Friday, October 21, 2011

Had we but world enough, and time

I work in a very strange profession. I have a job that most people agree is important, yet is one of the lowest paying jobs a professional can have. Everyone has an opinion about how the job should be done: legislators, religious leaders, parents, people on the street. I can't think of another profession where people with no training or experience in your field think they can advise you on how best to do your job.

Unlike other professions, where a person builds in responsibility with experience and newbies are given time to develop skills on lower-level projects, mine is a profession where you get the full enchilada on day one. Either you survive, or you quit.

Yep you guessed it, I teach. Public school. Middle school.

Every year since I began, I have been asked to do more, with less money, and more importantly less time.

Time is the part that rankles me.

Every single day I produce six engaging, edifying lessons which both push the gifted students and provide support for the struggling students without losing the interest of students at any other level. Each lesson is supposed to help each child become a 21st century learner and foster literacy skills. I utilize a variety of ever-changing forms of technology and teach the children to do so as well. I am maintain contact with 130 families, informing each parent of whatever struggles and problems their child faces in my classroom. I maintain a website that details everything that is happening in my classroom and provides resources students and parents can use at home. I am also my own secretary--making all my own copies, creating my own documents, collating, stapling, and filing. I am my own housekeeper as well, cleaning tables, whiteboards, chairs, etc.

To accomplish all this, I get two "prep periods" a day. This is teacher talk for the time during the day when you do not have supervisory duty (no students in your room). My two prep periods are one hour and six minutes and thirty-three minutes in duration (if I count my lunch, too). However, I rarely get all ninety-nine minutes. There are meetings one to three times a week, too. I try to eat lunch most days.

Because I am utterly amazing, and because I can now pull from sixteen years of classroom experience, I manage to produce lessons that please me more often than not. But I am always always always behind on assessment--paper grading, providing meaningful feedback to the kiddos to help them grow. I am frustrated 100% of the time because of time--99 minutes a day is not enough to do the preparation work at the level it should be getting done at. No matter how efficient I become, the work will never fit in the work day.

When I look at the work days of friends who do not teach, I get very jealous. When one friend is asked to make a presentation (one presentation--I make six daily), she is relieved of her other duties for three days so she can prepare. When another friend was asked to use a new form of technology, he was sent to a week-long training session at company expense and given three day workshops as follow up quarterly for a year.

Gah! What I could do! The amazing things I could do, if my profession had respect for the time it takes to do it well.

Once I had a teaching job with adequate time. It was awesome! I taught for a summer program at Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth. I taught one class of fifteen kids for two sessions a day. I had four hours a day to prep one lesson and do any assessment. Because it was a summer program, I didn't have to maintain a website or keep in contact with the kids' parents on a daily basis. For the first time in my teaching career, I felt like I was doing it justice. I wish teaching could always be like this.

It's not, though. So, why teach?

At its worst moments, it's like . . . spitting into the wind, herding cats, banging your head against a wall, hammering on cold iron, whistling in the dark, fiddling while Rome burns, tiptoeing through a minefield blindfolded, trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Why teach? Because, at its best moments, it's like . . .touching the future, bridging the abyss, grounding live wires, opening doors, awakening sleeping giants, lighting the lamp that illuminates the world.

Really if you are a teacher, there's nothing else you could do. It's the only thing that feels right.

But I'll continue to wish for more time. I know, I know. If wishes were horses . . .

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