Before I became a teacher, I used to misjudge a teacher’s ability to keep it together. I used to think to myself, "If a teacher seems so unhappy doing their job, why are they teaching?"
I understood, then, the value of a teacher's role in the world but underestimated the level of responsibility it took to be a good teacher. It wasn't until I walked the same hallways and entered the same classrooms that I witnessed the amount of commitment and sacrifice a teacher must make during their career.
There are many ways a teacher's passion is quickly tested. Teachers must manage their time diligently to comply with everyday requests and responsibilities. Each morning, they must show up calm and happy to welcome their students on a positive note. The need to follow the mandated curriculum which does not accommodate flexible schedules and spontaneity. Delivering deadlines is a crucial requirement of the job; teachers are expected to show the documented proof of performance for their classes. Teachers carry the enormous responsibility to deliver high performers. They are observed under a "spotlight" by their superiors, as their school board monitors their superior's ability to manage the school.
If the teacher works for a private school, they may enjoy the luxury of an assistant and the many resources provided by the school. Conversely, if the teacher works for a public school, chances are they are working in overcrowded classes with little help or no help at all. Although teachers have the most important job of educating the new generations, their earnings vary widely across the country. According to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics data, the average salary for a public school teacher nationwide is around $63,523. Furthermore, most teachers who earn a solid middle-class wage have to deal with scarce school resources and are compelled to use their own money to buy materials for their classes. Keeping all this in mind, I wonder, how much money do teachers actually take home?
Teaching brings many challenges on many fronts.
Teachers know their students and understand the dynamics of their lives at home; therefore, they must also be sensitive to every child's needs and wants without being too lenient or too strict. Did I even ask about how a teacher has coped during a pandemic year? Wait, I must rephrase that question: how has a teacher coped with their ability to teach, capacity to grade, to track progress, to deliver on expected performance, and manage classroom behavior, all while balancing their personal life during the pandemic?
One thing that I observed when I went back to teaching at schools onsite was that the school curriculum and expected testing deadlines continued as usual. I understand that students need to be tested to track their progress and understanding to know where they are and where to invest resources. However, students, families, and educators have experienced exceptional trauma. Should we not allow some time before bringing more added anxiety to their lives? I am grateful for the schools that recognized the additional stress caused by a pandemic year and called on us to instruct students on our "test anxiety" program. During the implementation of our program, I understood that students and teachers needed more time to find normality. Teachers went back to classrooms, where nothing was close to normal because of physical distancing; classes had to be split into different groups. Principals had to create classrooms around any space available within the school premises. Teachers became experts in keeping classrooms disinfected and encouraged kids to be mindful of each other's areas. Not all students came back to onsite learning; hence, teachers have learned to divide their attention between onsite students and online students. It is a complicated task to try and engage every student to listen to every lesson. Masks are another impediment to normality. Managing behavior while instructing kids while wearing a mask is not an easy task. You only have your eyes to express determination when applying conscious discipline, and if you need to discipline online students, you run into the risk of losing the rest of the onsite class. To conclude, it is my opinion that testing students should wait until things are easier to manage. We should provide social-emotional support to students and recuperate their desire to learn and their excitement to come back to school.
What about teachers' personal lives including their children, husbands, wives, parents, friends, financial obligations, and self-care? The average school day is 6.7 hours according to the National Center of Education Statistics, but in reality, according to BusyTeachers.org, the average teacher workday is much longer than that. Teachers are expected to arrive at school at least an hour before school starts, and many of them stay an average of three to five hours after school to find time for grading, special projects, and meetings. Indeed, if that was not enough, many teachers spend additional time counseling students and participating in youth programs to encourage and be role models for their students. Teachers must also prepare during the summer break. Many hours are spent on planning and continuing education, and when you add up all the additional hours of work, teachers are working 14 to 16 hours per day on an average net salary of around $48,000.
A couple of days ago, while walking through a hallway at a school, I ran into a teacher I know. After greeting each other, she only said to me, "Only nine days to go!"
That teacher was counting the days until the last day of school. Teachers are exhausted, frustrated, unmotivated, and many are questioning their careers. Teachers are burned out. As a society, we need to ask our state government to invest more money to support schools and teachers. Schools need to continue working to provide the crucial resources teachers need to execute their responsibilities. Parents and communities should have more compassion and help create a system that will allow teachers to rest, reflect, and recover from each workday.
Teaching careers go above and beyond the traditional job description and why would anyone choose to do this? The answer is simple: out of love for others.