- Summer break is NOT a three-month vacation.
- Our hours extend well beyond the school day.
- We are under a lot of pressure. All the time.
- We’re not all extroverts.
- We’re preparing our students to take on the world, not just our subject.
- We love what we do and who we do it for.
As my first year of teaching winds down, I have had some time to reflect upon my own performance, as well as my impression of the profession as a whole. Since becoming a teacher, I have heard many false assumptions from people outside of the field of education. Knowing how hard we work, how seriously we take our role, and how deeply we care about our students, it is disheartening to hear the harsh judgments that many people so frequently make about teachers.
I wanted to seize this opportunity to clarify this extreme misunderstanding and, hopefully, change some perspectives about how truly challenging being a teacher can be.
Summer break is NOT a three-month vacation.
If you want to infuriate a teacher, tell them that you’re jealous of their “three-month break.” This is a myth. The notion that we all just sit around and vacation all summer long is a wonderful thought, but it is simply not the case. When the school year ends, we may take a week or two to ourselves much like someone in any other field; however, at the end of that time, we need to get ourselves back into gear.
It’s no secret that teachers don’t get the best pay, so many have to get summer jobs in order to keep up with expenses. I, for example, worked two jobs last summer, which had me working 9-5 every day for most of June and July. I also personally know several teachers who work a second job during the school year in order to make ends meet. Summer is a great opportunity for us to finally have some extra spending money, or to save for the year to come.
Aside from getting a second and third job, being an effective teacher also means furthering your own education. Most teachers spend time over the summer attending various professional development seminars on their own dime in order to develop the most effective strategies possible for the upcoming year. Not only do we focus on our own development, but we are thinking ahead to the fall when we have a new batch of students.
Planning a unit (or five, or six…) takes an incredible amount of time and energy, and it’s impossible to do it on the spot when August rolls around. Most teachers plan ahead starting in late June or early July in order to be fully prepared. Once mid-August comes, we attend at least a week of in-school training with our districts. Additionally, we have to find time to set up our classrooms. This can take days depending on your subject, grade level, and decorative style.
Our hours extend well beyond the school day.
Even during the school year, we don’t get a break at 3 or 4 p.m. when the school day ends. There’s tutoring, grading, lesson planning, eating lunch (finally), taking a bathroom break (finally), contacting parents, attending meetings, and the list goes on. I don’t know of a single person in my current building who leaves when the last bell rings. Everyone has work to do long after the school day concludes.
In addition to the physical work we have to do, we are also incredibly emotionally involved in our work. We are constantly thinking about our interactions with students and reflecting to improve our performance in the classroom, as well as theirs. We are always dwelling on our relationships with students because it is an imperative part of our jobs.
You may also have concerns about your students’ safety once they leave the building. Are they eating dinner tonight? Do they have a place to sleep? Will they have to walk five miles in the dark to get home after practice?
The safety concerns are real for us, and there is only so much we can do during the short time we see them each day. Trust me when I say that this sticks with us well after each school day has ended.
We are under a lot of pressure. All the time.
We put a great deal of pressure on ourselves. We work hard to prepare our lessons. When they don’t go the way we planned, it can be a big disappointment. It can even affect the entire unit, which might last several weeks.
There is also self-inflicted pressure to get along with our students. We care deeply about our students, so we are consistently working to have a good rapport with each of them. If there is a rift in our relationships, it wears on us emotionally.
We get pressure from parents. We know how much parents care about their children. Parental involvement is a major asset to us as educators – without it, many students fall behind and become apathetic about their education. On the other hand, we often don’t get enough credit from home. Oftentimes, parents lash out before understanding both sides of the issue at hand. We always appreciate their concern, and we strive to find a solution to every issue, but the pressure from them can be monumental.
Teachers have a great deal of pressure professionally. We have state standards to reach and state tests to prepare for. All the while, we must meet students where they are intellectually so they do not fall behind on our account. We want them to succeed academically, but this no longer means just getting an A in class. They also have state tests to pass, and we have state standards to reach. And, no, the two don’t always line up. We don’t even get to see the tests before they take them. We want a diverse curriculum that reaches every student’s unique learning needs, but this can be a great challenge considering all that we have to prepare for that is outside of our control.\
We’re also under pressure of evaluation, which can take a toll.
We also have regular evaluations that take place several times a year. Administrators observe us while teaching and evaluate our performance. When your days are incredibly unpredictable, and every class is different every day, these impending evaluations are incredibly nerve-wracking. You can prepare as much as possible, but you never know what each day will bring. One student can throw your lesson off its axis and compromise your evaluation score.
Our overall evaluation scores are also often based on our students’ performance on state tests. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Namely, we have no control over whether or not their previous teachers taught the standards they were supposed to up to the point when they enter our classroom. We always have gaps to fill from the previous year, as well as recalling lost knowledge that the summer stripped away. Accommodating for individual students’ needs is a high-priority in the classroom, but the state tests hardly ever share the same philosophy.
For teachers, this means that all these fish are expected to climb the tree (a la the famous quote everyone attributes to Einstein) because they all learn differently, and we are evaluated on how well they do. This is hard on us as educators, and it is hard on them as learners.
This pressure, which is out of our control, has the potential to greatly impact our overall evaluation score, which can affect our future income as well. Not to mention the impact it can have on a child’s confidence and potential to graduate.
We’re not all extroverts.
It is crucial for anyone who interacts with educators to understand this. Although we went into teaching for many reasons, being a natural extrovert isn’t always one of them. Even introverts make incredible teachers. This means they may need to recharge after school, or even during the school day. I’ve known a few teachers who spend their plan period in their rooms with the lights off just sitting in silence in order to regain their energy for the rest of the day.
Teaching is a difficult job, but it can be that much more challenging if you are an introvert. No matter which grade you teach, you are in the position of interacting with large groups of people constantly. Needless to say, it’s a draining job for anyone. If you know an introverted teacher, give them some props next time you see them. They push themselves to their limits every day, and they still choose to teach for the joy of creating lifelong learners.
We’re preparing our students to take on the world, not just our subject.
It’s no joke when people say that teachers have more than one job in the classroom. Aside from being an educator, you are a manager, a mentor, a nurse, a confidante, an advisor, an entertainer, etc., and you have to bring 100% to each of these jobs – every. single. day.
If you are less than 100% committed to any of these jobs, your students’ development could suffer greatly. Although we, of course, want them to be successful in our content area, we also want them to mature and develop emotionally as well. We have to be effective adult role models and monitor their behaviour all at once. One slip could cause your students to lose respect for you, and once that happens, all instruction becomes far less effective.
We love what we do and who we do it for.
We joined this profession not only out of a passion for education but also the love and hope for the future generations. We want them to develop into intelligent, mature adults that can communicate effectively and develop lasting relationships with others. This journey starts from the very first day of preschool and lasts until graduation. No matter your teaching style, any effective teacher will prioritise emotional development along with intellectual.
No matter which grade, subject, or school you teach in, the countless misconceptions about education will affect you. These discouraging remarks can be unbelievably frustrating when combined with the pressures we already face day-to-day. Whether you are a K-12 student, guardian, or coach, understanding what teachers go through is important to combat this ignorance and promote understanding.
Most importantly, though, we want everyone to truly understand how deeply we care for our students. Their safety and general well-being is always our first priority. We have a relatively thankless job, so rest assured that we work hard each day for the sole purpose of immense compassion for our students. So next time you hear someone utter the misguided saying, “Those who can’t do, teach,” please take a moment to correct them. Then, take another moment to thank a teacher who has had a positive impact on your life – it will make their day.
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