The Complaint Department

Teachers complain. Some more than others, some behind closed doors, some right out in the open.  But every single teacher I’ve ever met complains in one way or another.  In fact, teachers have gained an image of being incessant complainers, whiners, and cry-babies.  They are told to “suck it up” and “count their blessings.”  They are practically ridiculed due to their easy jobs, short hours, and summers off.  And if those cry-baby teachers belong to a union, they are derided even more.

Now I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years, and I’ve heard innumerable complaints from teachers.  If I were sitting behind the counter of the complaint department collecting nickels for each complaint, I’d have….well I’m not quite sure, but I’d have a heck of a lot more money than I do now from my teacher salary (See? I couldn’t even make it past the second paragraph without complaining).

So we complaining, whining, crying, spoiled teachers are never satisfied.  Thus, we vent.  To our colleagues.  To our significant others.  To our friends.  Through our blogs. One way or another, we will find a way to voice our frustration; that’s just what teachers do.  But here’s the catch: the large majority of our complaints are because something is happening that we know is not good for kids.  Oh sure, some teachers would complain that the line to get into heaven was too long, and then, when they finally got there, they’d moan that the gates weren’t pearly enough.  Those teachers, however, usually end up isolating themselves because, after a while, nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

The rest of the teachers fit into three categories of complainers.  The first group is the worry warts.  These teachers analyze every inch of their rooms, the hallways, the gyms, the library, their teaching materials, their students’ home lives,….everything and anything.  Most teachers fit into this category.  Are we testing these kids too much?  Could my desks be arranged differently?  Are the hallways too loud and my students too quiet?  Will my computer work today so I can use the presentation I stayed up all night creating?

Believe me, I could go on, but you get the idea.  When these teachers voice their opinions on all of the goings on and how they think much of it is detrimental to their students, it–unfortunately–comes out as a complaint.  When they disagree with administration about the direction taken with different students, they gripe to their colleagues about it and brainstorm how the heck to professionally take care of it.   When they collectively say there is not enough time to do their job correctly because an insurmountable pile of new work is dumped into their laps daily, they are bluntly told to stop with the dissent and just get it done.  If your teaching suffers because of it….well let’s just not let that happen.

The second category of complainers is extremely vocal when it comes to their bellyaching.  They tend to look only at the larger problems and then march right down to the office and tell somebody about them.  They speak up at staff meetings.  They question authority–right to authority’s face some times.  They go to board meetings and head to the microphone to voice their dissatisfaction.  They are brave, but they are also targets.  How dare these teachers have the nerve–the gall–to complain right there in front of everybody!

If they have a problem with the library being closed half the year due to MAP testing then they need to use those creative teacher minds of theirs to figure out a way to deal with it.  I mean what do they think; students should be able to use the library for what it was intended?  And if they can’t figure out ways around the various problems that pop up and feel that, instead, whining to those with the power to actually solve these problems is the way to do things then maybe they need to think about a career change.

The last category of complainers is what I call the Miltons.  Anybody who has ever seen the movie Office Space knows what I am talking about.  These are the teachers who keep most of their complaints to themselves, but, every once in a while, let some of them out in a hushed voice.  They are the teachers who have the most to complain about.  Their  class rooms closets are too small and class sizes are too large.  Their rooms are always bitterly cold or sweltering hot.  They ask for help and don’t get it and get new work without having a chance to finish the old work.

These teachers keep most of their issues bottled up inside and somehow still seem to cope with everything.  These teachers are the ones you look at and feel sorry for–or scared of.  At some point or another all that frustration is bound to spill out all over the place, and you just hope you aren’t around when it does.

Before I wrap things up, I would like to reiterate that all of the complaints I’ve mentioned in this blog are centered around what is best for students.  An overly hot room, no access to the library, and having far too much on our plates affects our students as much as it does us.  I’d also like to state that I am in no way criticizing teachers for their “complaining;” in fact, my goal is to point out (albeit in a bit of a sarcastic tone some of the time) that teachers are not whiny, overpaid, and under-worked–quite the opposite .  Despite this, however, we do our best to educate our students no matter what barriers there may be.  That’s just what teachers do.

Playing too much defense?

Sometimes teachers get defensive, but please hear me out before getting defensive about it…

The other day I posted a comic drawn by Matt Groening on the SOSMTM Facebook page, and some people took offense to it because of the words describing the teacher.

Obviously my intention was not to offend anybody; I just thought it was an over-exaggerated example of how much  teachers need to deal with in their classes and how overwhelming it can be.  I don’t believe it was Groening’s intention to offend anybody either; however, Groening is a master of satire, and he has satirized the public education system time and again.

In fact, before the Simpsons hit it big, Groening wrote a book titled School is Hell way back in 1987, well before the many attacks on public education and public educators had begun.  In it, he satirizes school from his point of view as a student beginning with pre-school and continuing all the way through grad school.

Whether one agrees with all of his scathing, brutally honest (or perhaps just brutal to some) observations throughout the book, it’s nearly impossible not to identify with some of it because we were all students at one point.  While I’m not defending Groening’s somewhat stereotypical outlook on school, students, and teachers, I am not offended by it either.  Perhaps I should be, but I’m not.

Perhaps the fact I’ve seen several episodes of The Simpsons that have pointed out some of the absurdities of public education, such as the over-reliance on test scores and NCLB, has helped me to appreciate Groening’s sense of humor regarding  the school system.  The episode “How the Test Was Won” is a great example.

But back to my point about teachers being defensive.  I understand everybody has a different sense of humor, and what is funny to one person might seem offensive to another.  I am not criticizing anybody who felt offended by the cartoon, but some of the comments made me think: have teachers become programmed to become overly defensive because of the endless stream of attacks on our profession?  Even worse, have we begun to lose our sense of humor?

While the Groening cartoon doesn’t bother me, I become defensive every time my father mentions the Chicago Tribune.  After years of anti-teacher, anti-union articles being printed in the Tribune, I vowed never to read it again at one point last year.  My father has had the same morning routine of reading the paper while he drinks his coffee in the morning for as long as I can remember, and I doubt that anything will ever happen to change that.  But every time he starts to tell me about something he read in the Tribune–whether it be good or badmy defense mechanisms kick into high gear, and I start telling him again how much it bothers me that he reads that “paper.”  I mean he could be telling me about an article that said teachers should be paid millions of dollars a year, and I would find something wrong with it.  That’s just how defensive I get.

What scares me, though, is that is our defensiveness might possibly be causing us to lose our sense of humor.  I know one thing that gets me through each day is sharing a few laughs here and there, and sometimes laughing is all one can do to stay sane when it comes to some of the nonsense that gets thrown our way.  On the other hand, I also know that those laughs are harder to come by every day because of the massive amount of pressure put on teachers.

Is it that defensiveness that caused some people to find the Groening comic offensive instead of getting a chuckle out of it?  Here is a sampling of some of the comments regarding the comic:

This is poor classroom management. What teacher sits in his/her desk and would allow this to happen? I am so tired of the media portraying educators as idiots…I have been teaching for 22 years and I would never allow this to happen…

NOT IN MY CLASSROOM, MATT!

Sorry, but I find it offensive. It needs to go!

For sure, I am no longer a Groening fan. My science classes of 36 don’t resemble this at all, and I don’t want anyone to have the impression that they might.

Is this a case of defensiveness kicking in and a sense of humor being kicked out?  Or is the comic just not that funny?  Or maybe it is quite offensive, and I’m just not seeing it.

Whatever the case, I always find it fascinating to see how many different reactions the same picture can evoke.  This definitely does tell us one thing about education as summed up so eloquently in the following comment:

If the arts are so unimportant and should be phased out to make room for the “truly important” subjects- the ones we test, why are these comics evoking such a meaningful and strong response in this group? Could it be that the arts fulfill a basic need and achieve something that bubbles don’t understand?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the comments that follow it can sometimes tell us just as much.

Do Teachers Do Too Much?

Teachers sometimes tend to shoot themselves in the foot.  I hate to say this, but we do.

Time and time again, I’ve seen teachers stick their necks out in the name of “doing it for the children.”  Now don’t get me wrong; I also believe in doing whatever it takes to help my students get the education they deserve.  However, there comes a point that a very fine line is drawn.  That point ends when we are doing everything we can to help our students and begins when we are doing everything we can to help administration or policies that aren’t good for education.

Are teachers taking on too much?

Teachers always have and always will put in extra time to help struggling students before and after school, to grade papers, to work on lesson plans, to research innovative ways to improve our lessons…I could go on and on, but anybody who really knows what it is a teacher does on a day-to-day basis can already finish this list with many more tasks teachers do outside of the work day to help kids.  I believe it’s part of what makes us who we are; we know we won’t be compensated for our extra work and that sometimes it may even go unappreciated, but that doesn’t stop us.  I believe this is one of the greatest qualities of teachers.  But it also sometimes our greatest weakness.

As soon as the phrase “for the students” or something similar to it gets tossed around, many teachers instantly bend.

“You need to print the grades that the parents are already viewing online and fold and stuff these envelopes with the printed progress reports for the students.  Their parents need to know their grades.”

“You need to understand that your entire schedule has been rearranged because it’s what’s best for the students.  Yes, I understand you’re now teaching three different subjects in six different rooms, but like I just said, it’s what’s best for students.  End of discussion.”

“Some of our students are struggling and need some extra help after school.  In order to help the students, we’re going to need you to call those students’ parents, fill out a few forms, send a couple of emails, keep detailed records of who comes and who doesn’t, and make sure they all find their way home.  Oh, and by the way, don’t expect any extra pay for this because it’s for the students.”

“During your plan time, figure out how to help each and every one of your students, analyze how that help can be given, figure out what resources you’ll use to do this (if we don’t have the resources figure out how to get them), group students who need the same types of help together, keep track of their progress, input as much data about their progress as you can, and then type up everything you’ve done and submit it to the office.  Keep in mind, this is for the children.”

I know I might have exaggerated a bit with some of these scenarios, but none of them are that far from the truth.  I also understand the need behind most of them, but I think each one either borders on–or steps way over–that fine line I just mentioned.

Printing, folding, and stuffing.  I’ve been doing it for years and still don’t understand why administration cannot develop a more efficient process.  I’m not saying I’m “too good” to stuff envelopes or that this job is “beneath me;” I’m a pretty humble guy and don’t believe being a teacher makes me better than anybody else.  However, I do believe my time can be much better spent doing something besides printing, folding, and stuffing that actually will “help the students.”

When teachers are suddenly switched from one position to another, from one grade level to another, or from one subject to another, it almost always seems that the reason it happens is because “it’s what’s best for students.”  No explanation of how this benefits the students is ever given, and I can’t help but have a sneaking suspicion that it really has nothing to do with helping students.

Worn out.

Some administrators obviously expect teachers to do all of their planning and grading at home.  This is why they fill our planning time with other tasks that are for the sake of the children.  I understand students need to be assessed and decisions about the students’ education should be partially based on those assessments.  What I don’t understand is how constantly assessing, inputting, analyzing, and record-keeping helps me to teach my students.  So much time is spent on this type of stuff that, frankly, I am completely worn out mentally by the time my plan ends.  A happy medium has to exist.

What’s worse than administrators expecting teachers to complete their work out side of the actual workday (and really who can blame them–we’ve all been doing it for years) is when teachers put themselves in the position to be taken advantage of.  Teachers often volunteer themselves to do things “for the sake of the children.”  An example of this is staying an hour or two after school to help struggling students when administration could develop a program within the school day that does the same thing or–here’s a novel idea–could pay them to stay past the contracted hours.

Again, I understand that part of what makes teachers teachers is the fact that we will wake up early or stay late if it is going to help students.  It’s in our blood.  But considering the lack of respect that is already given to teachers and the many people and groups who criticize teachers on a daily basis for such things as being “greedy” or “bankrupting states with our lavish retirement benefits,” is it time to step back a bit, stand up a bit, and just say no?

Perhaps the only way many Americans will ever see the true value of teachers is if we stop doing all of the extras that we do simply because “it’s what’s best for children.”

What would parents think when papers went ungraded for months because teachers only used the time provided during the work day to grade them?  Who would input all of those scores that schools so desperately need in order to show that they are performing up to the standards of NCLB or other policies?

Where would the struggling students go for help?  That one is easy–their parents would need to pay to send them to a tutor or one of the many “learning centers” that are out there.  At least the parents who could afford to do so would, but what about the struggling students whose family’s can’t afford to pay for the extra help they need?  What would happen to them?

As any teacher knows, those questions will never need to be answered because we are not going to stop doing whatever it takes to help our students.  We aren’t going to stop planning lessons.  We won’t stop grading papers.  We don’t intend on refusing to input scores. And we absolutely will not, cannot, and should not turn away struggling students even if it does take some of our own time to help them. That’s just what teachers do.  The question is, do we do too much?

The essence of a teacher

To capture the essence of a teacher

Is to traverse a mountain

Inch by inch,

Until you reach the peak,

And begin to look around.

But not for long

Because there is an entire range of mountains before you,

And you won’t be satisfied

Until you’ve reached the peak of each one.

But even then,

You’ll look back upon the mountains you’ve scaled

And wonder how you could have accomplished your feat even more effectively.

So you start with a new range

And begin the process all over again.

 

So far this year my journey to help my students succeed has been successful;  just like climbing a real mountain, however, there have been a few trees in the way and some streams that I had to muddle through.  But at the end of the year, I am hoping to look back and say,”This has been my best year yet.  Now next year, I’ll do it even better.”

 

About: Teachers

So today I visited About.com, one of the two sites every one of my students seems to think are the best places to head to when doing research (do I even have to tell you Wikipedia is the other site?).  While there, I came across “Top 6 Teacher Tasks: What Teachers Do” by Melissa Kelly.  I didn’t think the article did a terrible job of summing up the most common tasks (although I did notice many grammatical and punctuation errors–must be the English teacher in me!), but I thought I would take the article and put it into a Wordle to analyze it a bit.

In case you are not familiar with Wordle, it is a site that lets you input text and then generate a word cloud based upon that text.  The more often a word occurs, the larger it will appear in the word cloud.  It is a neat way to analyze any type of text to see what some recurring themes might be.  This site gives a great example of this by comparing different president’s inaugural speeches (it’s interesting to see the dramatic difference between Lincoln’s first and second speech).  Below you will find a word cloud for “Top 6 Teacher Tasks: What Teachers Do.”   What, if anything, do you think this word cloud says about teaching or about the accuracy of its description on About.com?

Professional Development? Not Usually

Teachers are constantly offered “professional development” by their districts.  This can and should be a great thing.  Unfortunately, however, it often turns out to be nothing more than a waste of the teachers’ time and the school district’s money.

Sometimes it seems as if there is a never-ending line of "experts" just waiting to give teachers some professional development

Professional development, nine times out of ten, involves some type of “expert” (often referred to as a “guru”) brought in to provide information or strategies that will help educators improve their teaching techniques.  These experts may have been former teachers or former administrators.  They also might be “experts” at such things as technology, evaluation systems, or something else not related to education but to something the leadership in the district feels is beneficial to its teachers.

Very rarely do the teachers have any input regarding what type of professional development they will receive or who it will come from. Because of this, many times teachers leave their professional development sessions feeling frustrated and as if their time could have been much better spent that day if  left to interact with students instead of taken away from them to gain information they either already had or never needed in the first place.  You see, teachers are usually either subbed out from their classes to receive this expert advice, or the students get the day off from school in order for the teachers to “better themselves.”

Don’t get me wrong; I believe professional development is a necessary part of being a teacher.  Over the summer, my district offered an extremely worthwhile session on classroom management that I attended, and the techniques I learned have helped me to run a more efficient class room and the students to be better prepared for, and more focused during, my class.  However, this was an anomaly.

More recently, I attended a professional development session that would supposedly help us to better understand our district’s new teacher evaluation procedure.  When we walked in and saw that the presenter was the same person who was supposed to help us with this same topic just a month or so ago, we suspected we might be in for a few hours of useless information since the presenter provided an abundance of it the first time.  Sure enough, we ended up learning very little this time as well.

Just so you don’t think I am only being cynical or negative, let me give you an example of one thirty minute segment of the presentation.  First, we were told to draw a tic-tac-toe box on a piece of paper.  Across the first three boxes, we were to list three questions we had about our evaluation process.  We then were told to wander the room and ask other people what questions they had written.  If anybody had a question in a box that we didn’t, we could add it to one of our empty boxes.  Once all nine boxes were filled up, we could sit back down.

At this point, the presenter asked us to share some of our questions with her.  As we explained our questions, she wrote them on a flip chart. “Okay,” I somewhat excitedly thought to myself, “Even though I still don’t understand the purpose behind the tic-tac-toe format in which we had to write the questions we all have about our new evaluations, at least we are finally going to get some answers!”

However, once the presenter finished writing about fifteen or so of what she called “good questions,” she proceeded to tell us that she couldn’t answer a single one of them because they were specific to our district’s particular evaluation plan, not the overall plan she was there to discuss with us.  Instead, we opened up the book we had been given at the first session and silently read about ways to be an effective teacher.

Needless to say, most teachers left this particular professional development session feeling a bit cheated out of their time.  And when we thought about the money that was spent to provide us with this “training,” we felt our district was cheated out of some of its money, something most school districts around the country don’t have much of lately.  Worst of all, our students were cheated out of a few hours of their education because they had a half-day of school so that all of their teachers could get some “professional development.”

What I find ironic is that I’ve used that term “professional development” over and over again, yet it describes the exact opposite of what is occurring.  There is no development happening ninety percent of the time, and, when we are subjected to sitting through situations as I just described, we teachers certainly don’t feel as if we are being treated very professionally.

Teachers do feel that constantly being informed about, educated regarding, and prepared for anything and everything that will help us better educate our students is an absolutely essential part of our profession.  We need to be able to gain new strategies and learn how to adapt to new situations in an ever-changing world, and going to a professional development session is one way to do this.  The problem is, the people in charge of deciding what type of professional development we will receive are not the people who are in the class rooms every day, nor do they consult the teachers before deciding.  It’s tough to know what type of help teachers need if nobody ever asks them.

What Teachers Do: Believe in Our Students

Margaret Spelling, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, recently decided to give her two cents worth of what exactly is causing the problems surrounding education in America.  The problem, Ms. Spellings believes, boils down to the fact that teachers “shamelessly believe poor and minority kids can’t learn.”  She goes on to say that “we cannot allow our policymakers to hear from those who would seek to protect the non-believers.”  By this she means the teacher unions.

Well, I am here to tell you that teachers do believe in every single one of their students regardless of race or economic status.

We believe that every child can and should have the right to an excellent education.  We believe there are some obstacles to this happening, but one of the obstacles is not teachers giving up on their students, especially those who need us most.  And often it is the very children Ms. Spelling’s mentioned that we believe in the most because, unfortunately, many times we are the only ones that do.

Every child is born with an imagination; it is not something that needs to be taught.  It is this imagination that is the basis for all learning.  However, sometimes the harsh realities of life cause some children to bury their imagination way deep inside of themselves.  They can’t afford to be daydreaming while walking home along streets that have danger waiting at every corner.  They can’t be overly imaginative when they have to focus on taking care of a needy younger sibling.  And working all night after going to school all day in order to help put food on the table would suck the imagination out of anybody.  But it’s the teacher’s job to bring this imagination back to life, and that is exactly what we try to do.

Sure, every teacher has those one or two students each year that are somehow able to get on his or her last nerves nearly every day–I have five children of my own that can do that themselves.  But we don’t stop believing in them or stop trying to get them to do their best.  Every year there are always a couple of “troublemakers” that come through a teacher’s class.  Perhaps they have a “bad attitude” or act disrespectfully.  But we don’t stop believing in them or trying to get them to see that learning the subject matter goes hand in hand with learning how to interact with their peers and their teachers.

Many times the types of students I just mentioned fit into one of the categories that the former secretary claims teachers don’t believe in.  What’s amazing, though, is every time I’ve had these types of students, not only did I believe in them, I made it my mission to figure out what it took to draw out their best.  I can honestly say that in my fourteen years of teaching, I’ve been successful nearly every single time.

The child who gets on my last nerve is usually either seeking attention or so smart that he or she is bored with the material and therefore creates his or her own entertainment.  As any teacher can tell you, both of these scenarios have an easy fix, and, once it is found, these students often become some of the students we bond with most.

When it comes to the “troublemakers” it’s often much tougher to find just what it takes to get through to them.  Some are merely putting on a front because it’s what they need to do at home in order to survive.  Some have been through unspeakable horrors in their lives that most of us can’t even comprehend.  Some have nobody at home who cares about them or their education.  And some are just following the examples that have been set for them by their mothers, fathers, older siblings, fellow gang members, or somebody else in their lives.  But none of them are the “troublemakers” that people think they are.  Simply “troubled” is a much more fitting description of these students.

However, it all boils down to two things with troubled students–and it’s the same two things that apply to every other student.  First, I honestly believe every student wants to learn.  Sure they might not want to learn the Pythagorean theorem or how to avoid the use of dangling modifiers, but they do want to learn.  It’s part of human nature.  Being a “poor or minority kid” doesn’t change this.  Second, as I already mentioned, every child has an imagination; sometimes it’s just a matter of “digging it out;”  the key is figuring out what type of shovel to use, when to dig and when to take a break from digging, and remembering there are many other tools that dig just as well as a shovel–sometimes the most unconventional way of doing something turns out to be the best way.

One way or another, teachers find a way to reach every student whether they be rich or poor, minority or majority, troubled or otherwise.  Giving up isn’t an option. To stop believing in children would essentially end any motivation we have as teachers.  The money obviously doesn’t motivate us.  The incredible amount of effort we must exert every day certainly isn’t our motivation.  Reading articles like the one written by Ms. Spelling definitely isn’t what motivates us to teach.

Believing that the children we teach–every single one of them–will leave our class having gained as much knowledge as we can possibly squeeze into their brains in the time we have with them  is our motivation.  It always has been and always will be.

What Teachers Do: A Breakdown

Today I came across a page on experience.com that states it has information about “how teachers describe their time on the job.”  The page doesn’t state where this information came from or when the data was collected, but it even manages to break down the different areas of a teacher’s job into the percentage of time spent on each one.  How do you feel about the percentages?  Do you feel they are accurate?  What about the descriptions of each segment of teaching?  Are they close to the way you would describe them?  You can find the original page located here.

What Teachers Do Every Day

By Experience

Today’s teachers describe how they spend their time everyday.

Grading student work entails evaluating the quality of students’ papers, tests, and homework assignments.

Most teachers spend the majority of their time in the classroom or preparing for classroom activities. The amount of time dedicated to other tasks varies by school, but activities outside of the classroom are often described as an integral part of the job. Here’s how teachers describe their time on the job:

Segments Public School PrivateDay School PrivateBoarding School SpecialNeedsSchool
Classroom Preparation 30% 25% 20% 15%
Teaching in the Classroom 25% 20% 20% 15%
Grading Student Work 20% 20% 15% 5%
Administration 15% 10% 10% 20%
Personal Attention to Students 4%

 

10%

 

15%

 

35%
Coaching/ Extracurricular Activities 3% 10% 15% 3%
Parent Interaction 3% 5% 5% 7%

 

Classroom Preparation

This is the behind-the-scenes element to teaching. Preparing for class is time-consuming and can entail everything from authoring “lesson plans,” to brainstorming tomorrow’s lecture, to developing thought-provoking questions for discussion, to physically setting up a special needs classroom. All teachers report that they spend extra time planning fun activities to encourage class participation and student interest. One chemistry teacher we spoke with spends much of his time outside of class devising bizarre experiments he can use in class to break up the monotony of lectures.

Teaching in the Classroom

For the majority of middle and high school teachers, class time is spent either orchestrating class discussion or lecturing students. Insiders say that all too often, the allotted 45 to 55 minutes are simply not enough to cover the concept they set out teach within that class period. Taking attendance, dealing with homework assignments, and managing other administrative items can cut into as much as a third of class time on the middle and high school levels. Elementary and special needs teachers may use class time on various activities that teach new concepts and skills.

Grading Student Work

Grading student work entails evaluating the quality of students’ papers, tests, and homework assignments. This is often a difficult part of a new teacher’s job, since they often question they’re grading too leniently or too severely, or if their tests and class workload are appropriately suited to their students’ level of ability. Special needs teachers are generally less concerned with grading student work than with evaluating individual student improvement.

Administration

Administration includes attending meetings with other teachers and school administrators, as well as writing required reports documenting student performance and progress. Many schools have formal faculty meetings once a month, but individual departments frequently meet to discuss specific book orders, student needs, or interdepartmental protocol.

Personal Attention to Students

In private and public high schools, teachers pay personal attention to students by tutoring those who are having trouble with their schoolwork, serving as mentors, and counseling them on personal issues. In elementary school, teachers encourage individual student progress and monitor disciplinary problems. Special needs teachers spend the majority of their time working individually with their students, helping them to develop academic and daily living skills.

Coaching/Extracurricular Activities

Most educators believe that a child’s education extends outside of the classroom, and therefore, teachers need to be involved in a variety of student extracurricular activities. Some teachers serve as coaches for student athletic teams, while others are responsible for managing the school paper or directing the school play. As more and more schools are requiring their students to get involved in local community service, teachers are called on to set up and lead these programs as well.

Parent Interaction

Teachers must notify a student’s parents if a child is having difficulty in the classroom or if a teacher feels that parental involvement would benefit the child’s learning experience. At the elementary school level, teachers generally hold parent/teacher conferences twice a year to discuss the student’s academic progress. Most elementary schools also have a “Parent’s Night” during which parents can visit the school and experience their child’s typical day, at which they are encouraged to ask questions about the curriculum and the goals of the various classes. At special needs schools, teachers meet with parents as often as once every two weeks to establish a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) and discuss his/her progress.

Football and teaching

I know my goal on this site is to let people know just what it is teachers do, but I think it’s also important for people to understand how teachers feel about certain things too.  In order to realize why teachers are so frustrated right now and why I felt the need to start this blog, I think it is fitting to give a bit of analysis regarding the education system and people’s perception of teachers every once in a while.

So, I decided I wanted to talk a little about football.  I know what you’re thinking; I just went on about why I think it’s okay to discuss some of the other aspects of education on this site, and then I bring up football.  Just hang with me for a bit and you’ll see why.

As I sat watching my beloved Chicago Bears lose to the Saints today, I watched Jay Cutler, the Bears quarterback, make sour faces, sulk on the sidelines away from the rest of his team, throw a towel, and yell at one of the guys on the sidelines.  You see Cutler didn’t have a very good game today, and it was mostly due to the Bears offensive line giving him about as much protection as a fly swatter would give against an angry swarm of killer bees.  As a matter of fact, Cutler ended up on his backside quite a few times.  And Cutler is a talented guy; he proved that most of last season with the Bears.  However, because of the poor play of the offensive line combined with some mistakes made by Cutler himself, he ended up looking terrible today.

But here’s what gets me.  As Jay Cutler had his tirades and did absolutely nothing to try to encourage his teammates, the announcerscontinually defended him.  “You can’t blame him for being upset,” and “When the offensive line plays like that Cutler doesn’t have a chance,” pretty much paraphrases the remarks made by the announcers.  And fans make the same types of comments.  “He’s a great player, but his offensive line is terrible!” they exclaim.  “The poor guy,” they’ll continue,”it’s a shame they can’t get him the protection he needs.”

Okay, here come the part where education comes into play.  When teachers discuss some of the policies that frustrate them, they are called whiners.  When teachers explain that there are many factors that affect a child’s performance other than his or her teacher, they are told to quit making excuses.  When a good teacher isn’t successful in his or her class room because of some of these uncontrollable factors, they talk about firing him or her on the spot, not getting him or her the help he or she deserves.  Yet when a multi-million dollar football player acts and plays the way Cutler did today, people cannot wait to rush to his defense.

If I, a teacher, was shown on television putting on the display Cutler did today, tomorrow’s headlines would read “Whiny, ineffective teacher needs to be fired!”  The headlines of tomorrow’s sports section, on the other hand, will probably say something like “Bears lose, but don’t blame Cutler.”  Double-standard?  It sure seems like it.

Let me clarify that I don’t know anywhere near enough about football to decide Cutler’s fate, and my thoughts on his actions shouldn’t play any type of role in what happens regarding his career.  I am just a fan who wants “my” team to win, much like parents are just people who want their children to learn.  Conversely, there are people every day who don’t know nearly enough about education who declare exactly what needs to be done to “fix” the system, and many of the solutions involve getting rid of all those rotten, over-paid teachers who are protected by their border-line criminal unions.

I’ve always realized how frustrating watching sports can be (I am also a Cubs fan), but I never thought it would add to the frustration I often feel as a teacher.  I have to admit, however, that I’ll still be rooting for Cutler and the Bears next week when they play the Packers because that’s just what this teacher does.

But you’re a teacher!

Teachers watch football.  Not all of us, of course, but some of us.  And we go to family parties.  And we take our children to the zoo.  And we head to the movie theater now and then.  In other words, we have a life just like everybody else.  But I think sometimes people forget this.

Administrators forget this when they burden us with task upon endless task to perform during our plan time.  From inputting and analyzing data to printing, folding, and envelope-stuffing progress reports, there’s never really much time left during our plan time to actually do some planning.  They don’t consider the fact that we have lives outside of the workday when they expect every one of the hundred or so tests, essays, projects, or other assignments to be graded “in a timely fashion” when there is absolutely no time to do this within the time constraints of our actual workday.  Administrators definitely aren’t thinking about our lives outside of school when we arrive early or stay late every single day instead of spending more time at home, yet they never once acknowledge us for it.  Not that we need or even necessarily want the acknowledgement, I only use this as an example of how little it occurs to administrators that teachers might actually enjoy spending their mornings eating breakfast with their families or heading home empty-handed right at the end of the work day to enjoy their evenings.

Sometimes, when I read the comments that follow on-line articles about education, it becomes extremely clear that some members of the public forget that a teacher’s life extends beyond the realms of the building in which he or she works.  When they proclaim us to be greedy, or whiners, or glorified baby-sitters, or words that aren’t suitable for printing in this blog, they forget that some of us have children that might read those same comments and not understand why their mothers or fathers are being called all of these things. They forget that we might need to sit down and explain to them that some people don’t like us simply because of our profession.  How exactly does one explain that to his or her child?  When they tell us we should count our blessings and remember just how easy we have it, they forget that we spend much of our free time paying to take classes and searching for or working at second jobs because our pay as a teacher just isn’t enough to make ends meet.  Believe me, I count my blessings every day that I have a job–and a job that I love–but I don’t have it quite as “easy” as some people think I do.

Of course there are those who do understand that teachers’ lives do not constantly revolve around our jobs.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard talking about how dedicated teachers are and how amazed they are that we accomplish as much work as we do even when we are taking some of it home with us.  I have a brother who teaches, and he was once given a pair of tickets to a baseball game by the parent of one of his students and told that he “needs to just stop working so hard for a day and enjoy his life like ‘normal’ people do.” I’ve even heard people talk about how we should be paid for all of the work we do outside of the school day because, after all, it doesn’t matter whether we are at school or at home doing the work, only that we are performing the duties that are necessary for our job and should be compensated for it.

Yes, there are still plenty of people out there who haven’t forgotten what it is teachers do both during the school day and beyond; there are still Americans who respect us for our dedication.  The problem is, the ones that are the loudest right now are the ones who either don’t know, have forgotten, or just don’t care what it is teachers do.  And many of the those people are the ones making decisions regarding our careers.

While I’m watching my Bears beat the Saints today, however, I won’t be thinking about them.  I won’t even be thinking about the people who do support teachers.  In fact, I won’t be thinking about teaching at all because, sometimes, that’s what teachers do.  And there isn’t anything wrong with that.

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