There is a great "My Turn" in the October 20 issue of Newsweek. Heather Robinson left a youth services profession to go into teaching. Like many other teachers, she is tired of people treating her work as a teaching professional as though it was a short-hour babysitting job.
Americans talk a lot about the quality of education and are quick to place blame on teachers. Undoubtedly there are some bad teachers, but there are bad CEOs (we've seen a lot of evidence of that recently), bad plumbers (including those with licenses), bad politicians, and the list can go on and on. We don't hear too often about the good teachers or the exemplary ones, but there are a lot of very good teachers working hard in their classrooms to help kids learn.
I work with teachers all the time; some more directly than others. I'm constantly impressed by the work they do, by their passion for their craft and their students, by their concern that they aren't doing enough or can't do more. I hear about their exhaustion, their frustration with uninvolved parents and with administrators who are slightly above clueless or just so taken with their own authority and position they are not effective.
Ms. Robinson spoke of her frustration that people too often thinking teaching isn't a real job, that the hours are cushy, that she gets summers off, that she might get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Too often people think teachers are done with their day when the last school bell rings. Those are people who don't know actual classroom teachers because then they would know that there is grading to do, planning to do, IEPs to manage, and so much more. Most classroom teachers will spend at least a few hours each evening finishing their work day and far too many still feel behind.
The really good teachers don't have the summer off as many are inclined to believe. That's the time teachers can really focus on improving their skills and understanding of teaching, get recharged through professional development, catch up on their research and reading, and revisit all those notes on lesson plans to make changes for the upcoming year.
Every day is not remotely close to the same. Even if a teacher has the same course four times in a row, the kids are not the same, so the teaching and learning experience constantly has to be managed for the group of kids at that time. And though 4th period may be the "quiet" class and 7th period the "rowdy" class, there are times when even those class personalities are not the same. As Robinson states, "Teachers are not on autopilot--we make thousands of decisions each day while working hard to produce a quality product that provides each student with what she needs and deserves" (p. 19).
She goes on to say "After all of the long hours, grueling days, mountains of paperwork, emotional exhaustion, and misperceptions about the profession that I dearly love and would trade for no other, we continue to pour ourselves into the work because it's too important not to. How can we not give all of ourselves, our intellect, and our talents to this work? After all, it is our current students whom we will be voting for in a future presidential election, who will care for us when we're ill, and who will educate our grandchildren" (p. 19).
Teaching is a profession. An honorable and important profession.
Be thankful for the teachers who touch your life, who touch the lives of your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors. Be thankful for the teachers who taught you how to read, how to think, how to do math, or how to improve on any of those skills. Be thankful for the teachers who challenged you and encouraged you, who made you believe more was possible, that you were capable of reaching farther and doing more than you could imagine. Be thankful for the teachers who weren't as good because they made you appreciate the good ones even more.
Please treat those teachers with respect and honor their profession for the important role it has in the fabric of our society.