Then You’ll Really Know What It’s Like [featuring Xian Barrett]

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

Xian Barrett has been one of my favorite education commenters in the last year or so. His commentary can simultaneously crack you up and crack your jaw, swelling and opening eyes unflinchingly. Today, CNN’s School of Thought asked him to contribute to their blog. Good on you, CNN. Observe:

Most Chicago teachers give our all in very challenging conditions. A recent Gates study suggests that the average teacher works 53 hours per week, while University of Illinois researchers found that Chicago teachers work approximately 58 hours per week. Several years ago, I counted my own hours and found that I was consistently working between 70-90 hours each week. Through challenging conditions, we impact hundreds of students positively every day; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in earth shattering, life-changing ways.


On any given day, I will spend two hours at home creating my own lesson plans or adjust existing materials to the specific needs of my students. I will also sit down to grade papers and return calls and messages. Many of my texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter and phone messages are from current students, usually regarding homework and several are from former students needing a letter of recommendation or support on some life emergency.

The other day, I finally called back my mother who’s been calling me for days. She says, “You sound tired, I’m going to let you go.” I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., and glanced at my cell phone. It was 1:14 a.m. I fell asleep on the couch.


Of course, the current talk about professionalizing teachers consists of them working harder for more hours. Two problems with this line of thinking. First, we aren’t getting paid more, we’re getting paid for the hours we’re actually working. Secondly, it assumes that most of us don’t work harder than the clocked minutes we’ve been given. I don’t have any concrete data on this [ahem], but many teachers have told me that they don’t even start families of their own because they work with so many at a time for more than half the year. I know for certain that the United States has the highest face-to-face time out of any “developed” country in the world, so giving us more time might not be the solution.

Some of this misplaced time management comes from people’s beliefs about some of the alternative or charter schools where time knows no bounds. These environments tend to burn teachers out quickly, and those students never get the “expert” teacher because they become the  guinea pigs year after year. Some of us have to restrict the time we spend thinking about school because we do it so often already because, if not, we get burned out too.

When Xian asks non-educators to listen to teachers and for teachers to speak clearly about what teachers go through on a daily basis, we have begun a conversation that gets people to consider solutions. In my heart of hearts, I believe the American public believes in us; we prove it with tireless effort towards improving our own profession.

Jose, who will have a book giveaway on Thursday …