On being a teacher…

Warning: LONG POST.  Make yourself a cup of tea or a sandwich, or better yet, A DRINK.

I really try and keep my work life out of my blog, but this is more of a rant regarding my profession as a whole as opposed to my personal job.  I had a particularly frustrating conversation recently, in which a person found out that “I have time off AGAIN” and stated that “teachers should teach more—we’re off far too much” and “teachers are overpaid.”  They then made the oft-quoted, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” joke that never, ever fails to irritate me.

You can thank them for this rant.

First, I am not, in any way, shape, or form insulting the professions of others.  Not in the least.  ALL jobs are important, and valuable.  But, since teaching is what I know, I can only speak for my job.

I acknowledge that I get a lot of time off.  My schedule is particularly amazing: 9-10 weeks on, 2 weeks off, and a 2 month summer.  And please don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for every darn day off.  The thing is, you see, there’s a reason why we get time off, more than other jobs.  This year, I am responsible for 110 kids.  This means I have 110 things to grade: papers, worksheets, projects, etc.  It means I have 110 grades to calculate, and parents to call, and things to take care of.  There is never a time when I am completely finished with work, as there is always SOMETHING to be done.  To prove my point?  I have a pile of 61 district essays to grade while I’m “on break” plus, I have the responsibility of 9 weeks of lessons to plan.  Lesson planning takes an extraordinary amount of time, at least in my experience, if it’s to be done well.  I have a million different things to cover in my classes—and not nearly enough time or resources to do it.  Besides the responsibilities of my classroom, there is supervision duty, committees, programs to help run, meetings, parent conferences…the list goes on.

More importantly, there is the business of the emotional care of 110 kids.  In the population I work with, school is a safe place for kids who encounter more as children than I’ll likely ever know or understand.  I have spent many a night up worrying about kids who have nothing—emotionally or in the sense of physical possessions.  I believe in being an adult in their corner, meaning that I hear stories of bullying, family tragedy, tough choices, extreme joy and the in’s and out’s of being 13.  And for many of my students, I recognize that I am one of few safe people in their life–if not the only.  That is in no way a complaint—it’s a joy, a huge responsibility that I marvel at.  I feel so incredulous sometimes when I see that kids trust me, just because I have “the big desk.”

I take my job seriously.  I feel I have a duty to really teach kids to write, to read, to be better people.  I teach them how to write a sentence and how to punctuate it properly, how to read a book and understand it, how to speak intelligently and politely.  We work on giving and receiving feedback graciously.  I model what it means to be kind, to be understanding, and how to have fun while learning.  We laugh.  I can’t come to work tired or hungover or just sit at my desk when I’m in a bad mood.  I am in “output mode” all day.  I have driven home many days, tears falling down my cheeks for the things I said or did, or didn’t say or for the way I snapped at a kid, or the fact that I wonder if a student will eat that night.

I’m not a saint.  There are some days when I question why I’m in my profession.  When I berate myself for all of the things I didn’t teach.  I have lessons that flop, and kids who think I’m the meanest person in the whole world, and sometimes?  I AM.  I get annoyed, I rush through questions, I don’t give 100% of myself because I’m thinking about something else.

But above all, I LOVE MY JOB.  The rewards are countless.  There are essays from students who learn things about themselves and share them with me, there are the notes I find slipped onto my desk, the stories from parents who thank me for working with their kid.  There are the side hugs I get from kids when they learn I’ve given them an A, or when a student moves up a reading level or writes a great paper.  There are the letters at the end of the year, and the emails and the smiles and the classes I’ve taught that have left me laughing hysterically until my sides hurt.

And that trumps the time off any day.  It erases the stacks of papers, the long nights, the faculty meetings, the yelling parents, the endless lesson planning, the constant effort to make my classroom fun, engaging and exciting EVERY SINGLE DAY.

So, for those of you still in doubt, I leave you someone who says it better than I ever can, have or will:

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25 Comments

Filed under life with titch

25 responses to “On being a teacher…

  1. wonderful. you are amazing. my bff’s mom is a resource room teacher, one of my other really good buddies is a teacher, and i loved pretty much all of my teachers in school. i always thought they were under appreciated. people always bitch about how teachers only have to work a few hours a day, but really, yall put in way longer days than anyone else.

    also, those of you who teach in places where school is an escape… sigh. that’s tough. my buddy kyle’s wife is a kindergarten teacher in a terrible neighborhood and there are nights she is literally sobbing because she knows they are endangered in some way, shape, or form. sigh. i can’t even say how much i feel this, but YOU ROCK.

  2. Very well stated, Amy. Those comments used to (and still do, actually, even though I’m out of the classroom now) drive me absolutely CRAZY. I cannot tell you how many times I’d hear about how I didn’t have a “real” job or about how my job was so much easier simply because I could go home at 2pm if I wanted to. The fact that teaching is so much more than just the hours in the classroom is lost on people. The planning. The grading. The after-hours meetings, conferences, seminars, chaperoning of dances and sporting events, attending student activities simply out of support of your kids….all of those things are extra. And they are exhausting. NOT TO MENTION the teaching itself. Teaching is not a desk job. The time in the classroom is active and BUSY and there are no breaks – “prep period” my bum. AND, as you said, there’s the emotional attachment to the kids & constant concern for their well-being. Summers are not “time off,” but rather (for a good teacher) time to reboot a little while you’re in the midst of re-assessing the last year and reorganizing for the next.

    I heard a statement at a conference once that teachers are in a profession in which they make the 2nd largest amount of decisions in the course of their work day than any other profession – second only to air-traffic controllers. Now, I don’t know about where that statistic came from, but they made us think through our day (or even one class period) and reflect on how many decisions we made and how many kids those decisions affected. It was really an eye-opener for me, and really made me even more aware of how important my job really was.

    Good for you for sticking up for us teachers – there is no job more important than forming young people. Keep up the good work. xoxo

  3. YES! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!

    I freakin’ love you. Screw the people who don’t understand the value of what you do. I can’t believe you honestly hear that shit from people. Honestly? REALLY?

    I loved the video. It made my heart warm in a very happy place. And I don’t even think it was the cider I’m drinking. Sugar free, of course.

    Kisses,
    Jenn (Ex Hot Girl)

  4. I salute you! I really appreciate the value of your work! you are fantastic!

  5. Those comments irritate me and I’m not a teacher nor do I know all that many of them. But I do know I could never do it, for all the reasons you listed above, having to be ‘on’ at all times, no bad days, no lazy days, all the planning and so on. Just the thought of all that makes me realise just how big of a task it is. You deserve all the holidays you get, and even then you are always thinking about next term, and all the things you need to get done. I also know there are some bad and/or lazy teachers out there too, so I hope that one day, if/when I have kids they will have teachers as awesome as you 🙂

  6. When I read things like this it always makes me wish I’d become a teacher.

    Teachers have this unique responsibility of shaping the next generation – and I think that NO one, except maybe other teachers, understands how much of a challenge and a reward this is.

    Go you!

  7. I am a first grade teacher and that video is hilarious! This year is a very hard year for me and I know what you mean about not being a saint. I cry at least 3 times a week and berate myself for getting frustrated and not showing more love to children who really need it. Teaching is hard and yet it seems everyone thinks they can do your job better than you. Tons of paperwork and bull crap from the state board and local school board and parents. I do appreciate my time off, but I consider it well deserved.

  8. My mom is a teacher along with many of my friends, so I have seen firsthand the work that goes into it. I wouldn’t want to do it and I’m very grateful for those who do!

  9. This is really just so lovely. I go back and forth about teaching nearly every day, and never seem to be able to make up my mind about whether or not I want to do it. I’ve blogged about it several times and am surrounded by teachers. Teaching has always been in the back of my mind, and I just don’t know what is holding me back. This is such a great post though, I really like it.

  10. ohhayitskk

    loved this post. i used to be a preschool teacher, and my mama is a teacher, so i hear all of this loud and clear…i really think teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there.

  11. As a daughter of the hardest-working teacher I’ve ever met (not a dis on other teachers, just to highlight the type of teacher my mom was), I recognize it’s a hard job when done correctly, with long hours and as much red-tape (or more) as any job. Still, I want to teach…I have a heart for teaching and for children/youth. I hope to get my certificate in the next few years.

  12. I gave up public school teaching because I needed time to work out who I was before I could help kids do the same thing. And you know what? I miss the constant challenging of my opinion and the need to have eyes in the back of my head, because alongside those things came that warm fuzzy feeling of doing something good on a daily basis. One day I hope to go back to it and I just know the “holidays” won’t be much of a break. Enjoy your breaks and never let anyone make you feel crap about the great job you do. Without people like you, where would people like them send their kids to be educated?

  13. Haley

    My Fiance is a music teacher and he is constantly working. We could be eating dinner and I can see that he is planning something in the back of his head. When he comes home he has to practice the music that he is playing for the chorus that he conducts. He calls parents and he grades papers. I totally am in agreement with everything that you say. Teaching is a hard job and there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most people do not realize.

  14. Okay, so first of all–when you said “This is a long post, so you might want to grab a drink,” I both stopped, went to the bathroom, and grabbed my latte. 😉

    Second, I simply cannot believe that anyone honestly thinks that teachers, because of the breaks in schedule, are “overpaid.” Ludicrous! My second semester of teaching, I kept track of every single minute I spent lesson planning, holding office hours, in the classroom, making photocopies, collating and stapling photocopies when that part of the copy machine broke down AGAIN, grading essays, making a new handout just for the students who didn’t understand the first handout I made, walking students to Disabled Students Programs and Services and supporting them while they were courageous enough to register to get support, listened to stories of rape/beating/shame/emotional abuse/physical abuse/parents who steal their tuition money and spend it on drugs/parents who are out on the streets getting shot/”it’s the third time this year that someone I know was shot and killed” stories…all of it.

    And you know what it broke down to?

    A little less than $10 an hour. That’s minimum wage in San Francisco (the minimum wage in this area is set higher than the rest of the country, due to the cost of living).

    And the thing is, I’m a COLLEGE teacher.

    You public school teachers are dealing with FAR MORE than I ever deal with–more students, more grading, more testing, more meetings about testing, more dysfunction, more back-talk…

    Amy, I salute you and encourage/invite you to respond this way when someone says any of what was said to you:

    “I notice that I don’t feel supported when I hear you say that. It doesn’t feel good.”

    Hopefully something like that would be respectful enough to get the person to take a look at what they were saying while allowing you to express your truth.

    You rock!

  15. And I feel the need to add something else (as if I didn’t talk enough):

    I once, in a fit of utter despair and exhaustion, said to a veteran teacher I was sharing an office with that I didn’t understand why I “couldn’t get it together” with teaching, why it was so hard. I was totally beating myself up.

    She said (very calmly) that part of the stress of teaching is that the teacher is ultimately responsible for the students. For the most part, in any other profession, if you don’t show up to work, someone else can take over. For instance–with only a few exceptions, for the most part, in the medical profession a doctor might see 100 patients a week, but if that doctor is sick, there’s some other doctor in that specialty who can see patients. The work isn’t going to backlog just because the doctor wasn’t in.

    The stress of knowing that you are carrying 100+ people is tough. Knowing that if you miss a day or get behind on a lesson, it’s your job to pull things together, and that no sub can do your grading for you, is really intense.

    When she said this, it made a lot of sense to me.

  16. I’m sure what you wrote was really important and special, but I couldn’t get past your *warning* at the beginning.

    Your mom says hi.

  17. You should never EVER have to make justifications as to why you became a teacher and why you love your job. Teachers have the most important job IN THE WORLD. PERIOD.

    That video is awesome.

  18. I tried the teaching thing for a while. I was one final internship away from graduating but I ended up failing it. And I know how difficult teaching is firsthand, and I was just a student teacher! I put in so much work and effort in student teaching that all I seemed to do was make lesson plans, teach, and deal with my supervising teachers (who were the worst human beings to walk this planet, IJS).

    But…I would never, ever demean what you do or think you’re overpaid. Not one bit. Teachers are THE most underpaid, overworked professionals out there and I give you my biggest props!

  19. amy

    Great post! As a fellow English teacher, I know the hard work and frustration that you endure. However, I also know how satisfying it is to watch a student who I’ve been hounding finally try and succeed. My husband is concerned about the amount of work I do, but he doesn’t get to see the success in class or the interactions that I have with the kids that makes it all worth it.

  20. i come from a long line of teachers. in fact, i thought i was destined to become one. yes, it is for the kids that you do this. wrapping you in hugs and sending you virtual apples!

    xo

  21. awmb

    Sometimes I think that my life is geared to becoming a teacher, then realize that I don’t have the money for school. Then I realize that that’s a bad excuse and I should go. Then I get distracted, and 6 months later I remember that I’m supposed to have ambitions.

    Your post was inspiring. It interesting actually hearing the perspective of a teacher, mainly because I have never met one that I am close in age and state of mind with. I think teaching can be one of the hardest emotional and mental jobs ever, but the more challenging, the more rewarding later on, I bet.

    The slam poet at the end was a brilliant finish.

  22. Many, many claps! My mother’s taught (both middle school English and elementary Special Ed) for my entire life and I still think it’s what I want to do, myself – teaching’s in my blood somewhere. I’ve seen the price teachers pay and I can’t say enough about how much I respect the ones who care about their students like you do. Thank you for doing it all, even though it’s hard and largely unpraised. ❤

  23. Angel

    While I know we’re not on the same level, I feel your pain from a state worker perspective. We constantly hear shit about how lazy we are, how little we work, and how undeserving we are. I despise it when people don’t take the time to really learn about a job before blindly insulting it. I’m glad you put some truth out there about teachers!

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  25. Dude, that video rocked.
    Thank you for doing such an incredible job, and for reminding me to think about the special teachers in my life.

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