Lakelife Associate Editor
We’ve all heard this before: “I would love to be a teacher and have my summers off.” We also hear official talk about how they can fix failing schools, raise test scores, and lower drop-out rates. Since we all have attended school at some point in our lives, it now seems that everyone is an expert on educational matters, especially politicians.
Perhaps this is a good time to think about classroom teachers and what they do in their jobs.
- for being off during summers, well, we sometimes forget that most teachers are paid on a nine months contract with their pay spread over a 12 month period. This insures that money is available to buy groceries and pay bills during the summer months. Also, during the weeks of June and July, many teachers are attending professional conferences and preparing their rooms for the next term; some are teaching summer school or working a side job to make ends meet.
By the way, Georgia teachers aren’t unionized and most wouldn’t join anyway. Classroom teaching is not about the money.
Let’s talk about the workload. Teachers must follow state and local mandated plans and a prescribed curriculum, documenting each student’s response to learning initiatives. If a student is not making progress, different strategies for learning must be devised and implemented. Instruction must somehow be made interesting and relevant to each child in the classroom.
To put this in perspective, think about this realistic example: a class of 23 students will often include special ed. students, those below grade level, some who are delayed in learning, those now learning English, and the habitually absent and tardy. The rest are regular students doing grade level work or better. Instruction for each student must be differentiated to meet learning levels – no matter if the student is on grade level, above or below. It makes your head spin.
That’s not all. Added to the classroom mix are a wide variety of abilities and now incorporated into regular classrooms are children with behavioral, physical and learning deficiencies to include autism, severe allergies, attention deficit disorder, hearing impairment and other disabilities. Classroom management is like spinning plates on sticks in hopes that none crash to the floor.
Teachers must prepare each of their students for difficult state mandated tests that change often, those with inventive names like the current Georgia Milestones. I often wonder if the folk who push mandated tests have ever spent any time meeting with school teachers and other school personnel who work in the trenches to include counselors, bus drivers and lunch room workers. Or, is their time mostly limited to photo ops at the central office?
And guess what? Teachers are evaluated on how well their students perform regardless of the makeup of the classroom or the economics of the local community. Schools are graded on their standardized test scores and drop-out rates. For me, it’s like being evaluated on the cards you receive from a shuffled deck, and the fairness of this system is questionable.
There is also a lot of paperwork. Student progress must be documented on a regular basis for each student in each class. Emails and texts from parents, school administrators and system officials need timely responses; yet, notes to parents can go unanswered. And since character education and basic social skills are not always taught at home, this instruction must be provided in classrooms. Students haven’t changed, parents have.
Teachers are required to be at a number of school functions. At times, they also volunteer to attend their students’ recitals, recreation league games and church performances.And, if it’s really cold outside and a student from a poor family can’t come up with a coat, guess who buys? And not just coats. Wallets are opened without hesitation for school supplies, field day fees, school T-shirts, shoes, lunches and other student needs.
I personally know a teacher who made a sandwich an entire year for a student before coming to school. The sandwich was not for lunch but for the evening meal; and on Friday afternoons, this teacher sent several home for the student’s weekend meals. Sorry, I digress, but stories like this are true.
There’s more that could be said. We haven’t discussed discipline or how long it takes for teachers to prepare lesson plans. And how good teachers must be cheerleaders, counselors, doctors, diplomats, friends, mentors, social workers and substitute parents. In order to do this noble work, you must love children. Classroom teaching is a calling, not just a job.
Now, who said they wanted their summers off? I know where to apply.