other teachers, and as you're relatively new, you aren't sure this will allow you to be successful. It may not do anything to change the situation, but it's worth a try. And coming to the table with respect and looking at it as a problem-solving attempt shouldn't negatively affect your evaluations. If it does, that is not a district you should stay in. Seriously.

Big picture, I would also look for a school that doesn't give you that kind of prep load.

I've been through this, and am starting my 12th year teaching (middle school now, HS for a decade) in a few weeks. If you want to talk, memail me.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:20 AM on August 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Experienced teacher here, welcome to teaching! As a datapoint, I teach 5 high school classes and get one prep block per day, and that's considered normal. **

I would automatically say JESUS CHRIST THAT'S TOO MANY CLASSES unless these three factors are involved:

1. Your classes are 10 or less kids each, so your total amount of grading and general kid upkeep is no more than 60, and;
2. All of your curriculum is already prepared and is awesome (you don't have to supplement it and spend hours/days/weeks sourcing better material, and;
3. You're teaching no more than 4 different content areas, just at different levels. Like, you're teaching the same physical science class to grades 8 and 9, Bio to grades 10 and 11. Just not six completely separate courses.

If this isn't what's happening then they've given you too many classes, which is a recipe for disaster. You'll either burn out or put on a lot of Neil deGrasse Tyson videos just so you can breathe.

Since your job is linked to your school, then your advisor needs to contact the principal. Don't start with the superintendent. In education, we always problem solve with the person who can make the change. Don't go around the principal unless they do nothing.

** said SCIENCE teacher? You people are the rock stars of teaching and can write your own ticket. ALL schools are looking for STEM teachers.
posted by kinetic at 3:22 AM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

6 preps at two schools is too much for your first year. Add grad school on top of that and you're in for a rough year. If you're guaranteed a spot at another school, I'd let your advisor say something to the principal but NOT the superintendent. The super almost certainly has nothing to do with your workload, so if your principal suddenly gets a call from their boss nobody is going to be happy.

If you don't want to let your advisor speak to your principal, have some meetings with your advisor where you walk through how to talk to the principal yourself.

If nothing is changeable, then you need to take a lot of care towards yourself this year. Be vigilant about your vitamins so you get sick as little as possible, take a mental health day or two if you need it, and warn your support system that you're in for a crazy year. Remember that whatever you experience this year will be magnified from what the job normally looks like, so if you feel burned out remind yourself it's probably this job and not the whole field. And use this year's experience to jump to a better school that won't grind you down.
posted by lilac girl at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2015

It's not just about you. The school's students deserve a teacher with adequate time to prepare, to respond to them as individual students, to handle unexpected circumstances, and to take care of the necessities of life like sleep.
posted by amtho at 6:42 AM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You are an adult. If you cannot handle the workload for the pay, then you need to look for another job, after making a complaint to the hr department. Having your mentor call would be incredibly childish and unprofessional. Now, your mentor should call your union. Weak or not, this is something that they need to know about. If you are paying union fees, you should get union service. They should be the ones to take it up with the school.
posted by myselfasme at 7:01 AM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can you clarify if you got this position as part of your Master's program? If you did, then yes, it's appropriate for your college advisor to make this call because this is not a great teaching load. But if you got this job on your own, then myselfasme is right and you should first contact the union and see if this courseload is too heavy. Unions have rules about how many prep periods and teaching periods you can have; if your school is ignoring these rules, then you should talk to the principal WITH a union representative.

But I fear that if I end up enjoying this current job then I will alienate the principal and superintendent and it will affect my teaching evaluations.

Don't worry about this. Evaluations are really only used when admins are trying to get rid of teachers and need a paper trail. Other than that, they're mostly meaningless.

But to reiterate: STEM teachers are desperately needed. You will absolutely be able to get another job WITH a mentor teacher and supportive admins who will bend over backwards to keep you. (And if you're female, then GIRL, you are GOLDEN.)

And from my many years of experience, I would warn you that if they've already given you an untenable load, things will NOT get better. I'd get out now because your principal does not seem supportive of staff, and that can play out in every area of the school's best practices.
posted by kinetic at 10:14 AM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

This may not be the best course of action. That said, I am a little surprised that people are so quick to accuse that a tenured head of the education department of a major university to have bad judgment in this situation.

If I understand correctly, it sounds like she called you and made this offer after discovering your course load, not because you were bitching and moaning about your situation. If a well respected university department head is taking the time to call you and express this concern, it's obvious to me that she knows what she's talking about.

You say the program is connected to the school. The school knows the program is keeping track of your progress. If she calls the principal and phrases it like "I've noticed that John Doe has an unusually demanding course load for a new teacher who also needs to focus on graduate school. What are your thoughts on this?", it would NOT be childish.

Professors of education are there to look out for new teachers. Any good administrator should have the sense to know this and not take it personally. You may be a great teacher regardless but you need to draw the line somewhere or people WILL walk all over you.

All schools desperately need qualified STEM teachers, especially in the physical sciences such as chemistry and physics. If this job doesn't work out, you can get a job at nearly any school right now. Work is not life or necessarily a reflection of your self worth. Relax, do your best, but ultimately do what makes you happy. You certainly sound like you have some valuable skills.
posted by WhitenoisE at 7:29 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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