Today begins National Teacher Appreciation Week, so I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a big “thank you” to all the teachers out there.
I come at this topic from a slightly different angle than most. Certainly we have all had teachers in our lives, some of whom made a lasting impression. I, however, was brought up by two teachers, and then I married one. So I can attest to not only the importance of the job, but also the personal side and the commitment involved.
First of all, let’s talk about the time commitments involved in being a teacher. As a youngster I used to watch my mother sit and grade papers for hours on end. Dad did the same thing, he just stayed at the building after school to do it instead of bringing the papers home. This usually meant he would get home between six and six thirty, after school letting out around three o clock (to say nothing of the meetings Dad attended as part of the teacher’s union, sometimes staying until after midnight working on contract negotiations). Then Mom would start grading after dinner and work for three hours on her own. This was every night, too, not just once or twice a week.
You’d think that with the advancing of technology that this would not still be required but sadly that’s not the case. Student assignments still need to be graded one at a time, especially when they are essays. Add to that multiple weekly staff and department meetings, and phone calls and e-mails with parents and time begins to add up.
But let’s not stop there! Teachers must also spend time planning out their lessons. My wife spends most of her time at her computer creating content. Videos for the kids to watch, worksheets for them to fill out (physically or digitally), writing tests, and a whole host of other things that I know the name of but don’t understand. She is working for four to six hours every night. She also puts in three to four hours every weekend too, on Saturday AND Sunday, sitting in the front room on her computer instead of relaxing. My wife is also her department chair which means she has the additional responsibility of keeping everyone in her department on the same page and helping out when a co worker is sick or needs extra help.
My wife is not a workaholic. She’s a Type A personality definitely, but not a workaholic. this is what’s required of her to be good at her job, and she cares about being good at it. You hear a lot of talk about work/life balance these days, but for many teachers that balance is severely out of whack.
“Sure, teachers put in a lot of work” you may be saying, “but they get their WHOLE SUMMER OFF!” Okay, let’s unpack that. First of all, Summer breaks are not nearly as long as they used to be. Break times used to be from before Memorial Day through the day after Labor Day here in Missouri. Now schools tend to let out in the first or second week of June and go back in early August. You can generally find teachers in their classrooms a day or two after school lets out for the year, and on and off for a week or more before school lets back in to get everything ready. Some teachers on different committees will have meetings throughout the summer. How about those teaching Summer School? You know, Summer School isn’t just for kids in danger of failing anymore. Many schools provide educational programs and workshops throughout the Summer for kids interested in theater, tech, sports and more. These are voluntary programs for the kids, staffed by teachers “on vacation”. Add this all in with the 20+ extra hours a week most teachers work and your little Summer break argument falls apart pretty quickly.
Then there’s the emotional side of things. Yes, teachers love kids and want them to succeed, and it is a great feeling when that happens. Getting through to a student, watching them learn and grow makes all the other stuff worth it. But there’s a lot of “other stuff” to deal with. Like having your job regulated by administration and school boards who don’t actually DO the job and have little to no in class experience. Or being subject to state and national mandates by also put in place by non educators. It always amazes me that everybody thinks they know how to teach because they went to school themselves. Look, I drive a car, but I am no mechanic. I’m not about to tell the guy at the repair shop anything about what he does. Same principle, y’all.
Next, there are the kids who are raised in an environment that doesn’t support learning. Many low income households put education low on the priority list and it can be hard to convince a kid to care about their education when their own parents don’t. Other parents do care about what their kids learn, but won’t take time to check in on their kid’s progress, communicate with the school, or even set good examples of how to take the work seriously. Then they expect the teachers to do in a few hours each day what they won’t do the rest of the week themselves. Yes, it is the teacher’s job to teach, but the student’s job is to learn. Too many people don’t understand that.
And then, of course, there are the parents who’s little angels can do no wrong, and any bad grades or disciplinary problems must certainly be the fault of the school. These are the kids who get everything handed to them, and then suffer when they get into the real world. But hey, why blame the parents for spoiling their kids when teachers are such an easy target?
Finally, let’s talk funding. There are a lot of people who make minimum wage (or under) that would be downright jealous of the income teachers make. I get that, and I’m not about to claim otherwise. However, there are a whole lot more people who make well above teacher’s salaries and do much less important work. Why do you think there are a shortage of teachers? I’ll tell you. Comparatively low salaries, work/life imbalance, and a lack of respect. Why go through all that if you don’t have to? I know more than one person (and I’ll bet you do too) who wanted to be a teacher, tried it out for a year or two and got out because it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
And still, year after year, tax increases are voted down, while our schools are forced to make do with less. Many people don’t believe it but it is absolutely true that teachers buy many of their own classroom supplies out of their own pockets. They simply have to. Many districts are woefully underfunded, to the point of using obsolete equipment, or even worse, being unable to provide a safe environment for students and staff. Teacher salaries aside, if we don’t invest in our schools we are not investing in our communities. We are not investing in our youth or our futures. Even if your kids go to private school (another tirade for another time), your local school district should be a concern. Not one to avoid, but one to do as much as you can to help.
Pretty bleak picture I’ve painted here, right? All of the above are the why I never seriously considered becoming a teacher, even though I was encouraged and half expected to do so. Many people thought it would be a good fit, but I don’t have the patience for it, nor the temperament. Even before all the challenges with virtual learning thanks to our new friend COVID-19!
And still, year after year, week after week, day after day, educators across the country report to work. They sacrifice their time, talent, and money (not to mention sanity) for the greater good. What they do is one of the most important jobs there is. We make it a habit to thank veterans and first responders. Let’s start adding teachers to that list too.