The Other Half of Teachers

After the bell sounded today, as with every day, I like to sit at my desk for 10-20 minutes to decompress. I exhale a few times, staring at the scuffed white board filled with numbers and figures hastily put together from students’ responses. I don’t capture dialogue well, but all the math is there, and I most certainly planned for the academics, so I’m satisfied with that piece. I could have moved a few students from their seats, could have prompted for more individual thinking, and could have been more stern in redirecting a few students as well.

Overall, I’m thrilled that I’m not ditching the classroom first thing tomorrow, even though I tell my students weekly that I’m retiring from this. Over the course of five years, we can’t say the same for 50% of my colleagues.

After reading the aforementioned article, I had to ask why so many of us stay, and then, why would I? If you let some folk tell it, summers and holidays off motivate teachers to stay, even when we’re miserable for 200 days out of the year. Our unions and associations protect us with a job for life. Our system isn’t efficient enough to get rid of all the bad ones, and the good ones work just hard enough to stay in this profession until we can collect our enormous pensions from the state. We’re mainly engaged in an elevated mass babysitting effort until the end of the school year where we hand out bubble sheets and hoped the students listened to us for even a fraction of the time. The good news for teachers, according to some, is that they just have to sit in meetings and let adult supervisors talk at us for hours at a clip, with little to no bearing on the things we do when we shut our doors and talk to our kids.

The answer is, presumably, a lot more nuanced than that.

Most of the teachers in my circle love the profession. They get to work 30-45 minutes early just to get their minds and hearts ready to teach, however they teach. They’re not just classroom managers; they’re active facilitators of learning for students. They’re asking questions and moderating discussion, tolerant of students’ youthful mistakes and intolerant of students’ misconceptions of their own ability. They’re at once stern yet joyful, steady yet nurturing, well-planned yet amenable to student responses, empathetic and receptive, and hopefully, human. They’re using extra hours before, during, and after school to grade the mounds of papers they have, plan lessons, and review the readings they had to do as part of their professional responsibilities. Given the state of working conditions across the country, the fact that folks even want to stay ought to make everyone pay closer attention to us, but not in the “Let’s disrupt everybody in the name of ed-tech” sorta way.

Then there’s every description in between, and I don’t know how to answer that.

For most teachers I know, at least two of these components keep them in teaching: the administration or fellow educators work well with them, their students keep them engaged and hopeful for a better profession, the (little, ever-waning) perks of teaching outweigh other jobs in a topsy-turvy economy, or they find ways towards professional fulfillment. I don’t have that answer either. Every educator seems to have their own. The people I hang out with generally focus on the kids, but some of my colleagues might feel differently. I never know what to say to that, either.

My personal reasons focus on the students as well, not just as students, but as people, fully capable of exerting their energies towards positive movement. Yet, I’d be happy if they didn’t ask to go to the bathroom every five minutes. I’ve also been blessed to get to speak about this profession on “larger” stages (what’s larger than the classroom?), but I wake up before the sun does routinely so I’m in mid-day form by 8am. I’m supposed to tell you everything’s perfect right now with my teaching situation, but far from.

I just know that, for nine out of ten days, I’m happy I’m going to teach the next day. Perhaps forever. And the tenth day? I just hope it’s a Saturday.

photo c/o