The Sword of Damocles

One who has never set foot in a classroom may be surprised to know that, as a teacher, I feel intimidated by administrators.  While this may not seem too much of a burden to bear, as I have “tenure” and all, it weighs heavily upon me as I approach the end of my first year teaching an honors precalculus course.

Why, you might ask?  Let me tell you why.

Last summer, I looked forward to teaching honors precalculus with great excitement.  However, this past fall, after several parents decided to complain to the assistant principal of instruction (API), and others propagated an exaggerated view of my teaching methods, and by extension, me, within the community, I feared I might lose the course next year, or at least one of the sections.  I still feel that way.

Anyone who has taught in a public high school understands that students these days are under tremendous pressure, much of the time by their parents, and often by being highly motivated to achieve at the highest levels.  I fell into the latter camp when I was in school until I received my appointment to a military academy.  I nearly lost the appointment, but that is for another post.

My sophomore students felt immense stress last semester as they buckled under their course loads of honors English, AP World History, honors chemistry, and honors precalculus along with their language course, and either a sport or PE course as well as whatever extracurricular activities they pursued to include drama, mock trial, and club sports.  Apparently, in requesting these courses, students did not expect to struggle with  mathematics as they easily passed all prior coursework with little to no real challenge, which is a travesty as they were not developed to their fullest potential.  Instead, they considered themselves invincible on the mathematics front, as one student shared with me at the end of last semester: “we thought we were going to ace honors precalculus!”  Not only did they not ace the course, they were truly challenged in ways they never expected.  Without a placeholder in their homework time budget for mathematics, as they always completed whatever homework that was assigned in prior math courses within the class period, they rapidly reeled from the real commitment needed in time and energy.

Into this volatile mix, add adolescent angst, my penchant for requiring students to be quiet when I addressed the class as a whole coupled with my immediate rejoinder to be quiet when violated, which apparently is not practiced much by my peers, and a highly cohesive set of same gender students whose families meet regularly socially, and kabloom!! my reputation went up in a fiery inferno.

I survived the virtual explosion, although not unscathed as it took an emotional toll on me.

The API maintains what seems to be a jaundiced position towards me given his perception of my classroom management and teaching methods, which includes elements of a flipped classroom.  Several students and parents still do not appreciate my requiring students to read their text and attempt homework before attending class; they swear I am the cause for their child’s lower scores in mathematics this year.  In response, I swear on this method for advanced coursework.  It places the burden of learning on the student, which guarantees they will internalize the concepts much more deeply than if they simply listen to a “show and tell” session by yours truly.  To boot, many of my honors precalculus students scored quite well in my course, as the fall semester grade distribution attests.

Fortunately, after reaching out to a select group of influential parents, and making peace, it appears all is quiet on this western front.  However, the API’s ability to change my course load for next year looms over me like the Sword of Damocles, which given all other burdens I bear as a teacher, is nearly too much to handle.  I accept the low pay, the long hours, and the immense diversity in student readiness.  However, to be lorded over in these circumstances, when industry resides nearly right where I left it, I cannot help but to harken back to the days when my paycheck actually paid my mortgage and other expenses.

Is this what sacrifice as a public servant truly entails?  I suspect so.  I hope I reap my rewards in the afterlife, as I surely am not in my present reality.


NB:  While I may have “tenure,” what that really entails is due process where administration must show evidence that the teacher is ineffective and failed to meet district standards, in a hearing before the school board.  Unfortunately, in our district, our union agreed to a performance evaluation process whereby a teacher may be deemed ineffective if they do not follow the district mandated instructional method known as explicit direct instruction, which is benign in some ways and horribly malignant in others.  A heavy-handed, top-down approach to education will always fail in a democratic republic, such as ours.  There is no place for strong central planning in as diverse an environment as education.  Heaven help us!

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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5 Responses to The Sword of Damocles

  1. Jim says:

    With my memories of my long ago school days it amazes me that requiring pupils to not talk in class
    is now considered controversial.


    • Surprisingly, requiring students to be quiet when I spoke and enforcing it caused a flurry of parental activism to include emails to the API: my classroom management was called into question as their children apparently were never asked to be quiet in their other classes or ever for that matter. Hence, I must be an abomination.

      My biggest issue with what happened last semester is that most parents did not speak with me directly, via email, phone, or face to face; they simply went over my head, which is frowned upon in most areas of life. Furthermore, I believe my API thought he was doing me a favor by not sending the parents back to me; however, doing so prevented me from addressing their specific concerns directly, or providing me with a chance to explain my perspective on the situation(s). Instead, the concerns festered and became quite cancerous to my morale and desire to continue teaching.


  2. Dave your senior ( experience and age only) says:

    It seems these 10th graders have too heavy a load; i would think pre calc is an 11th grade subject for most. I tell them my hearing is bad ( somewhat true ) so they want to whisper and waste their time … of course most of them are way below requirements of the class unfortunately.

    You are amazingly involved and competent but maybe have to do a little less to avoid burnout.


  3. Pingback: “I love math!” – Igniting a Passion for Mathematics without Getting Burned in the Process | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

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