As I drove home from my school campus yesterday covered in dust and sweat, Theater Girl asked me some questions to which I didn’t have answers. I still don’t. She wanted to know why I had bought supplies & equipment for my classroom and why we were going up to school during the summer. There were a lot of statements about fairness and her simplistic way of reasoning that if it’s for the kids, the schools should pay for it. Or if I’m working, I should be getting paid. There were comparisons to other jobs & questions about why other people didn’t have to buy things for their jobs or spend time off working without pay. It got me thinking about how I could explain to her or anyone else this quandary unique to teaching. I’m not saying that there are no other professions out there for which people contribute their own money or extra time. It just seems to me that teachers, more than other professions, spend a great deal of their own money and time outside of official “work hours” still working. So I thought about a typical year for me.
At the beginning of a school year, there are usually 5 work days before students report. During those 5 days, let’s say half of each 8 hour day is devoted to meetings: faculty, department, teams, professional development, technology, etc., none of which are dedicated to planning or working in our respective classrooms. I’ve worked in districts where it’s more and where it’s less so I think that’s a good average. So during the 20 work hours left to me, I have to unpack my classroom which was boxed up at the end of the year so floors could be rewaxed and so moving classrooms is easier if I am reassigned to another room. (This happens much more often than people realize. It’s like packing to move house every year.) Once boxes are empty, I have to reshelve my classroom library and make sure all my books are still there after the unpack/move. Within that 20 hours I also have to create lesson plans and prepare all my materials (copies, textbooks, etc.) for the first several days of class. My computer gradebook & rosters have to be created, assuming the administration has the class lists ready before the first day of school. I have to make sure I have extra supplies for those students who don’t bring anything to school the first few days or who can’t afford supplies. Our required hours for Work Week are usually 8-3:15. My typical day lasts from 7:30-4:30. This gives me extra time to work after the meetings and enough time to pick up my kids from wherever I’ve paid for them to be while I’m at work and school hasn’t officially started.
Then comes the actual school term. My contracted school day lasts from 8:10-3:30. Students are in school from 8:25-3:15, so I’m only required to be there 30 minutes more than the students. But here’s my day. I usually arrive between 7:30 & 7:45. That way I have time to set up my computer and projector for the day’s lessons, get out materials, make any last minute copies, and check my box in the office for any handouts or important notices students need for the day from the administration. During the school day, I am expected to monitor students at all times. I have to be in the halls before and after school as well as during class change. If I need to go to the bathroom, I have to get someone to watch my class. I have to walk the kids to lunch, supervise them in the activity yard and eat my lunch in the cafeteria for supervision purposes. I have classes straight through the day until 2:00. Then after 2:00 I have team meetings on Mondays, department meetings on Tuesdays, and faculty meetings on Wednesdays. I have bus duty on Thursdays so anything I start working on after my classes are finished at 2:00 has to be paused to head out to the bus lot. This means that most days, my planning, grading, and prep for the next day doesn’t begin until after 3:30 which is technically the time I could leave. So I stay until 4:30 or 5 everyday to get everything done. And I haven’t even mentioned the days I have to proctor after-school resource lab or tutoring.
As far as supplies go, my current school provides teachers with $150 each semester to buy supplies. I’ve never had this before. In previous districts, supplies were purchased whole-scale for the school and if what I needed wasn’t purchased, it was up to me to provide it. This could range from pencils to furniture. With the population I’m teaching, much of this money goes to basic supplies so anything extra I want my kids to use or have, I must purchase myself. If they can’t afford or won’t buy a binder or notebook paper for regular classroom activities, how can I expect them to bring in cameras for multi-media projects? I estimate I spend at least $50 a month in items for my classroom including books for my classroom library. And most teachers need more”furniture” than the basic teacher desk, filing cabinets, and 30 student desks. I just bought 3 new bookcases for my room because due to inventory rules in the building, I could not move bookcases from my old room to my new room and our school didn’t have funds to buy them for me.
Contrary to popular belief, teachers are usually only paid for 10 months of work, which is technically our contracted work time, but teachers and their families know that it’s a 12 month job. During the summer, I usually take at least one or two professional development classes in addition to working on my own with other colleagues and online communities to keep improving my practices. I’ve read three professional books this summer and taken two different online tutorials in technology I want to try to use in the classroom this year.
I’m used to the extra demands of my job. However, the thing I will never get used to is the lack of respect for teachers in every community in which I’ve worked. This attitude seems to permeate every layer of the community beginning within the school building. I’ve worked for principals who assigned professional development because we couldn’t be trusted to determine in which areas we needed to improve. I’ve had parents tell me they didn’t agree with the grade given on a project because if I had a graduate degree I would be better equipped to recognize giftedness. (For the record, I have a Master’s degree. They just assumed I was less educated than their two-doctor household.) I have been told at a dinner party that, after retiring from his political lobbying job, this gentleman, too, would like to teach. It would be “fun to earn some ‘spending money’ & have afternoons & summers off. I mean, if housewives can do it, I should be one of the best teachers out there!”
I say all of this not to make anyone feel sorry for teachers but to make it clear that 95% of teachers weather these conditions FOR THE KIDS. We are there from dawn to dark many days because we are invested in our students’ success. We live for the moment when something “clicks” or when a student meets us at the door because they are so excited about something related to our discipline. We want to create thinking, reasoning adults who can make decisions critically. We have a passion for learning and sharing that learning. So I would like to invite parents, politicians, community leaders, business owners, younger siblings, and anyone else who cares to observe, to spend a day or two in a local classroom. Come experience the REAL school schedule and then let’s talk about what’s really wrong with American education.