True confession. I am not a teacher. I saw the writing on the wall before I walked into the classroom. I have an English degree that I got at an engineering university. Men there vocally proclaimed that women only study teaching to get that coveted “Mrs.” degree those charming male engineers have to offer. I grudgingly went through the education program to maximize the limited job opportunities available to lovers of the liberal arts. To no one’s surprise more than my own I discovered that I passionately loved being in the classroom. I am an introvert who likes to “hide behind my keyboard,” but being with students and sharing a passion for learning made all of that fade into the background.
In spite of that I learned more things as a student teacher that I knew couldn’t live with. It’s an inflexible job. You have copious amounts of tedium to attend to. Parent/teacher meetings. Staff meetings. Continuing education requirements. Individualized Education Programs to maintain. Meeting with specialists who help with IEPs. Documenting everything, everything, everything so that kids with behavior problems or learning disabilities are functioning to the highest extent possible (or to expedite their removal from your classroom, in certain cases, in order for the needs of everyone else to be met). Planning. Grading. Not a single one of these things can be done during the time you are working with your class. Thanks to email and smart phones the time demands have become more strenuous over time. Teachers are increasingly likely to be in constant contact with parents, many of whom are themselves disrespectful enough toward teachers to blame them for instances of student irresponsibility. Now there’s all the testing and teaching to the test. Volumes have been and will yet be written about this.
First and foremost a teacher is a mentor and needs to have human moments with these young people. One of my students killed a pedestrian with a car, and we were asked to actively monitor that child’s psychological condition (not that we would not have been concerned without being told to be, for goodness sake). There were pregnant girls trying to make it through to graduation. One 18 year old had ADHD more extreme than I have seen before or since. He had no friends. He was a constant disruption to class; his immaturity was social suicide. The advantage of being young and new is coming in with fresh patience and empathy that students like this have exhausted in everyone else. There was the gang member who could have done better–and quite obviously wanted to. You work with such young people knowing there is no realistic way of getting them out of a toxic environment. Idealism fades fast. Then there were the other students–largely in the high achieving classes–who had a serious case of the “silver spoons in the mouths”. For them, many of those I just described existed only as abstract, troubled losers they almost never saw.
I arrived on this scene having already been told teachers are dumb. They suck. They work at this because they lack the necessary skills to do anything else, and will need to marry well to have a life. I didn’t want to cope with all of the above workload and emotional investment. On top of that I was up at 5 AM at the latest, after staying up late each night before to accomplish what I needed to for the next day. It is strenuous to plan out lessons for multiple classes and ability levels and maybe multiple ability levels in the same class, and grade piles of homework. In English, journalism, history, and theater classes this often involves a lot of reading and writing and nuanced response. In exchange for this brutal life I was unable to make a doctor’s appointment during the day, or have lunch at a restaurant with a friend who works elsewhere, or plan a vacation compatible with my husband’s work schedule.
Early teaching careers are extraordinarily stressful years because you don’t have an established body of lessons and plans and experience. You’re on your feet all day walking literally miles around your school building. Largely miles logged within the confines of your own classroom. Then piles of work await you when the classroom day is done. All over the country, and egregiously so in this county, people doing at least a job and a half worth of work are told to scrape by on paraprofessional pay. Here, most especially dumped on are the new hires.
Instead of heading into the classroom to make a difference as a semi volunteer (the first year teacher down the hall calculated her salary as hourly wages and said she made more working at Walmart), I took advantage of the late ’90’s dot com environment, even with my allegedly useless English degree. Just imagine how hard it is for someone who is drawn to math and science to be persuaded into the classroom. I walked into my first job interview, nailed it, got the offer, and accepted. I started writing software user manuals, which helps virtually no one. It provides none of the sense of purpose that teaching has. I was a 22 year old with a 26th floor window office with a gorgeous view, a ton of flexibility, and the panache of a tech world where sticking around leads to raises, bonuses, profit sharing, and stock options. Teachers get crapped on by everyone. It’s honestly amazing to me that anyone puts up with it. I have too well developed a sense of outrage to have sailed into that on moral fortitude alone. I remain ever angry on their behalf, and I urge you to stand up for what is right. None of us anywhere would have the jobs we have today, if it were not for the teachers who helped to get us here. Fight for them. We need these people.
You can contact the Frederick County BOE and urge them to reconsider their decision to cut funding from the salary pool at email@example.com. We are beginning to bleed teachers. In the future please pressure Frederick County to continue to improve funding for FCPS so that essential people are not fighting over tiny slivers of the pie. It’s too late for this year. Community engagement is critical. School quality affects everyone’s property value and crime rates.