I teach 95 students a day, and I do all the other myriad tasks that go along with that job. I’m a teacher, a traffic cop, a social worker, a writer, an actor, a warden, and a mom for the kids who pass through my room. And I love it.
I’ve been offered the chance to move to administration multiple times and have passed it up without a moment’s regret. I’m halfway to retirement, and I don’t see how thirty years in the classroom could possibly not be enough for me. I love teaching with all my heart. But far too often I find myself sapped of the resources to do it well.
I love time with my students …
I love the fascinating kids who surround me. They’re so funny and so resilient. And they are without a doubt worth getting up before sunrise and putting in way too many hours a week. I mentor kids outside of school, and I’ve developed lasting relationships with kids I taught more than a decade ago.
… but I could do without the babysitting responsibilities.
At my school, we eat with students in the lunchroom. I’ve been with kids for four hours at that point and have four more to go. I’d just like to talk to an adult for fifteen minutes while I wolf down a salad. We spend 10–15 minutes lining kids up in the hallway at dismissal and waiting until the entire school is silent. Try having that as your last interaction with kids before the weekend. Worst of all is supervising lunch detentions. Eating while pacing around the room eyeballing kids and silently daring them to throw another pea across the classroom? Very relaxing and conducive to good digestion.
I love creating curriculum …
Teachers at my school design their own curriculum. It’s a massive time commitment and responsibility—and a huge privilege. I get to teach kids whatever books I think they’ll love. I spend tons of time every summer reading up on the research, and I seek out my own training opportunities. And I wouldn’t change a thing about that.
… but it would be nice to have the resources I need.
Sometimes that’s money. More often it’s time. I never have planning at the same time as the exceptional ed teachers, so any co-planning we do has to take place outside of school. Same with my grade level team; our planning is so often taken by conferences, there’s hardly ever time to explore cross-curricular connections that would really help our kids. And when we do have a teacher planning day, it’s invariably a “data dive,” where we talk about test scores all day and never address ways we can actually help the students.
I love watching my kids grow …
A kid came up to me this year and said, “My sister said not to worry that I can’t read that well, because she says you taught her how to read.” And dude, I totally did. I get kids who come in reading at a second grade level and they make three or four years of progress in my class. I take kids who can’t write a sentence and teach them how to write coherent essays. And I’m nothing special; teachers all over the place are doing this for their students. It’s basically a superpower.
… but the constant documentation exhausts me.
We give computer-based benchmarks three times a year, state tests every spring, and a variety of standardized measures of achievement in between. Every time, I’m expected to analyze each student’s performance and growth in stupefying detail and then differentiate activities based on Lexile level, language usage skills, vocabulary, and a plethora of other factors. Problem is, these assessments and the endless analysis that accompanies them don’t actually tell me anything new about my kids. I already know which kids are low readers. All this accomplishes is putting competent kids in groups that are too low for them because they had an off day during testing.
I love helping my students grow socially and emotionally …
I draft former students as mentors. When I don’t have lunch duty, I spend it listening to a kid talk about Marvel movies or helping a cohort of others apply to a scholarship for summer leadership camp. I’m getting trained in restorative justice so I can apply it in my classroom and, hopefully, my school.
… but enforcing meaningless rules is a waste of my time.
I can’t pretend that yelling at kids to tuck their shirts in or punishing them for wearing the wrong color belt is preparing them for their future jobs. Who would willingly stay in a job where people treated you like that? Aren’t we trying to give them options for the future, a chance at jobs where they’ll be treated like responsible people? Should I really get bent out of shape if they whisper in the hall or if the line they march in to the bathroom isn’t geometrically perfect? I’m supposed to spend half my day tending to minutiae of student behavior that has no impact on their well-being or learning.
I love teaching.
I love my kids and their families, and even my administration most of the time. Differentiation and lesson planning are my jam. But the things I have to do that are completely unrelated to student learning and growth are killing me. The time I spend on “data dives,” monitored bathroom breaks, and benchmark testing has to come from somewhere, and the other stuff I’m doing is too important to give up.
It comes down to horrible choices: Do I stop helping students apply to private high schools, or do I miss my own son’s school party because applications are due on Thursday? Do I stop giving long writing assignments that I have to grade so I can do more data analysis, or do I grade those papers at night and basically never see my husband or read a book again? The emotional weight of teaching is very real indeed.
I shouldn’t have to make these choices, and neither should anyone else. And it’s easy to fix: Provide support for teachers and trust them to spend their time in ways that help kids, rather than assign busy work to make them prove they’re doing their job. We love teaching … we just don’t have time to actually do it.
How do you deal with all the “extras” of the teaching profession? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.