Sunday, October 5, 2008

Manifesto: What a Week/end!

Teachers are busy people. We appear to not work all that many hours in a day, if you compute hours worked by time actually in front of a classroom full of kids. By that measure, someone might calculate that I work for 200 to 275 minutes per day, which is 3.3 to 4.6 hours per day, give or take. Cushy! If only that were so...

I arrive at school at about 7:30 am, 45 minutes before school begins. In those 45 minutes, I check in with colleagues, print and photocopy papers to hand out to children, write and answer emails to colleagues and parents, and check in with kids to see how they're doing, plus grade, plan, or compute grades.

During my "free time" at school, I evaluate lessons that I have already given, plan new ones, try to divine which one of my students might be having trouble and why, grade papers. I often stay at school until close to 6pm, working on the same sorts of issues as I do during my "free" periods at school, plus going to department, faculty, and other types of meetings. Then I often work another 2+ hours at home.

My weekend was full of school commitments too, with Homecoming on Saturday -- floats to watch, parents to schmooze, games to watch, and a dance to chaperone, until nearly midnight. Not to mention the 12-ish hours that I put in doing planning and grading between Friday night and late this afternoon.

Admittedly, I have a heavy load this year, with new classes to prepare for and some extra voluntary commitments for school. But I don't know a teacher worth their salt who doesn't put in this sort of work. It's why the teacher burnout rate is high and its hard to keep hardworking people in the job, especially given the money that is paid. (Yeah, I only get paid for working 40 weeks of the year, but if you think that good teaching doesn't require summer work, you'd be wrong. This past summer, I spent about 2 hours per day working, without extra compensation.)

I love my job because I love hanging out with kids. There's no better place to laugh and it's possible to be so silly and instill such a love for history and learning and have an influence on the individual development of young people. I don't know what the answer is to a teacher shortage and high burnout rate -- the people who are drawn to teaching are often those who thrive on a high level of activity and stress. People understand what my job title is, but they don't understand why I teach.

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