Teaching is valuable, crucial, fascinating work. Except, you know, when it isn’t. Most of my day is spent hanging out with amazing young people and, I hope, making a difference in their lives. However, other parts of my day are just pointless. Here are some ways teachers waste time every day.
1. Write the standard on the board.
You know who reads it? An administrator doing an observation. Nobody else. Just them. I’ve never seen a kid read the standard or ask any questions about it. And sure, I’m supposed to reference it in the course of my lesson. But come on. I’ve got 50 minutes to beat some basic literacy into these kids. There’s only so much I can do.
2. Teach grammar.
Okay, some of it is useful. I’ll work on sentence fragments and run-ons until the cows come home, and I’ll drill my kids on the difference between “your” and “you’re” until it’s coming out their ears. But I just can’t bring myself to care whether they know the difference between past perfect and past progressive verb tenses. Unfortunately, the standards include a lot of pointless knowledge that will not help my students’ writing or their understanding.
3. Grade daily work.
Like most teachers, I have to put in a certain number of grades per week. Some of those are big, meaningful assignments. Some are smaller, but no less important, tasks that ask students to reflect on their learning or check their understanding. And some are filler so I don’t get in trouble for not having enough grades. With these minimums, it’s impossible not to give the occasional meaningless busywork that boosts the number of grades I’ve posted without really improving the kids’ learning or understanding.
4. Collect data.
It seems there’s always some kid who desperately needs an IEP but doesn’t have one, which means we have to go through the process to get the kid services. Yes, it’s incredibly important to provide kids with the accommodations they need. But spending 20 minutes twice a week using some “intervention” one-on-one just to prove that it doesn’t work, then giving a “probe” that’s completely unrelated to my curriculum or the skills the kid needs? That’s meaningless paperwork, and it takes away from my students’ learning.
5. Enforce the dress code.
The justification is always “If we sweat the small stuff, we won’t have to worry about the big stuff,” but that’s never been my experience. I just don’t care if Yolanda in fifth period has fake nails. Could they potentially be dangerous? Maybe. But the back row of my class is passing around a jar of Nutella and eating it with their fingers, and I feel like that’s way more of a health hazard. I. Just. Do. Not. Care.
I love my job. I plan to teach at my current school at my current grade level until I eventually collapse in the hallway and nobody notices until rigor mortis starts to set in. But I’ll admit, I get a little frustrated when I miss lunch—again—to do a reading fluency probe that will give me information I already know, or when I get knocked down on an observation for rephrasing the standard on the board into language that’s comprehensible to my students.
Maybe someday the whole teaching process will be streamlined, and I can focus my attention on things that are really important. Until then, I’ll keep ignoring Jose’s flip-flops, leave the same standard on the board for three weeks, and plug in each kid’s average three times as a “participation grade” when I realize I haven’t entered enough marks in my grade book for the week. I don’t think it’s causing my kids too much suffering.
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Plus, why teachers quit.