Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Open Letter to Fox News, Scott Walker, and Others Who Think They Know What Teachers Do

I know I said no more "shop talk" but...

I've been a little lax in following the news lately. Outside of the 15 minutes or so of CNN I watch in the morning while getting ready for work, I've not been great about getting information in. My morning perusal of the New York Times online has been replaced by making photocopies and meeting with students. My drive-time NPR listening has been replaced by music, the better to keep me a little more alert on those late drives home after dark. Last night, though, I decided to forgo by usual Seinfeld before bed and instead turned on an hour of Anderson Cooper followed by The Daily Show. The first ten minutes or so of The Daily Show left me hurt, bewildered, and frankly, pretty darn angry.

The segment featured here is
the cause of my emotional tempest. So this is my response to the people featured here who basically accuse teachers of bilking the system, slacking off, and generally making more money than they rightfully earn.

Screw you.

I invite any of you people to step foot into a classroom. I invite you to spend one day living the life of a teacher.

If you lived the life of THIS teacher, this is what you would experience:

The alarm goes off at 5:45am. Following a quick shower and breakfast, you are in the car and on the road by about 7:00am. Note that for much of the year, the sun isn't quite up at this point. As soon as you walk in the door, there is a pile of stuff to attend to -- making copies, entering grades, quickly flipping through the day's lessons just to get them freshly into your memory. As students come into the building, you may find yourself running around to talk students through homework questions or make sure they get makeup work. You may find yourself visiting with students who just like to check in during the morning.

By the time actual classes start, you have most likely come into contact with a good half dozen students and solved a good half dozen crises, both tiny and large. As you teach throughout the day, you have to monitor to make sure struggling students are keeping up while making sure more advanced students are still engaged. You may face hostility. You may face apathy. You may be called horrible names -- to your face, behind your back, or even on Facebook for all the world to see. If you have my schedule, you have three different classes right in a row with only a four-minute passing period to shift gears from Fahrenheit 451 to informative speeches to Hamlet -- and that is a four minutes that is often filled with students asking questions, wanting to stick around and talk about something that came up in class, or seeking advice. You will be grateful for the roughly 25-minute lunch period, if only for the chance to eat a quick bite -- microwaveable meals work best because they cook quickly and tend to be a little more filling -- and recharge your batteries after a long morning of lecture, discussion, assessment, and more.

After lunch, you have more classes. In my case, I also have a prep period thrown in there -- a period that is free of students, which gives me time grade to papers that have come in throughout the day, get ready for classes left to teach (or get a jump start on later days), and handle other business that needs to be attended to. To do any of this, I actually have to pack up whatever I need to work on and take to another room so that another teacher can teach in my classroom. I suggest getting yourself a basket to carry papers and lesson plan books and texts in.

Our school day ends a little after 3:00pm. For me and the many other teachers I know, that is not the end of the work day, though. Within seconds of the bell ringing to signal the end of the day, I usually have students in my room. Some use it as a meeting point. Some come in to check on things or visit. Sometimes, there are kids in to make up homework or a test. And then it's on to practices, rehearsals, lesson planning, et cetera. It is rare for me to leave the building before 5:00. For the past month, it's been more like 8:00 thanks to rehearsal for the spring musical, meaning the only sun I see is the little glimpse I see outside of my classroom window. Weekends are often spent lesson planning, grading, prepping, or generally getting some kind of work done. And those magical summers off you guys keep referring to as evidence that we are merely "part-time employees"? That time is often spent reading, researching, developing units, taking classes, attending workshops, et cetera. It's not a three-month vacation. It's a three-month period to recharge and refocus and to finally have the time to sit down and get some intense work done that can't always be done in the few hours we have in the evening.

Yes, I realize that a lot of the reason that I put in extremely long days is because I coach and direct and that I am compensated for that extra work load in some fashion. But I also wonder whether these pundits who so cavalierly dismiss what I do could turn around and walk that same walk for just a day. Come into a classroom and face what we teachers face every day. Bask in our victories and wallow in our failures. Spend one day being not just a teacher but a mentor, counselor, coach, surrogate parent, drill sergeant, friend. Try to dig deep enough to counsel a student through personal grief or coax a kid through academic struggles. And then you come and tell me whether or not the paycheck I receive for that is too much.

I don't want this to be misinterpreted. I love my job. I LOVE it. Nor do I want this to be seen as a complaint about my salary. I make a living. I am able to afford a nice home, a decent car, all my utilities, and put food on the table for my family. Is there a lot leftover after that? No, not really, but I'm not complaining about that because I know that I am lucky to have found a job that I love and that someone is actually willing to pay me to do. I love my students. Not a day goes by that I don't marvel that these kids actually trust me and seem to look up to me enough to come to me for advice, whether it's help in finding the right college, advice on how to survive a broken heart, or comfort in times of tremendous grief and turmoil. I love getting the chance to work with these kids every day and help them discover new passions and interests. I am moved by the Facebook posts I get thanking me years after the fact. I am touched when students past and present come to me for advice. I get excited when I have a student come to me and say, "I couldn't stop thinking about Hamlet all day!" I keep every little note that students leave for me -- even if it's just a Post-It telling me I'm awesome. I would not trade my job for anything.

But please, please, please do not go on national television and call me and my colleagues across the nation lazy, unmotivated, overcompensated, disconnected, or whatever other insult you want to throw our way just because we would like a certain guarantee that we actually will be able to continue to make a living or that we won't be fired without just cause or have unreasonable extra duties and responsibilities thrown at us. For every lousy teacher you may know or see in a documentary, there are countless teachers who are working as hard as they can to help shepherd the next generation to an educated adulthood. It's a little thing called respect, and I think the teachers of America, as a whole, have earned it.

1 comment:

Ron said...

I live in WI.
I'm totally disgusted at the lazy assed whiners who piss and moan about this who didn't get off of their goddamn asses to vote.
I voted in every election since JFK and, it didn't disrupt my day.
If just half of those lazy bastards would have voted, we could have saved the people of WI from getting robbed by yet another robber baron.
I have a friend who is a teacher in Fla and, they're trying to steal their pensions which they paid their own money into plus other things to make up for the typical irrespnibility of the repunklican bastards.
As I pissed? I'm beyond being pissed!!