A little love for the teacher

I have a delicious morning routine that I have indulged to the fullest since I quit teaching in public schools. Twelve years of getting up before daylight, rushing out the door, and trying to map out the day ahead as I exited the highway with the sun’s just creeping up over the dead industrial horizon taught me how to really enjoy a slower morning.

Anyway, my morning routine goes something like this:

  1. I hit the snooze on my smartphone (the alarm is always set for a reasonable, productive hour) for an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
  2. I think about my dreams. I always have dreams.
  3. I talk to the animals that wander into the room and that finally inspire me to get up and let them out (I know I sound like lonely pet lady here, but I swear I have a husband. He just operates on an entirely different schedule.).
  4. I get up, let the dogs out, pour a cup of coffee, let the dogs in.
  5. I feed the dogs.
  6. I drink my coffee, pour another cup, and drink that while I skim headlines of various news apps on my Kindle.
  7. I choose the stories that interest me most, and I read them.
  8. I stop reading when I can no longer stand being stared at by two dogs that expect me to take them for a walk the minute I wake up, yet never do.
  9. I take the dogs for a walk.

After that, anything goes.   Often, if it’s a weekday, I spend a good chunk of that day preparing for my night classes—grading or tweaking lessons or creating ancillary materials or just generally staying ahead of the students. It’s what teaching should be. All teachers should be able to think during some point in the day and thoughtfully plan during others. Having that time allows us to connect with students and properly differentiate our instruction. It wasn’t until I had this kind of time to live my life AND teach that I realized that I’m a fairly effective instructor—student-centered, with progressive yet research-based methods that drive learning. How about that? It’s all about time.

Lack of time is the elephant in the room that American educators rarely talk about above the grassroots levels, the “trenches,” if you will. It’s one of those things that just about every other developed country on this earth (and many developing countries) including China provide for their teachers. Not every country provides the kind of time off for students and teachers that the U.S. does, but believe me, Uncle Sam and his league of state legislators have found a way to make teachers pay and pay for those extra weeks in the winter and summer. Given the average quite shitty teacher pay rates that rarely keep up with inflation or rising insurance costs, those two months in the summer, if you can afford to take them (and most younger teachers don’t because they need to make extra money), feel more like rehab than a vacation.

I will go back to public schools, I will do it all over again if I can just show up at a reasonable hour and teach a reasonable number of classes a day with a reasonable number of students in them, and attend a reasonable number of meetings and spend a reasonable amount of time planning instead of whatever bullshit the administration needs me to do to keep the school running on a skeleton crew. My last school (and this wasn’t where I spent the bulk of my career, but a place where I dipped my toes after taking a significant amount of time out of the public school arena. As soon as I saw the writing on the wall, during the first week of my tenure, I officially resigned) had teachers doing the jobs of the custodial crew.

I will do it all over again, I suppose, when pigs fly. Maybe when hell freezes over… ok, that’s enough clichés. Six and counting (Can you find the other three?!).

The sad thing is, when I left that last school, the one I mentioned above—where, incidentally, I ended up spending a month-and-a-half because my principal, literally, wouldn’t let me leave—the friends I’d made on the faculty and staff didn’t hide their envy of me or their dissatisfaction with the way things were. More than one single or widowed mother told me, “I don’t blame you. I could do it, if I would.” The way they looked at me when I said I was leaving might have resembled how a prisoner looks at her cellmate when she’s about to be released, or like a soldier might look at his fellow who is about to finish a tour. Probably shouldn’t be that way.

There are other jobs that teachers can do, depending on the subjects they teach. English teachers have the flexibility to get into writing and publishing fields or to pursue a higher degree and transition into law or project management or something.   Math and science teachers have a wider range of possibilities. I’ve seen young teachers transition out of the field rather smoothly. The older you get, though, the harder it is to make that transition into an entry-level field where you have no experience. I have all my eggs in one basket (Cliché number six, POW!), so I’m staying in this field, albeit part-time. My colleagues above who envied my escape are staying in this field, full-time. Our lives are very different from one another’s.

I could say so much more. The English teacher always can. Honestly, I don’t want every teacher to transition out of the field. Who does? We’re needed. We’re just not loved.

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