In Defense of the Teacher
Growing up, I always idolized my teachers, and for good reason; I spent most of the time I was awake with them. Aside from my parents, they were the adults in my life who nurtured me day in and day out. They taught me about numbers and words, history and science. I really looked up to them, admired them for their intelligence, and because of them (some more than others), I decided to become a teacher.
Going into college at 17 years old, I knew without question I wanted to be a high school English teacher. Unlike so many of my classmates, I had a plan and I worked my four years as an undergrad realizing my dream of becoming an educator.
Through my junior year, I eagerly took classes focusing on literature, writing, pedagogy and psychology, all preparing me for my "professional year" where I would take on the task of my senior seminars and the daunting student teaching experience.
In order to enter my senior or what my program called my "professional" year, I was placed in front of a panel of 8 professors for "screening." Most I had taken classes from, yet a couple whose names I was only familiar with. In a grueling half hour "interview" session, I was questioned about the last three years of my college career. They had polled my professors for comments about me, discussed my demeanor as a student, my beliefs as an educator, and my future plans and goals. It was nerve-wracking as these people would determine my fate; alone, they would decide if I was ready to move on in the program.
I was successful and advanced into my senior year, ready to take on the challenges of student teaching placements and finding out if I had what it took to be a teacher. My two placements were like night and day. The first one was so awful, I thought on a day to day basis that I must have made some mistake about the direction of my life. I was placed with a teacher who refused to believe that we were in the 21st Century. She offered me little support and made my 8 weeks with her a living hell. Had it not been for my second placement, a woman who wanted to see me grow and become a better teacher, who, like my teachers that inspired me to get into the profession, nurtured me, I would not be teaching today. She gave me hope to succeed.
Aside from my student teaching, essentially a full time job I was happily paying to be able to do, I was studying for the three exams that New York State requires for certification. It paid off, as I passed each one on the first attempt. When I received my Bachelor's degree, it was the last piece of the puzzle and I was a certified teacher.
Ready to get into the a job to use my new degree, I applied ferociously to every school district in an hour radius to my house. I received a call in July and was hired at a small school in a full time, probationary English position. I was so excited to begin, but little did I know the toll it would take on me.
Reality Sets In
I was so naive as a began teaching. Even when I student taught and on the worst days, I thought that teaching was amazing. It always felt like one of those jobs that the paycheck was an added perk. I looked forward to having my own classroom. It would be beautiful, all of the discussions we would have, the work that would be produced.
What I actually got was much different. I had colleagues who were unfriendly, parents who had no respect for me because I was young (not that a Bachelor's degree and NYS Certification qualified me to be a teacher), and students who wanted to try to take advantage me because I was new. It really was one of the most difficult years of my entire life.
For something I had always been so sure of, I was for the first time, questioning my choices. I wondered if I had made a mistake, that I should have tried other things in college to make sure I had it right. Did I just waste four years and thousands of dollars on an education in a field that was making me miserable? I scoured the job postings, looking for something else to jump out at me, another kind of job that would make me happy because I was sure I was wrong about teaching.
There are a ton of statistics on young teachers leaving the profession. Some report that up to half of all new teachers quit within the first five years of entering the field. I'm not at all surprised by that statistic, considering what one goes through to become a teacher and what is waiting for her when she gets there; it's no wonder why some can't stand up to it.
While not all states require a Master's degree, New York State does. I have earned a Bachelor's degree in English Education, an Initial teaching certification (working towards Professional) and a Master's degree in Education. For all of the hard work, time and money put into getting me where I am now, when it comes down to it, I'm in a field that gets very little respect. Not too many people really consider what path a person takes to become a teacher and too many people believe we're only in it for the time off.
For all of the naysayers, those who tell me I'm in it for summer vacations and all the time off. For those who are jealous of my 35 hour work week and my benefits. For those who look at me as a glorified babysitter, please take into consideration what it really takes to be a teacher.
I have an hour long commute to work. Some teachers are fortunate enough to work close to home or even in the district in which they live. Because English teaching jobs are so scarce and because of funding, many schools are cutting positions, I can only be thankful that I have a full time job, even if it is almost 50 miles away from where I live (unfortunately, not an option to move closer).
My "shift" starts at 8 am, but I usually arrive sometime between 7:30-7:45. I know some teachers that are there at 7 or sometimes even earlier. I'm sure if I lived closer, I would be one of them, in my room preparing for the day ahead. It pays off to be to work early, so when 1st period rolls around, I'm ready to go with the students.
My day consists of 9 periods, 6 classes, 1 academic support class, lunch and prep period. My contract says I can leave at 3:30 pm, but generally speaking, I'm usually in my room much later. When I provide extra help for students, any time after 3:30, I am not paid for. When I am sitting at my desk making lesson plans, calling parents, grading mounds of essays and papers after 3:30, I am not getting paid. When I take work home with me and spend my weekends or my time off grading papers, I am not being paid. When I am in my living room preparing lesson plans or at the store picking up supplies I need for class and for my students on my own dime, I am not being paid. If I did not take the time to do these things however, I would fail as a teacher.
One of the most difficult notions to contend with is the time off. Yes, I am fortunate enough to work in a field that provides me time off, yet on any of those long weekends, week-long breaks and summer vacations, I am preparing for what is ahead. I am grading papers or making lessons to do when we get back. Over the summer, I am in professional development or taking my college classes, in my classroom arranging it for the upcoming year, writing my syllabi, planning for when my new group of students comes in the fall. I have to be ready.
And when it comes to the notion that I am a "glorified babysitter," consider what I have to accomplish in the 44 minutes that I see my students each day. NYS and many others have adopted the Common Core Standards, a collection of dozens of specific standards for students to reach in each grade. They are rigorous for me as well as for my students, but even so, will only make them better people. Every one of my lessons must be "standards driven" meaning it must cater to one or more of the standards.
On top of that, I teach in an inclusive classroom, which is very much the norm for today. I have a variety of levels of academic abilities within my class. I have students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) that, by law, I must strictly adhere to. I have students with ADHD, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Tourettes, etc. Meanwhile, I have students who are above average, who need to be constantly challenged above and beyond what we are doing in class. When it comes down to it, I need to make sure that each day, each one of my student's needs are met academically.
Let's not forget that I am teaching adolescents. One bad look in the hallway can turn their entire lives upside down, so I never know what they're coming to class like. Before I can even consider teaching them, I need to have them ready to learn and somehow manage their behaviors, emotions, and outbursts. They are unpredictable, so even with all of the best planning I have done, it doesn't take much to throw it out the window.
So while I do have a lot on my plate as a teacher, and while I have some days that test me in ways I could never imagine, I love what I do.I wear many hats. It is stressful; it is (for the most part) thankless. People outside of the field will never understand what it takes, but I hope that I've opened some eyes. Next time you want to criticize teachers for their pay, their time off, their union, their "easy" job, stop and think about what they have done to get where they are and what they do on a daily basis, at work and after hours, to make sure that their students are successful.
Ask yourself, where would I be if it weren't teachers?