Monday, May 2, 2022

A Teaching Moment

I hear that this week is National Teachers Week, so Whoo Hoo! Can’t you just smell the chalk dust, crayons, and Elmer’s glue?

OK, maybe if you’re really old, like me, you remember those things from your classrooms. I don’t think they use any of that stuff anymore. Maybe crayons. (Is it just me or did you ever open a box of new crayons and huff that New Crayon Smell? Almost as good as Play-Doh.) But I know the schools around here have mostly gone to dry erase whiteboards, leaving the chalkboard to go the way of the ink well.

Let me say right off that I may have a biased opinion. I’m the son and husband of teachers (and yes, they are two different people.) But that gives me insight into what goes on behind the scenes, which parents and the general public rarely see.

Now, I know that not all teachers are angels. My family has had a number of run-ins with teachers that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children. (Paging the nuns at my old Catholic school!) But I believe those are a small minority.

There’s still a lingering misconception that a teacher’s day begins with the opening bell and ends at 3:15 with the closing bell. That’s not even close. You often hear about how teachers frequently have to spend their own money for classroom supplies, for general use for when a kid loses/breaks/parents never bought a classroom necessity, and that’s true. What doesn’t get talked about is the vast amount of unpaid work that is put in regularly.

I know that every weekend, Sweetpea is grading papers or writing lesson plans, commenting on report cards, and entering grades. Here’s a quick look at how a teacher spent the last Spring Break:

Yes, they are supposed to have work periods during the school day but it’s vastly insufficient for the amount of work that needs to be done, and there are often other requirements that pull them away from accomplishing any of that, like staff meetings or having to clean up the classroom or rearrange the fixtures to allow for a new activity the following day.

In Sweetpea’s workplace, they are also supposed to have a dedicated, child-free half hour for lunch, but that’s a joke. It may be different for teachers of higher grades, but she teaches 1st grade, so the first and last five minutes of her “dedicated” half-hour is spent walking her kids to and from the cafeteria. If she needs to use the restroom, that’s another five minutes. If she were to need to microwave something, that’s another five minutes to and from. So that’s 10-15 minutes to have lunch and maybe check messages before having to dive right back into the deep end.

After the afternoon bell, she has to get the kids adequately dressed in coats, hats, and whatever, and round them up toward the busses or parents’ cars. THEN, she spends another hour or so trying to get some work done or attend meetings. She’s usually home between 5:30 and 6:15 and completely beat.

This year has been particularly tough for first-grade teachers, because of the pandemic.

Her current class spent what should have been their kindergarten year learning remotely. That means they never learned how to act in an actual classroom. So they talk constantly, get up and roam around, and start playing with things, all right in the middle of a lesson. It’s still going on, even this far into the school year. It’s the kind of thing that would have been unheard of when I was a first-grader.

We were told, “Stay in your seats and pay attention,” by God, that’s what you did or you got smacked by the nuns. And if you didn’t pay attention, it showed up on your tests and homework. If you got bad marks, you’d hear it from your parents. Maybe they’d even go in to meet with the teacher to come up with a way to make you pay for your inattention or misbehavior.  What they NEVER did was blame the teacher for your faulty performance. If you didn’t learn, it was YOUR ass on the line.

That “long summer off?” That’s another illusion.

In our county, school usually gets out around the third week of June. It can vary because if more snow days are used than they are allotted, they add days to the end of the school year. So if you’re trying to schedule a post-school year vacation or travel in advance, you have to make sure it’s changeable, or allow at least another week in case of extra days.

School has been starting either in late August or right after Labor Day. But the teachers have a great deal of pre-term work to do, so they usually start putting their classrooms back together two weeks before that. So this big “summer vacation” basically comes to a week in June (maybe), all of July, and two weeks in August. That’s just a little more vacation than I have in the corporate sector, but I’m getting paid for mine. The teachers are not.

All this is just every day, week-in week-out, grind of the job. But now we have the whole political angle, where everyone and their dog are second-guessing teachers; people that often have no idea what they’re talking about.

It’s a lovely, feel-good, idea for parents to have direct input regarding what is taught in schools but it’s impossible to do that fairly on sheer numbers alone. Because you can’t only go by one or two or a handful of parents’ opinions. You have 25 (or so) sets of parents with 25 (or so) sets of ideals or morals. The teachers can’t abide by everyone’s demands. But that’s the whole idea behind public education. If you have some unique philosophy that you want to be instilled in your beloved offspring, then home-school the little fucker. Because chances are the other 24 sets of parents will not agree with you.

There’s another proposal floating around out there that wants parents to sign off on the whole curriculum before the start of the school year. What they don’t understand is that such a request would require a whole year’s worth of lessons to be prepared in advance. This would basically take up the entire summer, for which every teacher would have to be paid. If this bird-brained idea should pass, just watch how fast the same people pressing for this idea start bitching when their property taxes go up just to pay for it. It’s just another example of people trying to run things for which they have no expertise, the Dunning-Krueger Effect personified.

Teachers have to have the flexibility to address anything a child brings up, and it’s seldom something that’s in the curriculum. Kids in her classroom come from all kinds of backgrounds and parental situations.

I wish the idiots revolting over the alleged “CRT indoctrination” could see when Sweetpea teaches the lesson on Martin Luther King. They learn who he was, what he stood for, and how he died. Maybe then they would understand just how effectively an emotionally charged issue like that can be taught. These are first graders, and none of the white kids walked away feeling persecuted. If anything, they leave with a resolve not to let anything like that happen again.

So this week, if you have the chance, do something nice for a teacher on this, National Teacher’s Week. I’m not even talking about presents; they probably already have too many of everything you can think of for a gift. My wife has been teaching for almost 25 years so we’re flush with coffee mugs, thermoses, picture frames, Christmas ornaments, gift cards, and even chocolate. (Sweetpea doesn’t eat much candy, but luckily I do.) I’m just saying, let them know that all their hard work is appreciated. It’s as simple as A-B-C.


VoenixRising said...


My husband is an administrator for a school district and prior to that spent many, many years in the classroom and what you wrote is *so* relatable!

His final day at work this school year is June 3rd. He's back (although the kids are not) on June 23rd. Where's that "summer off"?

Anonymous said...

Perfect! You’ve got it!! Depressing that over time, NOTHING
has changed except this writer’s ability and willingness to speak truth for and about teachers.
Thanks with Love, lil Mom

bluzdude said...

Thanks VR. I'm glad your husband had considerable in-class experience before he went into Administration. That's one of the biggest bones my wife has to pick... dealing with Administrators and School Board members with little teaching experience, who then have the gall to "instruct" veteran teachers on how things should be done. Or install programs that are inappropriate for a particular age group because the kids just don't have the skills to handle it yet.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Teachers saved me. When my mom died I was 13 and it was a scary time. I wanted to go back to school it felt safe. One day I had a melt down in class and the teacher took me into the hall. She calmed me down and said it was okay that I forgot my homework. I really did too but I had never done that before. This teacher told me we'd work it out. I had to come by at lunchtime and work with her. She had me clean some of those old-time erasers and she just talked to me. I asked about my homework and she said, how about I just ask you some questions and this time it will be okay. She asked me questions on my homework and then she just had me helping her and talking. Then she asked me to do this a couple times a week. I cherished those times. She was "mom like" she was kind. And back then you could get a hug that I so desperately needed. I wasn't having to be the mom as I now had to at home, I was being a kid and being mothered because she saw I needed it. When I got to high school I wrote her a note. She came down to my school just a few blocks away to see me. We had a big warm hug and we talked and I got to thank her in person. Little did I know that she was dying of the same disease as my mom at that time. She never told me. I found out when she passed later that year. It about killed me. I shared with her family at her funeral how wonderful she was to us all and especially me. Her husband knew of me and told me stories. Teachers make a difference in more than just your reading writing and 'rithmatic. I couldn't be a teacher especially today but I will always support and side with the teachers!

bluzdude said...

Lovely story.

I also have a Great Teacher story and I was going to tell it at the end of this post, but it just seemed too off-topic for the general thrust.

Thumbnail version (which I may expand upon later), I had one teacher that completely changed my way of life. It was my 11th grade English Lit teacher, of all things. Through the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, he taught me that it was ok to be an oddball or non-conformist.

I'd always been a kid who needed everyone to like me and tried to be all things to all people. I'm sure you can guess how that went. But I realized I had a handful of really good friends... I didn't really need the approval of anyone else. So, my attitude became "if they don't like me the way I am, fuck'em." My life got infinitely better once I stopped giving a shit about what other people thought. I only wished I could have learned that lesson earlier.

Bohemian said...

Pandemic mandatory Home Schooling gave me a slight taste of Teaching, I was quite unfit. I have no delusions, nor did I ever, what incredible dedication and hard work goes into Teaching. Like Bad Cops, Bad Teachers give a black Eye to the whole profession and that's unfortunate. Us Parents are very protective of our spawn and thus, when confronted with a Bad un, we go Mental and I've had more than my fair share of run-ins, specially with my Special Needs Kiddos and Teachers that, to be fair, were not trained to meet such a Child at their point of need or necessarily understand the limitations of a mainstreamed child with significant disabilities and no other placement available. Bravo and I salute all the Good Teachers, I have fond Memories of all of mine, as do my Adult Children and Adult Grandchildren... the impression the Good Ones make lasts a Lifetime. Sadly tho', the damage the Bad Ones leave on their targets often lasts a Lifetime too.

bluzdude said...

My brother still gets the shivers over his 2nd-grade teacher, who in retrospect seemed quite unbalanced. One day she'd be hugging and kissing on him, the next, smacking him silly. Granted, knowing how he was, I can understand it. But he was MY annoying little brother. He was HER student.

Come to think of it, that was a Catholic school too. I always had great teachers once I stopped going to private schools.