Every profession has its behind-the-scenes mechanisms. These are the things that you don’t really know about until you’re deep in the muck and mire of day-to-day operations. In the same way as going to the doctor doesn’t inform you of the billing and insurance company difficulties they encounter, attending school as a student or a parent doesn’t always show you the nuts and bolts of being a teacher.
Now before I get into this rant, let me explain that 99% of my teaching has been done at “bad” schools. I taught low-socioeconomically disadvantaged students (Title 1), who were mostly second language learners (even if they were born in the United States), children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, in some rough areas. My latest school is a half-step up. The economics are a bit better, but… Therefore, I’m sharing my experience AS A TEACHER from my perspective of these schools. My son, however, attends a good school. It has a high API, there is TONS of parental involvement (both fathers and mothers), most are upper middle class, few ELL (and then Asian), a very active and lucrative PTA, excellent and educated leadership for the school site council, and students with more schema than you can shake a stick at.
Given all that, most people think they know about teaching. You probably don’t. Unless you have a family member in this profession or you’re incredibly active in your school, it’s doubtful you know as much as you think. Here’s some behind the scene information.
- Teachers tend to spend the first few weeks after school gets out agonizing over how they screwed up. Seriously. Teachers are generally pretty reflective, so they’ll look at each student and suddenly see what they should have done differently. Suddenly the lights go on and all of a sudden you see how you should have taught a difficult subject.
- Teachers use this input to help design the upcoming year. Many teachers collaborate on lesson plans, drag home materials, research, shop and read so that the next year will be better. Since it’s only June, most of us (in CA anyway) don’t have test scores to look at.
- August is agony. As bad as we might feel we did, the cold light of test scores in August is a wake-up b*tch slap of epic proportions. Inevitably you’ll have missed the target, your best students MOVED DOWN (WTF???) and, huh? the screwball who NEVER paid attention moves up 60 points? How did I do that?
Not only that, but now everyone from district office to your reading coach wants you to use last year’s information to inform this year’s teaching. A) those kids are GONE and b) you don’t have scores for this year’s students (that’s their x-grade teacher). Now, I need to turn on a dime, retool everything, collaborate, get the classroom set up, AND be ready at 8:10 on Monday morning. ARGH. It’s only August and, trust me, after two days of professional development we need a vacation. It’s EMOTIONALLY DRAINING.
- Teachers are contract employees. Sure, after a time it’s hard to break that contract; however, we are only paid for the days we work. Yes, 186 days and 8 hours a day. If I choose (NEED) to spend more than 8 hours at work because I have meetings and preparation, spend Saturday copying materials, spend my evenings checking student work, or go into clean my classroom over a holiday or collaborating over the summer, that “dilutes” my pay. While teachers are paid well for the EXPECTED professionalism outlined by our contract, we’re not well paid for what we actually do (and what, really, society expects us to do).
- We’re not that well-paid. Not compared to other professions. Not compared to what we put into it.
- Many of us place EVERYTHING else second. To be married to us is similar to being married to a doctor, military person, or clergy. The job is bigger than anything. You can work 24/7 and still not be done. Most teachers are overachievers and failed perfectionists. We pour life-blood into what we do, not only because we expect if of ourselves, but because society only recognizes those who sacrifice everything for their jobs.
- We don’t hate the administration (usually). Schools can’t run without office staff, resource teachers, and principals. Principals can make or break a school. We need them and they need us. They are our guiding light, our supporters, and the pawn of the district office. Their hands are often tied by rules and regulations not of their own devices. If they find and manipulate loop-holes, most of the time, it’s needed. When you find the right person, the school can do amazing things.
- We spend more money then even we think on our classes. Buying rewards, books, supplies, supplemental materials, organization bins, posters, etc. comes from PERSONAL teacher funds. This last year, as an incentive, I paid $5 per student to go to Golfland if the students met their word goal in AR. Sure it was the best $170 I’d ever spent. On the other hand, that’s gas money for 4-5 weeks. By the way, we are not reimbursed what we spend. We might get $300-$500 a year, but it still doesn’t cover what we put into our classrooms.
- We are not, despite whatever movie you saw or magazine article you read, miracle workers. We work with 20-160 students a day. Yes, your child is important; however, we can’t drop everything in order to walk your child step-by-step through the process. We expect parents to be active, to see things we don’t see, to help your child learn and grow. In 6th grade, I don’t have time to reteach subtraction skills.
- We’re not nuns or priests. We have private lives, spouses, children, parents, and friends. While we CAN spend 24/7 at work, we also need to leave school to be with our families. We also burp, fart, swear, eat junk food, have bad days, and like to enjoy our time away.
- We aren’t in love with homework. I personally hate it. It’s ONE MORE THING TO DO when I’m being badgered about test scores (of one kind or another). It needs to be reviewed, checked, documented, acknowledged, and appropriate. It takes time to check in class. It bites into the 40-minute lesson plan. Parents, kids, administrators, and other teachers complain about it. I give it only out of expectation, not that I feel it’s helping.
- We’re not respected. Seriously, think about every time you talk about how you hate your child’s teacher. You don’t respect that person. You don’t even like them. Now, think about this with your friends and family. Teachers aren’t respected because: 1) they expect too much; 2) they expect too little; 3) they aren’t flexible; 4) they didn’t listen to Johnny’s story about…; 5) they make more money than I do for what?; 6) my kid still can’t read, multiply, solve problems, etc. 7) insert own reason here. Face it, it’s a platitude. We’re not respected because YOU could do my job only BETTER. *I* don’t UNDERSTAND your child. *I* am not culturally sensitive. *I* don’t understand his/her disability.
Trust me, if you respected me (or any other teacher), you’d walk in ready to work with us, not against us. In fact, we’d actually KNOW you by face, not guess when we see you.
- We ONLY work 6 hours. I get in around 7 and I generally don’t leave until 5. I take work home with me. I work on weekends. I work during the summer reviewing materials, writing lesson plans, integrating pacing calendars, and reading. We have meetings after school — professional development, leadership, school committees, parents, and sometimes students. It’s a rare teacher that walks in at 8:00 and leaves at 3. By contract, we observe the 8-hour work day.
Also, during this school day I have (maybe) a 15-minute break (if I don’t have yard duty that week) and a 30-minute lunch (maybe). I’m “luckier” than most in that I have a 50-minute prep daily (or had. I don’t know about this upcoming year). However, you’d be amazed how little time that is to read, organize, check, meet with colleagues/office, return phone calls or emails, and get ready for when the kids return.
Teaching is not for the faint at heart. I’m not really complaining. I just want you to know that there’s more to what goes on than the 1-6 hours your child is in the classroom. Most teachers run from start to finish. We’re not slackers.
Please give us a break.