It was September 2000. My first year teaching. Greenville County, South Carolina.
A math teacher on my hall, whose name escapes me now, left on maternity leave. The woman they got to sub for her was a parent of one of the seventh-graders at the school. She had been a fairly prominent and successful businesswoman, running a major division of IBM up until she’d had her son. After staying home with him for the first 12 years of his life, she thought substitute teaching would be a great slow start back into the workforce.
Exactly. I hear you all laughing right now and I share in your chuckle.
What I remember so clearly about this woman was her way of explaining how overwhelmingly demanding teaching is as compared to a job in the business world:
When I worked for IBM, my job was to make phone calls, process paperwork, make contacts, and have meetings. Now as a teacher, I still have to do all of these things. I need to plan lessons. I need to call parents. I need to process paperwork. I need to grade stacks of papers. I need to meet with other teachers, with parents, and with administrators. However, very little time during my day is available for me to actually do any of the that large part of my job. Teachers have a 9-to-5 job’s worth of work to do, and they can’t get any of it done from 7:30 to 3:00.
Coming from the business world, this seemed to really shock her. If you’re a teacher reading this, you’re nodding and smiling (or rolling your eyes) as you already know what she was just learning: Teachers are almost always “on” for their audience. They rarely sit at a desk and work. They are constantly meeting students’ needs: moving and teaching and coaching and intervening and quite often forgoing sitting for lunch or taking restroom breaks. Their own tasks and goals must wait.
However, this concept of a teacher’s time during the day seems to elude the public at large, with common comments like: “It must be so nice to be done by 3 o’clock.” and “I emailed you this morning, but I haven’t gotten a response from you yet.”
I can’t help but wonder: Does George Clooney have to deal with this crap? Is anyone under the impression that he spent the exact 116 minutes it takes to view Ocean’s Eleven to actually make it? No. The American public understands that a movie took months or even years to make those two hours. However, they fail to understand that the teacher – who’s paid dirt compared to Hollywood – is also working under a misleading ratio of time-in and quality product-out.
Teachers are not compensated for most if not all of the time they put in preparing innovative lessons. Sure, a teacher could just “phone it in” and not spend as much extra time on lesson planning. A teacher that just gives textbook work and worksheets? That’s what that looks like. Few educators, however, want to be a C-list or D-list teacher. Many educators strive to be A-list, putting their hearts into a quality product well after the school bell has rung.
And while I am sure teachers put in time outside the scheduled day the world over, the United States compensates its teachers particularly poorly for our time demands compared to other countries:
So our society either needs to:
- recognize innovation, collaboration, and all things that make professional education great by valuing how much time and effort outside the classroom is required,
- or -
- acknowledge that we have set up a system that is okay with exhausting teachers to the point of mediocrity.
With the current climate, I may be asking too much just with verbs like ‘recognize’ and ‘acknowledge’, but I intend to aim high…