Saturday, October 25, 2008

Teaching Today

So while I'm still new at the blog world and finding others' interests that are similar to my own... it's reassuring to already read other teachers' posts about the misconception of today's teaching profession. Especially when they attempt to "tell it like it is."
I often tell others that unless one is married to, dating a... or a parent of... a teacher, people just don't understand the challenges of the profession. In fact after teaching over six years it has been my experience that most don't understand the difficulties facing the classroom teacher in a public school setting.
I think most recall their own experience in the classroom. Those experiences we all remember from watching the teacher over the heads of those sitting in front of us. Watching the teacher's reactions. Critiquing the teacher. Wishing we were the teacher. Thinking, of course, that we could do better than the teacher.
And so perhaps as observers of the profession... many think that the profession has every benefit ever known to a prospective employee. You get to teach what excites you, you get summers off, students want to do well. Allow me, for a small moment, to dispel some of these urban myths.
No we do not get to decide what to teach. Perhaps many remember a favorite teacher teaching us more about their favorite pastime of hunting than Earth Science. We remember the antics of the odd faculty member known throughout the halls of high school. Yes, there were teachers we loved and hated with equal passion - no doubt that students still do. But what do you remember about elementary school?
I remember the love note I sent across the room labeled "do you like me, check here for yes and here for no". I remember that the playground was so far away from the school and often the dismissal bell would scare us into thinking that the buses would leave us behind. I remember the squirrels racing across the branches outside the classroom windows. I remember art class and tie-dying white t-shirts. And yes, referencing academics, I do remember being nervous when the report cards were handed out. What a different time that was... how much more students are required to know now.
I tell the parents during Back to School night: students have to now know an amazing amount of information and then relate it all on one day... on one test... regardless if they are having a good or bad day. Imagine being given a writing prompt and then having all day to write... regardless of whether you have a headache, have writer's block, or can't relate to the prompt. Students today have enormous challenges set before them at school.
Teachers now don't focus their entire instruction on a loved subject. In Virginia, the Commonwealth decides what will be taught during what year. They outline by date or by quarter. They outline using specific numbers and letters so that teachers can reference these when necessary. Fact... teachers don't get to decide what to teach. We may or may not love the specifics of instructional objectives to be met... however we DO love it when students understand what they first experienced as difficult. Every students knows it when the teacher enjoys being the classroom with the teacher... we remember don't we?
And the students that annoyed us as students don't make it easy for the teacher either. Of course I will also add that my favorite memories of years past are the students that were difficult to teach initially, and then by year's end... had transformed into young men and women wanting to succeed and prove to others that no challenge was too difficult. They persevered... a lesson that I try to consistently reinforce.
Yes, we have to do more than teach. In fact if we only had to teach the subjects well... teaching really would be easy. It's all the other factors. Never mind that state standards and the assessments that occur at year's end ignore the fact that a student may not want to do well, teachers have to overcome not just a disability or an academic challenge a student might have... they have to succeed regardless of a students negative and sometimes debilitating experience outside the school. (MUCH more on this later).
Summers do give us an opportunity to remove ourselves from the classroom for a few weeks. Those that don't teach summer school, are taking summer classes themselves - professional development is constant. Or perhaps others are working their other job. Teacher pay scales are public knowledge... take a look. We didn't become teachers for the paycheck but we still have to pay the bills. It will be interesting to see what occurs when school calendars are year-round... allowing for a few weeks between quarters. I agree, the summers are certainly captivating... yet if the time spent planning outside of school during the academic year were counted... I, like most teachers, are due some more "comp" time. As an example, my wife and family will attest to the fact that during my entire first year teaching... I spent each and every Sunday planning for the coming week. And while a teacher's first year in the classroom is, well... horrific due to the fact that one is both learning the curriculum, figuring out how to teach the curriculum, and also keeping up with all the other demands of the classroom. I know that good teachers keep learning themselves... and using the summers to make the next school year better than the last... making the next year even more impactful.
So enough of the rambling. My colleagues and I talk for hours about our profession's challenges and share stories when we prove successful in our interactions with our students. I heard it told to me once that the profession is an honorable one... I agree. I just wish more of society would agree and understand what a teacher's day entails. I assure you, the front of the room is not quite the easy endeavor we might have thought it was when we were in grade school.


Mr. Hughes said...

I look forward to reading a fellow teachers blog! You sound dedicated to your job as well. Keep up the great posts. I truly enjoyed this post! You should copy and paste some of that in a comment on my blog! It is wonderful! Take care!

Steven B. Kaminski said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm sure you caught on that some of my thoughts were in reaction to some of yours that I read. Teaching today... what an adventure.