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.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.
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?