After 7 years, too frustrated and tired to teach

Aug 10, 2014 by


Maria Ciancetta isn’t sure what to believe: Did she make a difference in students’ lives, or throw away seven years?

When she walked out of Benjamin Franklin High School on a warm day in June, Ciancetta quit the Philadelphia School District — and the education profession — for good.

She started out starry-eyed, certain she would work in Philadelphia classrooms for decades. But things deteriorated every year. She said she lacked basic supplies, was ordered to teach in an area where she had no certification or training, and feared for her safety.

“My students weren’t able to make progress this year,” said Ciancetta, 28. “I did them an injustice. The School District did them an injustice. They did not get the education they should have.”

Ciancetta’s is one story, but it is emblematic of the plight of many teachers. The teaching profession has long had a fair amount of turnover, but in recent years the profession has gotten less stable, with higher numbers of teachers leaving in their first five years.

Ciancetta grew up in a small town outside Albany, N.Y. Her mother was a math teacher. Ciancetta felt called to the same profession, but wanted to work in an urban district where students’ needs were greatest.

At Springfield College in Massachusetts, she earned a degree in health studies with a focus on education and a minor in math. She gained a spot in Teach for America and was placed at Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia in 2007.

“It was rough,” she said of her first year, “but I ended up really liking it.”

After two years at Tilden, she moved up with her eighth graders to Bartram High, where she spent four years and served as ninth-grade dean. When the district began having money problems, she narrowly averted a layoff.

Last spring, an administrator warned her of coming changes to Bartram and suggested Ciancetta transfer to another school. She switched to Ben Franklin, showing up in September to learn she had a full teaching load of classes in special education.

Ciancetta is not special-education certified, and she felt “not even remotely prepared” to teach algebra to classes of 27 students, most of whom tested at first- to third-grade math levels.

She asked for help and got some — fewer students in one class, and an aide. But there was no mentoring and no recommendations for different ways to reach students.

“I tried different strategies myself, but I had no idea what to do,” she said.

Her classroom came with a smartboard but no cord to power it. Ciancetta had to spend her own money to get one. Like most district teachers, she spent hundreds of dollars on paper because her school had no money for that, either.

Discipline was a problem from the first day, not just at Ben Franklin overall, but in Ciancetta’s classroom. That shocked the teacher, who had not experienced issues since her first year teaching, who was recognized elsewhere for her expertise in helping students stay on track, who keeps in touch with students years after they leave her classroom.

“I build relationships with kids — that’s what helps them learn,” Ciancetta said. She was eventually able to reach some of her students this year, but many of them had serious emotional issues and few sources of support to address them.

Ciancetta loved the day-to-day of teaching: finding a routine that worked, coming up with creative ways to impart knowledge, even planning lessons.

“It’s really nice when kids struggle and then they get it, and you realize you did something right,” she said. “That’s awesome.”

Inadequate staffing levels are tearing apart schools, Ciancetta said. It started to get bad at Bartram, but this year at Ben Franklin there were just not enough adults in the building.

“The fire alarm was pulled a minimum of three times a day,” she said. “I would call for help with a fight, and it would take seven minutes for someone to respond.”

That’s not the administration’s fault, she said.

via After 7 years, too frustrated and tired to teach – SFGate.

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