Time to teach

All my travels have come to an end and I am facing the conclusion of summer.  School (for teachers, anyway) starts on Monday and the real deal begins on Wednesday.  It truly seems like summer began just three weeks ago.  I was so pumped for spending time with my kids and traveling and indulging in my hobbies … and now, I’m wondering why I didn’t use my time better.  Or perhaps I did?

I will admit it – my profession comes with some perks.  There are few other professions that allow people several weeks off in a row.  I get holidays off.  I have decent insurance.  My working hours are predictable.  I don’t have a boss yelling at me to stay late or come in earlier.  That’s stuff that most teachers do automatically because they have to. However, as the demands of our profession have risen, the time to get everything down has declined.  If I could change anything about how a school day is set up, I would demand that teachers have more time to plan.

Budget issues and emphasis on standards and benchmarks have whittled away planning time to one 42-minute period per day.  Yes, I know — most people would LOVE to have 42 minutes a day to do whatever they wanted.  However, this is not a break time for us.  It is a planning time.  If you use that period as a break time every day, you will never get anything done and will fall hopelessly behind.  Those 42 minutes are for cramming in all the stuff we need to do on any given day: ordering copies, writing lessons and handouts, contacting parents and answering emails, grading papers and entering grades, generation progress reports, conferring with other teachers, scheduling computer time, tracking down students, setting up A/V equipment, organizing handouts and packets … the list goes on and on and on.  For teachers who are actually trying to be innovative and doing something extra, those 42 minutes go by in a flash.  Therefore, I’ve gotten in the habit of using my lunch time for additional planning time.  I scarf down some yogurt and get to work.  Unless i’m really stressed out and just want to get out of the building, that is my daily routine.  When I am teaching a writing class, using my lunch is a necessity unless I want to bring work home with me, and even THEN that extra time isn’t enough and I end up correcting at home too.

If anything, that is where I feel the disrespect the most — when people fail to realize how much time it takes to plan and correct, particularly for those of us English teachers who get anywhere from 30-80 essays being handed in on the same day.  For a writing class, you are expected to get those essays corrected and handed back before the next batch comes in.  For me, correcting just one essay thoroughly (if I am marking all grammar and spelling errors and making suggestions) can take up to twenty minutes — and that is for an essay that isn’t riddled with errors.  Do the math: twenty minutes times eighty essays.  I need approximately twenty-four hours to correct all of those essays, and that is not even taking into account the essays that are so messed up that it can take up to 45 minutes to get all the suggestions written.

If all I taught was a writing class, then I’d be OK.  I’d use class time while the kids were writing along with my planning period and lunch to get them done in a week or so.  However, a writing class is usually one of the four classes that I usually teach.  I can’t use my planning period everyday to correct writing, because then I’d be neglecting the time it takes to keep up with my other classes.  Needless to say, those 42 minutes just don’t cut it on most days.  Even using my lunch as a planning period doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the time it takes to correct writing and deal with other classes as well.

Teaching is a different animal, and sometimes I get tired of telling people I’m a teacher only to have them get that “look” and then say, “Must be nice to have summers off, huh?”

So often I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, “Yes … and it must be nice to have a coffee break and actual lunch hours, huh?”

Our profession has taken some major hits in public perception.  The media, the government, disgruntled parents — all of them seem to be intent on making it seem like all we do in school is hand out worksheets and have sex with our students when we get a free moment.  That sounds crass and jaded, and perhaps it is.  How many good stories do we read about what schools are doing today?

If you have never visited your child’s school, do so.  Most teachers would be happy to open their doors for you and allow you to see what they do.  Having a parent in the room is nerveracking and a bit disruptive, but it’s also nice for people to witness the energy that’s required to get through a class period and the immense organization and dedication that is required.  Most people see what we do and say, “I’d never be able to do that; I’d go nuts.”  And for some people, that may be true.  At the very least, however, I’d love people to recognize that those of us teaching school actually know what we’re doing and we not only care about the subject we teach, we care about the students in our classroom.  Somehow schools and teachers have been made the enemy by a disgruntled public and the media, and it is this attitude that will do more damage in the long run than anything else.  There are bad apples in the bunch, but I guarantee that those people are the exception and not the rule.

School starts in approximately ten hours.  Time for bed.  🙂


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