Rachel Fairbank is a first-year teacher in Houston. She
always wanted to be a teacher. She was inspired by her own
teachers. But
she is drowning in paperwork, busywork, mandates, and
She doesn’t know if she will make it. The
district does nothing to support her as a new teacher. Houston was
honored by the Broad Foundation as the most improved urban district
in the nation (reprising its Broad award from a decade ago–HISD
seems to have improved, then stopped improving, and is now
improving again). Houston is everything that Broad admires: it
gives performance pay; it fires teachers. It believes in carrots
and sticks. But the story Rachel tells is of a district that
disrespects teachers. Across the nation, teachers are leaving the
profession. Veteran teachers are leaving, new teachers are leaving.
How much longer can this continue without seriously damaging the
education profession and hurting children? She writes:
Every morning, as I gear up for another day, I wonder if
this will be the day that I become another one of the teachers who
burns out and quits. Sometimes I feel like I am running a race
against time, waiting to see what will happen first – adapt to the
demands of the job or burn out?
I went into
teaching because I know – in a very tangible fashion – just how
much of a difference teachers can make. My teachers pushed me to
realize my potential.
I am the youngest of
seven children, born into a family with few resources. I worked my
way through college, graduating without my parents’ financial
assistance, without taking out loans and while maintaining a
cumulative 3.6 average at Cornell University, a top-tier university
well-known for its rigor, and later receiving a fistful of
acceptances from top graduate programs….
The truth is that there simply aren’t
enough hours in the day to do everything that is required of me.
There is always something, whether it’s a training requirement or
writing tests or preparing my lessons or grading papers or
counseling struggling students. Some things get finished. Most
things do not.
My working life is an uneasy
calculation between the most pressing need and the requirements
that I hope can remain unfinished. Sometimes I feel like I am
always on the verge of failure, one tiny slip or miscalculation
away from either being fired or failing my students.

I find myself longing for fewer students or fewer classes
or fewer training requirements, all in the hopes that I can hunker
down and concentrate on becoming a good teacher. An effective
In the recent report issued by the
Broad Foundation, which honored the district in the fall as the
nation’s top urban school system, the foundation makes the
following observation about HISD:

“High-performing personnel are rewarded through
performance pay, and ineffective personnel are exited. The district
links teacher evaluations to student performance, providing bonuses
to top performers. Every teacher in the district is placed into one
of four performance tiers. Before 2009, the district did not
differentiate its teachers, and only 4 percent of teachers had
growth plans. Today, all teachers in the bottom quartile are on
growth plans and top teachers mentor others.”

I look around me and I see teachers who are overworked
and stressed. To be given a staggering workload – and then to work
at a job that is increasingly more insecure – is to work in an
environment that callously churns through employees.

HISD makes a point of noting that ineffective teachers
are forced to leave the district. What I wonder is how many of
these teachers who leave are truly ineffective and how many are
made ineffective simply due to the overwhelming
When I think back to the teachers
who made the greatest impact on me, very few were the new teachers.
Most of them were veteran educators who had the experience and
skill necessary to make a lasting impact. Will I make