Yesterday after I finished working out and collapsed on the floor, I distracted myself by looking in my note bag. This bag is a gallon plastic bag I have had for a long time. The bag includes all of the notes and cards students, parents, and fellow teachers have given me in the past 20 years. The earliest one is from a student I taught during my student teaching class. She asked me to come visit the following year. I hope her life has worked out. I love to read these notes every now and again to remind myself I have not wasted my time or my life. I have made a difference to someone somewhere.
Teaching garners little respect outside of the walls of school and sometimes even within the walls of a school, teachers feel pushed down. I am an overachiever and the hardest part of this profession has been people not respecting what I do for a living and feeling free to commit I must have been unable to do anything else. Believe it or not, I actually love being an educator.
My favorite stupid quote made by people in response to me saying I am a teacher is “So, I bet you love getting paid for that summer holiday.” Being paid for the summer would be really great, however teacher do not officially work at school during the summer and therefore do not receive pay for those days. Teachers are only paid for 180 or so days we actually work. Most districts divide the salary over 12 months so a teacher will have a check over the summer, but the salary was earned during the school year.
My second favorite quote made by people about me being a teacher is, “I bet it is great to be done by 3 o’clock.” Again, it would be amazing if I could be done by 3 o’clock, however, I have yet to see that happen. I may leave school a few minutes after dismissal, but I have always taken quite a bit of work home with me. I have graded papers at my daughters’ dance practices, during long drives during my holidays, the hour before my kids get up on Easter morning, and all kinds of times in between. I don’t grade papers during church. I have thought about it.
I have never minded working an additional three or four hours a night on schoolwork. My family minds it, I think. What I do mind is when people assume teaching is easy and requires little to no effort. When my sweet friend shared a comment her husband made about how much time teaching takes, I began to formulate this blog in my mind. Teaching, or rather excellent teaching requires substantial time.
I admit there are plenty of teachers in the world who work from the first bell to the last bell and do little else, but I do not concern myself with these people. We, as a profession, should stop accepting these people as equal peers. Rather all of my interest and my research are focused on those teachers who engage in the pursuit of expertise.
When I was in the classroom I spent much of my summer planning for the next year, creating materials, meeting with my teammates, reading professional literature, and attending trainings. In twenty years of teaching I have taken one summer off. I had a baby instead.
I don’t mind all the extra hours I put in, because these hours have lead to my competence as a professional. I knew when I entered the profession I would work about 70 hours a week between the hours at school, planning, grading, and extra responsibilities from clubs to professional development. I also knew I would not receive any additional pay for my extra work. I also knew I could give a test with ten questions, which would take me an hour to grade or I could give a test with 50 questions, which takes me 10 hours to grade. Regardless, the pay is the same. I, however, made my exams based on student need, which means I spent quite a bit of time doing more. The best part is the work paid off for me in the success of my students.
When I began teaming with Monique Wild and Larry Chambless, we planned all summer prior to our first year together. What a difference that made! Our parent meetings were planned, our lessons were aligned, and we had procedures ready to go. No planning in the summers would have lead to a lack of organization throughout the whole year. The students and the teachers would have suffered. We continued planning every summer thereafter.
When I moved into leadership I thought life would become easier. I can honestly say I do take less paperwork home, but I also spend multiple hours at school doing official duties. I answer the phone late at night when a teacher needs to talk and the responsibility stress is at an entirely different level.
Now I see precious young educators both at my school and in other schools. My heart hurts for the young teachers when they tell me they can’t imagine having a family and teaching, because there is no way they can keep up the work load and have time to raise children. I recently asked a few young teachers to track the time they spent working on schoolwork outside of school for one week. The highest count was 32 hours and the lowest count was 15 hours for an average week. This was not a week when reports cards were due or special testing was happening. I know they actually work this hard, because I can see the efforts and the results.
How do we raise a generation of teachers when the realities of life are most people want a family and a personal life? Other countries have found solutions, but much of the research also includes the respect the private sector as a whole has for educators. In our own profession we have work to do to change the respect factor. I know tenure is a hot button and I have lived without it and with it. I have my opinions for a later blog. We must police our profession so everyone does the job they were hired to do and then figure out how to make the job of teaching not only more effective, but also more manageable.
One of my favorite books about teaching is Among School Children by Tracy Kidder. I read this book as a young teacher. If you want a glimpse into the life of a teacher who works hard and reaches children, read this book. Then when someone tells you they are a teacher, your response can be, “Wow, what a hard job. I appreciate your efforts.” Honestly, I could work with someone to reform the profession, if I believed there was some respect for what I do. I am “just” a teacher.