Friday, February 24, 2012

Myths About the Teaching Profession

I thought I would take advantage of the fact that I have my own blog and use this opportunity to shout to the world (or at least my 61 followers) some truths about the teaching profession.  These facts are based on my situation in my position and in my state.  Circumstances may differ depending on where you live and teach.  The following is a list of common misconceptions and clarifications from me...

1.  Teachers have their summers off.  While we only work with students in our classrooms, September through June, it is not accurate to say we have our summers off.  Teachers are required by law to take classes and continue their education.  Depending on which state you live in, teachers must complete a certain number of credits continuously throughout their career to stay certified.  These classes must be done on our own time with our own money.  For many of us, the only time we feel we have to dedicate to continuing our education is during the summer months.  In addition to completing credits, many (or most) of us attend conferences and receive additional training during the summer months.  Sometimes we are required to do this by our school district, sometimes we do it on our own to better ourselves as educators.  We spend summer months working on curriculum and getting materials ready for fall.  (FYI - Many districts in the country now have year-round school.)

After the school year is completed in the spring, most teachers can still be found in their classroom finishing up grades, report cards, and adding information to student files.  Most of us clean our classrooms and pack away our things (so our classrooms can be cleaned) after students leave in the spring. We are also in our classrooms many days, sometimes weeks before we are required to be in the late summer getting our classrooms set up and materials ready for our new students.

As teachers, many of us do not get to choose what we teach so many of us face multiple position changes throughout our careers.  When this happens...say you go from teaching 3rd grade to teaching 8th grade mathematics.... the summers are used for familiarizing yourself with the curriculum and getting a new classroom ready for students.  If you see a mother on the beach with her own children on a hot July day and she is laying on her beach blanket while her kids build sandcastles and she is reading  Algebra:  Concepts & Applications it is probably not her first choice for a beach read, but she feels she must spend her time preparing for fall and her new group of students.

2.  Teachers get paid in the summer even though they don't work in the summer.  Wrong! When I hear people say this it makes me so angry.  No, we do not get paid in the summer even though we have summers off.  We each have a contract we sign at the beginning of the school year.  The contract states how many days we agree to work.  For me, at our school our contract says we will work 181 days.  Our salary is for 181 days.  Now some teachers receive a paycheck during the summer, but they aren't being paid for that time.  We can choose to have our pay be spread out so we can receive paychecks during the summer months, or we can opt to just receive the same salary divided by the number of paychecks received from September to June.

3.  Teachers work from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Nope!  Not the case at all.  I am in my 13th year of teaching and the only time I ever leave at 3:00 is when one of my children has an appointment for us to get to quickly after school. Many teachers arrive early and stay late.  We may be "required" to be in our classrooms or school building from a specific start time to a specific finish time, but we always have more to do than the hours of the school day allow, especially if we have no plan time during the school day.  Many of us teach multiple subjects and need to have lessons prepared for each subject, every minute of the day. 

Teaching is not a job that allows you to "punch out" and go home at the end of the day, leaving your work behind.  I do not know any teachers who get to "punch out."  Even if we are not in the classroom, we are making phone calls to parents or answering emails.  Just the other night, I locked myself in my bedroom to stay away from the loudness of my own home so I could talk to a parent on the phone.  It was about 7:00 p.m. - long past my "punch out" time.  We are often working on lesson plans, correcting papers, or researching on our own time.  Some teachers can be found cutting out ladybugs for a math lesson or reading through a pile of 6th grade essays in front of the television late at night.  Sometimes I need to run to the store to pick up pipe cleaners or plastic cups or googly eyes for a project I plan to do the next day.  Our students, our lessons, our school are CONSTANTLY on our minds. My mother who is a retired high school teacher still has dreams about school every August.  And many, if not most, elementary teachers have bad dreams about kids missing the bus!  (And by the way, the pipe cleaners, plastic cups, and googly eyes are coming out of my own pocket - there is not usually much of a budget to buy supplies with so teachers spend a great deal of their own money on school supplies.)

4. Teachers have so much fun playing or babysitting all day. We do not "play" all day and we are not "babysitters."  We are called "teachers" but there's so much more to it than even that.  A teacher wears many hats;  an educator, a nurse, a referee, a mom or dad, a psychologist, an entertainer, a lawyer, a zookeeper, a dental assistant (ask any 1st grade teacher), an editor, engineer, handwriting specialist, emergency management technician, career counselor, an accountant (lunch money, field trip money, book order money), a coach and sometimes a cop. We are story tellers, singers, detectives, translators, computer experts, historians, authors, disciplinarians, character builders, protectors, scientists, copy machine repair experts, magicians, and advocates. 

If a student comes to school without having eaten breakfast, a teacher will give the child something from his or her lunch (I have done this before.) When I taught kindergarten, I found myself keeping track of the number of ear infections a couple of the children were getting and wondered if they needed to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. I have made referrals for students to get tested for speech, physical therapy, and occupational therapy services. I have also been the sounding board for parents who were upset with an ex-spouse. Unfortunately, many teachers get called to testify in custody disputes.

We must demonstrate patience, compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and empathy.  EVERY SINGLE DAY we must be energetic, enthusiastic, calm, thoughtful, open-minded, and willing to take risks. We must see the potential in every child.  We must identify each child's strengths and challenge them further.  We must identify each child's struggles and provide interventions and extra support to get them where they need to be. We must be aware of everything and not miss a thing.

There are many days when teaching is fun!  There are days when you get hugs, visits from former students, and birthday treats from kids.  There are days when you finish a lesson and know that your students really got it!  There are days when you hear your own voice in your students' discussions and know they have been listening.  It feels good to have a parent notice when you've gone above and beyond for their child.  To be a teacher does not just mean you are enlightening little people with your fountain of knowledge nor does it mean you are babysitting.  Teaching is a career that is all-encompassing.  It is the career that makes all other careers possible. 

Teaching is a very challenging career that is sometimes frustrating.  You sometimes wonder if you are getting anywhere or making a difference. Recently I had a parent tell me that her daughter who graduated from high school last year was talking about the people who made a difference in her life.  I was one of them.  She said she remembered when she was in my class that I recognized she was capable of doing more challenging math skills than the third grade curriculum was requiring.  In addition to her regular math lessons, I created beginning algebra worksheets for her and worked with her one-on-one so she could be a bit more challenged.  I remember that and remember, as a nine year old, how excited she was to try something new.  She graduated from high school with honors and is now finishing her first year at a big university.  I'm proud of her and feel privileged to have had a positive impact on her educational journey.  THAT is rewarding and makes it all worth it. 

Teaching is very hard work.  The pay is not super, the hours can be long, and our "customers" are extremely demanding.  I haven't truly had every summer off between school years, I work each day from at least 7:30 to 4:30, and I'm definitely not a babysitter.  But I do believe teaching is a calling, and those of us who have been called to do it keep going because we realize we can make a difference.  I realized when I was 16 years old that whatever I did in my life, I had to work with children.  I recognize that God has led me to the place I am now, and every July while lying on the beach with my three children playing nearby, I pray and ask God to send me the students who need me that school year.  In doing this I know that despite the challenges and the misconceptions some have about teachers, I am right where I need to be.

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