Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Educators and Teaching

I recently encountered a guy who used the typical trope about teachers – ‘those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach’. It infuriated me to no end. People who have never stood before a classroom full of teenage boys for 45 minutes have no clue whatsoever about what it takes to teach. My grandfather, while he was alive, would wonder why I was so tired when I came home from school after a day in which I taught six classes and had a duty and a substitution. ‘All you do is stand up there and talk’ is what he would say. I wanted to retort, but I was just too damn tired to do so.

I am now in my sixth year of teaching, and I love what I do. Is it tough? Yeah. Is it tiring? Absolutely. Can the kids be a pain in the ass? You betcha. And yet, it is a job I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. So why is there such a misconception about what we do? The short answer is: I haven’t the faintest idea.

Consider this – I get up at 5:30 AM every morning and drive 40-50 minutes to get to school. School starts at 7:45 AM and runs until 2:45 PM. In between those hours, I teach six classes, prepare lesson plans, grade papers, substitute for other teachers, meet with students, return calls and emails from parents, engage in disciplinary action, play amateur psychologist constantly, and then return home where there are more lesson plans to be made and grading to be done. Tests and quizzes need to be made, PowerPoint presentations need to be edited, ideas need to fleshed out so that they both make sense and are relevant to a bunch of 15 and 16 year old boys who would rather be somewhere else during that particular time period. Most people can leave their work at the office; teachers mostly can do no such thing. On Mondays, I work with the Academic Quiz Bowl team until 4:00 PM – which means it is closer to 5:00 PM when I get home. And I love doing this!

So I say to those who get snotty about my chosen profession – let’s trade jobs for a week, whether it is an NFL player who complains that $7 million dollars isn’t enough or the radio host who thinks that preparation for his show every day outweighs the preparation that I have to do each and every day. Try to do all those things above and deal with 120 teenage boys who are just itching to find a slip in the crack so they can jump on you. One of the most underappreciated aspects of teaching is the necessity of having to be sharp day after day, minute after minute. If you are not, the students can tell and they will call you out on it. Kids have a BS detector like you wouldn’t believe and if you are trying to pull a fast one, they’ll figure it out.

Let me add a further caveat to this discussion – I teach theology for a living, which means I am held to a higher standard than other teachers are. As the ‘religion teacher’, I could never get away with some of the things that science, math, history, and English teachers do. Not bad things, mind you, but there are certain things that elicit ‘shock’ and ‘disturbances’ from the viewing public, including my students, colleagues, and parents because ‘religion teachers aren’t supposed to think/talk this way’ – whatever the hell that means!

So, just talking isn’t enough – management, procurer, referee, disciplinarian, magician, and psychologist all become part of the job description. Going back to the statement at the beginning about doing and teaching – hopefully you don’t fall into the same nonsense. It is extremely ironic that a lot of the people who think this way want the school systems to act in loco parentis. They have no problem shipping off their kids to a place for 8-10 hours a day, but then get haughty about the chosen profession of the educators. Not everyone can do it. I have seen my share of colleagues wash out and burn out. High school boys are a tough crowd – getting into the game may be a big mistake, but it may also turn out to be one of the most gratifying experiences around.

Whenever I have an encounter like the one at the beginning of this post, I watch this video below. It is a nice reminder that teachers make a difference in the lives of their students, no matter what other people may say, or the stupid comments that they make. The person speaking in the video is slam poet Taylor Mali – a former teacher himself. Enjoy…

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