Weekends and summers off. Too good to be true?
That sentiment seems to flow smoothly off many tongues in today’s climate, but has it ever been challenged? Consider this, while darkness still prevails in the early morning hours, with many cozy in their warm beds, teachers have already unlocked their classrooms, updated all the boards and charts, and prepared their rooms for students that will pour in before 7:30. And, while many are just having their first cup of coffee at their place of work, teachers have an hour of instruction behind them, not having time for a cup of coffee or the use of the restroom. Teachers work daily from a schedule that accounts for every minute, and when they are not in the classroom, teachers are inundated with extra duties, from working in the lunchroom to serving as a hall monitor, to providing mediation to recess duty, and from extracurricular supervision to bus duty, the only possible break in the entire day is lunch. Yet, that generous 30-minute break for sustenance is rarely used, leaving the staff break-room empty as teachers trade that time to catch up on grading and preparing for the next round of students while they scarf down a pack of nabs and a few sips of water at their desk.
Oh, but teachers are done their day at 3 o’clock, you say? Nope. After making sure most children are safely on their way home, some teachers must wait for that late parent, the broken-down van, or the substitute bus driver who is overwhelmed with a new route and running behind. Then, classrooms need to be prepared for the janitorial staff, papers need to be organized, items left behind by students need to be placed, and the classrooms need to be prepped for the next day. Suppose a teacher is not feeling well and has to take off the following day for sickness? In that case, they remain an additional 2-3 hours, well into dinner time, finding a substitute teacher, and creating an in-depth packet to guide them through the next educational day.
Coming home in the dark reminds teachers of their trip at the start of the day, also in the darkness. Being on their feet all day, traveling from class to class, room to room throughout a large school, teachers are greeted by excited children, loving pets, and perhaps a spouse, all wanting to know, “what’s for dinner?”. With no time to change or relax, dinner is made, chores are done, children are helped with homework, bedtime stories are read, and dogs are taken out. Then, it’s time to relax, or is it? It is usually around 9 or 10 o’clock, and teachers are generally at a desk grading all those papers completed earlier in the day. Suppose a teacher is lucky, and it was a slow educational day? In that case, exhausted bodies collapse on the bed sometime after 11 o’clock with the alarm intruding their much-needed rest at 5:30 in the morning to start that schedule all over again.
Well, teachers enjoy every weekend off, right? Nope again. All of those hours of daily classroom instruction require many hours each week to create lesson plans. Also, since there is no time during the workday, teachers are very busy during the weekends returning e-mails and phone calls from parents upset about grades, discipline, lost hats, homework questions, or help with paying for supplies or trips. Then there’s the school district required meetings, training sessions, and events, not to mention the field trips, sporting events, music concerts, plays, car washes, and school supply drives teachers often attend, sometimes just because they want to support your child. So, by the time Monday morning arrives, most teachers are still struggling to recover from the hectic week prior yet arise with the passion for serving another day.
What about having every summer off! That is funny! Because teachers are required to hold a four-year accredited degree, pass several state exams and take a certain amount of continuing education to receive and maintain their license, they find themselves overwhelmed in school debt and paid significantly less than other positions requiring a college education. Therefore, summers are often spent working another job; lawn-care, daycare, tutoring, summer school, painting, stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, and waiting tables at Olive Garden, just to keep up financially since they are not paid all twelve months of the year. And, if a teacher has a desire to enter administration, they must hold at least a master’s degree to be competitive or a doctorate if they aspire to be promoted to service at the central office. No wonder one in ten teachers leaves the profession each year, and the annual turnover rate is between 20 and 46%! And that was all before the stress the COVID pandemic brought to the halls of education.
Lastly, let us not forget the lack of support teachers often experience, at times, from all sides. The lawnmower parents defending their children by yelling and cursing at the teachers for giving a deserved low grade to central office policies that can complicate the process with confusing and difficult expectations almost impossible to flesh out in the classroom. Teachers are questioned, second-guessed, criticized, maligned, mistreated, and disrespected by students and parents every day, with parents often expecting more from the teachers than they do themselves in their child’s life. And to make matters worse, teachers are now fearful of the lives of their students and themselves. Many districts have kept teachers in the classrooms for most, if not all, of this pandemic, mandating teachers place themselves on the front lines, risking their very lives to maintain their students’ instruction. Add that emotional stress to the daily toll their profession takes on their physical and mental well-being, and perhaps, you may reconsider your position that teachers “have it made.”
So, this Christmas, while you enjoy unadulterated time with your family around the tree, perhaps take a moment and thank God for your child’s teacher, and even consider a tangible gift of encouragement; it certainly can’t hurt. And the next time you think of casting shade or criticizing a teacher, remember, that teacher may be investing in and loving your child almost as much as you do.
Tom McCracken, Ed.D(c)