Saturday, February 12, 2011

PYHO-You want me to do what? (Long!)

I was a public school teacher for six years. I taught four years at the elementary level, and my last two yeas were spent at the middle school level- sixth grade. For the most part, especially at the elementary school level, I loved it.

Sure, I had parents intimidate me, students challenge my authority, and coworkers question my teaching methods, even after my students' test scores showed I knew what I was doing.

I also had more fun, more laughter, more ah ha's!, more moments of clarity, more moments of courage, moments of determination, and moments where I just knew that I was doing what I was meant to do than I imagined possible.

One thing about teaching that becomes crystal clear before the school year even starts is that a teacher's job is never finished. A good month before school starts (if not earlier) is spent dusting off and improving long range plans, setting up your classroom, making copies, gathering materials and girding your mental "loins" for the big show down-the

The first week of school is make it or break it for a teacher. If you don't present a calm, cool, organized, confident, front-and trust me, it is a front;all teachers I know are seriously nervous before the first week of school-then your school year is potentially screwed. Once you get past a successful first week of school, the work falls into a routine.

On a weekly basis, you'll have the following: papers to grade, parent phone calls and emails to return, parent conferences, tests to write, copies to make, bulletin boards to create, meetings of all kinds-IEPs, 504s, Child Study meetings, class newsletters to write and copy, class websites and blogs to maintain, morning duty, afternoon bus duty, lesson plans to turn in, student folders to stuff with school newsletters, lunch menus, PTO news etc., and oh yeah, lesson plans to prepare just to name a few.

Another thing about teaching is the fact that if you need to be out, you not only need to find a "replacement" for yourself, but you have to do all the work for them ahead of time so that they can get through the day pretending to be you.

None of this stuff really bothered me for the first 5 years I taught. I found my groove and started to thrive on the constant busyness. Everything started to become routine, even the after school activities. I didn't mind being the Beta Club sponsor, spending time lining up speakers for our induction, taking the students after school to Wal-Mart to buy gifts for needy children at Christmas time, or even Family Science Nights, which required my team and I to be at school until 7 pm or later. I actually kind of enjoyed our Spring Carnival, which was a huge undertaking, requiring each grade level to come up with an idea for a booth and work several hours on a Saturday doing set up, participation, and then clean up. It was nice to see my students and their families in a relaxed setting, and I felt like part of a larger family.

Many of my coworkers would often bemoan the extra curriculars we were expected to take part in, complaining about how much time we already put in, both while we were at school and once we went home. Large, overstuffed bags full of papers to be graded were the trademark look for us each Friday as we departed for the weekend. I could understand intellectually why they would dislike having to be at school for so long. I knew they had children to take care of, husbands to spend time with, and entire houses to maintain. I, too, enjoyed my free time- working out, cleaning the apartment, traveling to see my sister and niece. But it really wasn't so bad for me. I enjoyed feeling the sense of connectedness to this larger school community.

Until, that is, I got pregnant.

Then the prospect of being forced to attend my school's "book fair night" at the local book store, to garner money for teachers to spend on classroom books, was simply exhausting to think about. You want me, 6 months pregnant, exhausted, up since 5, to teach all day then head to the book store to schmooze with parents until 6 or 7 pm?

You want me to show my face at "Family Bingo Night" so that I can present a happy front?

Well, I did it. I am, after all, a good girl who (mainly) does what is expected of her. But I was starting to get a clue about why my coworkers had been so averse to such activities.

Then, my precious baby boy was born. My Munchkin, born on a sweltering South Carolina August morning. And my world was turned upside down, inside out, totally and completely filled with my little man, his daddy, and finding our new normal. My heart aches when I'm away from him, so much so that I couldn't imagine going back to work, and we managed a way to work it out.

Recently the Munchkin and I were at the local bookstore, and it happened to be "book fair night" for my former school. I overheard conversations of former coworkers talking to parents, putting on a happy, outgoing, friendly persona while interacting with the kids. And I was surprised by my emotional reaction. I looked down at my little boy in his stroller and was overcome with anger. Anger towards all those extra curricular activities that have taken my friends away from their families. Anger for my fellow teacher, mother of three, who had to juggle how to pick up all three kids, get one to soccer, another to dance, and bring the third to book fair night because 1. her hubby was also a teacher, who spent afterschool time tutoring,
2. she felt guilty asking for a more preferable shift time, and 3. she refused to entertain the idea of asking to be let off the hook for this school event (again, guilt at work here.)

I looked down at my Munchkin and realized how sad, pissed off and disgusted I would be with my workplace if I was forced to leave my little guy at day care, and then miss our evening time together so that I could shmooze with other children and their parents.

I'm the first to recognize the importance of teachers' role in forming good relationships with parents and students. I also recognize that a teacher's job is never finished. But at what cost? As for me- not at the cost, not EVER at the cost of my time and relationship with my family. Call me self-righteous, call me crazy, call me judgmental. Don' I will do whatever it takes in the future to spend time with my family and put them first, as much and as often as possible. Schools need to do the same. Happy teachers =happy students and parents.


  1. Wow, you could be describing me here- except I did my 2 years of middle school first, then 4 of elem.

    Once my oldest was born, I couldn't imagine leaving him to go take care of other people's children. I'd get made when people would say "oh, but teacher's hours are so nice and easy!" HA!!!!! There's no such thing as leaving work at work- there's always something extra to do. And I loved doing it...until I had children and realized just how much of my time that teaching would take me away from them.

  2. Teaching always seems like such an easy - good parent job - you don't realize how much time is involved with it until you hear teachers talk about it.

  3. I have always appreciated what teachers do and the extra time they spend with parents and students!

  4. Very well written. Good teachers are sooo important--but not at the cost of their own families.

  5. AMEN! As another former teacher - I completely agree. Being a teacher and a mom is one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

  6. Thanks for the comment love, ladies! It feels good to know that there are other lovely ladies out there who have been through this and feel the same way. A friend of mine actually was brave enough to tell parents at Open House not to expect tests and quizzes graded the next day or even two days after the tests were given. She told the parents- "I have three kids, and my number one priority is being a mom, especially when I leave here at the end of the day!" The parents seemed very receptive, but I know it's not like that everywhere!

  7. I have written several times about how important good teachers are in everyone's life. I wish that it were easier to keep the "ones who care" taken care of. I don't blame you at all for your frustration (and for choosing your family first) but think it's a true shame that it's an either/or proposition.

    Beautiful post