Twice in the last two weeks I have felt the need to come to the rescue of my profession.
I am a teacher. I have been out of the classroom for nearly 4 years now, but I will always consider myself a teacher, just like a parent whose children have moved away will always consider herself a parent. My experience is 13 years in my own classroom of 20 to 35 kids (not a type-o.) Before that I subbed in 3 different districts for a year. Before that I was a classroom aide for 2 first grade teachers who shared me for a year.
Like other teachers I went through my Bachelor's Degree program, then my teaching credential program, which included Student Teaching. I was doing this in the late 1990's when student teaching in your own classroom was acceptable using an "emergency credential" while you finished up your studies. From 1996-1999 I would teach all day then drive to the university 2-3 days a week and be in class until 10pm. On the days I didn't have class I worked on homework, sometimes for hours, after school, along with the after-hours paperwork that every teacher must do. Then up the next morning at 5am and back to school with my kids. (No Child Left Behind has now eliminated emergency credentials.)
I've taught Kindergarten, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade.
I taught in 2 different inner city neighborhoods which are gang-ridden. Many of my students have had family members in prison. The majority came from single parent homes. 99.9% of them were on the free lunch program. Many of their parents were illiterate and/or undocumented.
And I loved my kids. All (roughly) 450 kids who I have taught over the years.
I spent hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket on mini field trips, incentives, party items, classroom supplies, and the majority of my class library. (Even though I don't have kids of my own, I've kept the books that mean the most to me.)
My hours were rarely from 8:00am to 2:30pm. Several unpaid hours were used doing report cards, organizing end-of-year files, grading papers, mentoring/tutoring students, having on-the-spot parent conferences, redecorating the room for a holiday or to showcase new student work, and preparing the room for Back to School Night or Open House (automatic 12-13 hour days.)
Beyond my basic job description, I was also a nurse, counselor, advocate, policeman, chauffeur, and mother to my students.
Frequently I had to play detective when someone would steal something from someone else, be it a jacket, cell phone, snack, book or toy. It was up to me to follow the clues, read the expression of the accused and decide who was telling the truth. Then I had to decide the course of action once the item turned up.
My days were always planned ahead of time, but rarely went as planned due to the kid who threw up, the kid who wet his pants, the kid whose mom showed up unannounced with a birthday cake, the kid who had to leave early, an earthquake drill, fire drill, neighborhood police lockdown (which could last up to 2 hours after school dismissal,) mid-day teacher training, emergency meeting, and a host of other reasons.
I have spent, literally, hundreds of hours in teacher trainings and meetings. They could be grade-level meetings, literacy coach meetings, with publishers trying to sell new textbook programs, learning new technology with Smart Boards and computerized report cards (OK those were cool,) ideas on teaching kids reading in small groups, ideas on teaching kids reading in a whole group (the states can never make up their minds,) drug education programs, social interaction programs, new grading systems (remember the 1, 2, 3, 4 system where 4 was an "A?,) and many, many others.
Were we ever given paid time to work in our classrooms on those training days? Rarely, and only if the presentation let out early.
Out of my 13 years of teaching, I think I had an aide (only in the mornings) for 4 of those years. Great aides, too. BUT, when the office had extra filing to be done, or help was needed preparing testing materials...bye, bye aide. They were called away and we couldn't do anything about it. At one of my schools I was lucky to get my aide 2 or 3 days a week, and that was in an active kindergarten class.
I've had kids with ADHD, drug babies, foster kids, kids abandoned by one or both parents, and kids who have been physically and/or sexually abused.
Anytime one of my kids needed to speak privately with me, I listened. Whether they were being bullied, upset because their parents were arrested, feeling ignored at home, had hurt feelings, feeling left out with the other students, etc....I listened. My goal was always to make the classroom feel like a safe place for the children and for them to have at least one adult that they could depend on consistently.
I say these things not to brag or complain. I say them because THIS IS WHAT TEACHERS DO. Pretty much all of them. (I'm making an allowance for the "lemons," because they exist in every profession.)
So here are some things to remember the next time you feel the need to criticize a teacher:
As a whole...
- Teachers will usually refer to their students as "my kids," not "my students" because when you have them 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year they really do feel like your kids.
- Teachers do not have "picking on your child" on their agenda.
- Teachers are not out to "break" children's spirits.
- Teachers rarely have administrative support.
- Teachers are often blamed for test scores (speaking as someone who taught in a low-literacy district, yet if I had moved to the wealthy district 7 miles away with great scores I would've been praised. Hmm...)
- Being in a classroom for an hour as a volunteer or counselor does not give a person the full picture of the dynamics of that classroom.
- Classroom management and discipline must come first if anything is to be accomplished, yet teachers have very few options on the kinds of consequences allowed...and those options are dwindling. Still, most teachers are about positive discipline, using incentives, not punishment. Unfortunately, some behavior warrants consequences. Trust me, it is rarely a teacher's first choice.
- As important as classroom management is, there is no class for it when studying for a teaching credential. Something that baffles us all. It is a trial-and-error process. When teachers need ideas and support in managing a classroom's discipline, incentives, etc., their best resource is talking to other teachers.
- Teachers wish they had the freedom to be as creative as they want to be--state mandates make us feel that creative endeavors like music and art are a waste of time--but we do them anyway because we know their value...still with a twinge of guilt.
- Teachers do not leave the classroom mentally just because they leave school for the day--I would spend hours in the afternoon and evening at home thinking about certain struggling kids and how I could improve the school experience for them.
- Many teachers spend years taking classes after school and on weekends to finish their Masters and Doctorate--any extra school credits helps the paycheck.
- Teachers do not hate the idea of home-schooling or feel that it is taking our jobs away--I actually find home-schooling quite fascinating--but a home-school parent is not a classroom teacher... and vice versa. One is not better than the other, but the roles and experiences are very different.
- Teachers do take responsibility, we are human, we're not perfect, even though everyone expects us to be.
My fellow teachers, who I respect SO much...this is for you.
UPDATE: January 31, 2014
I have received an overwhelming amount of positive responses to this post from multiple sources over the past few days. Much more than I expected or intended. Thank you.
Teaching is a profession that involves a lot of emotion. You have parents who dearly love their children--as only a parent can--want to protect them, and want them to succeed. And you have teachers who become very invested in their students, also want them to succeed, and have daily pressures while trying to maintain a calm consistency in the classroom. Sometimes parents and teachers see eye-to-eye and sometimes they do not (discussions are so much more productive when they do.) The important thing to remember is that everyone's goal is ultimately the same--to help our kids become good, productive members of society. If we focus on that common goal, everyone wins.
Thank you again for the great feedback, everyone.