Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another blog about teaching....

So I NEVER blog anymore.  I stopped originally bc I was concerned that it was "annoying" people.  But then I realized that if it's really annoying perhaps maybe they shouldn't read it???  Just a crazy thought...

Anyway let me get to the point of my blog, which is actually thoughts of late about my job.  Not MY job as in specifically my job, but my job field.  I know there are millions upon millions of articles, stories, and of course other blogs that are written by teachers, for teachers, against teachers, in support of teachers, etc.  I know that many of them all say the same thing.  Teaching is the hardest job in the world.  They work harder than anyone.  Blah, blah blah.  That's not my point of this blog and not what I want to say.

This is my 6th year in education.  In just 6 years I have seen an immense amount of changes take place.  At first these changes were huge, monumental changes that really taught me a lot and forced me to change the way I structured my classroom.  They were positive,  useful, constructive changes that benefited both student and teacher.  After a few years of these constructive changes, I was able to build upon these changes, increase my expertise in the field of the primary grades, try things just a little differently each year to find what worked for me, find an organization system, fail at one, try again, fail again, then set a goal to try something totally different the following school year.  Every school year ended with the same resounding refrain:  "This is where you belong.  Well done!"  And that made it all worth it.  I think that's what makes being a teacher worth it for almost all teachers.  You work hard all year and that last day feels so good because you know you made it and you know you made a difference.

In the meantime, there are those 179 days prior to that last day of school where your feelings tell you otherwise.  As with any job out there, everyone has their bad days, their boring company meetings with crazy agendas, impossible tasks set before you that you don't think you can ever accomplish, that one coworker who gets on your nerves, lame events that are mandatory to attend, etc.  But with teaching it's more than that.  For me, I feel that teaching is a huge mind game.  You're constantly playing a game with yourself, your coworkers, your boss, your students, the parents, and your family.  The "game" you play is a huge competition.  It's a competition for your time, attention, thoughts, mental and physical exertion, emotions, love, blood, sweat, and tears.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it is oh so true.

And the worst part of the game is that it's a completely unfair game with little structure and rules to guide you.  You have to make your own choices all along the way and no matter what choices you make, someone suffers.  It seems that teachers tend to fall into various categories.

The first category is the "Extreme Teachers".  These are the teachers who feel the need to be at school as late at night as possible every night.  If they don't stay late, they won't be ready for the next day.  They see it as just part of the job that they don't get to be with their families.  It's not a big deal to them because it's "just the way it is".  They might even be Eager Beavers who are super pumped every day about their lessons they poured for hours over the night before and are super enthusiastic at every faculty meeting.  They anxiously await the chance to volunteer for different committees.  It is their goal to be a phenomenal teacher and the only way they can achieve this goal is to sleep, breathe, eat, and think school 24/7.  Or perhaps they may not be so eager, but they may be absolutely overwhelmed all the time.  They're extreme because they're hard-working and dedicated.  They do the best they can and try strive to be perfect.  They don't want to live at school, but they feel they have no choice, so they stay at school super late every night, make themselves miserable, and never can seem to get it together because they're running themselves ragged.

Then there's the teachers who choose not to stay late.  Aka "The Slackers".  There are the perceived slackers....They make use of the time given during the school day, use every extra spare second to get little tasks done, try to stay organized so they aren't snowed under, and therefore don't feel a need to stay late.  "It'll get done eventually" is their mindset.  They know it'll still be there the next day.  The Eager Beavers often view them as the teachers who "don't care."   They'd much rather be home with their families than staying at school slaving over school work till 5-6 pm....What's up with that???  Don't they care about their job? They're the ones who are never asked to do training or are never nominated for teacher of the year.  No way can they be a good teacher since they don't live at school.  Then there are the ACTUAL slackers....The other end of this category is the teachers who truly don't care.  They don't try, they don't commit, they don't work.  They do the bare minimum.  They are the ones who ruin it for the other end of this category--the ones who do care, but choose not to let school consume them.

Then there are the teachers who try so hard to be everything, but also try to be balanced and carefree.  They stay late at school 1-2 days a week, getting as much done as they can, race home to be with their families, then feel horribly guilty leaving "early" on those other 3-4 days.  They are constantly trying to meet their deadlines, doing the best they can to write their lesson plans well and keep up with others.  These teachers also will never be nominated to be teacher of the year, although they wish so much they could be.  They just can't do enough to measure up compared to the eager beavers.  They want to, but they also really want to be there for their family and they don't want to be consumed.

For people who do not teach, they may look at teachers as these omnipresent forces who are obligated to be on call 24/7 for the sake of their students.  They should stay at school as long as it takes to plan a perfect lesson and accomplish any other task that is required of them.  It shouldn't be a big deal--after all, they're teachers, right?  It's the job they "signed up for".  Many people who know little, but think they know a lot, about teaching may think that we teachers like to talk a big game and conjure up a lot of sympathy from the outside world in order to make them understand just how difficult our job is.  And then these same people try to compare our job with other jobs out there, saying that all jobs have their difficulties and we should suck it up.  Yet, the difference is that as teachers, because we are TEACHERS, we aren't allowed to complain.  We should take sheer joy and pleasure in every single aspect of our job.  It's like we are supposed to be superhuman or emotionless.  If we complain about our job, it must mean we hate our students.  Or if we choose to leave school at 4 pm instead of 5 pm, we aren't as dedicated to the job.  Ice days?  Shoot, we shouldn't be celebrating!  We should be upset about how far behind we are in our lesson planning now!  We should be spending the time off making more lesson plans and doing more work!  And summer break?  That's a no-brainer.  We should definitely be counting down the days with extreme excitement until we get to go BACK to school.   We don't need to enjoy our time off!  We love teaching and it's what we were born to do!  Who needs a vacation??  (No sarcasm intended whatsoever...)

I realize this blog is dripping with judgement and blanket statements.  Non-teachers reading it may be thinking that is not AT ALL how they view teachers.  I recognize and appreciate how FEW non-teaching people I've come across that actually think like that teachers. .  In fact, I come across way more non-teachers who get it and recognize we need balance and have just as much of a right to put our families first as any other occupation.  In 6 years of teaching, 99.9% of my parental relationships have been positive and wonderful and supportive.  I thank God I never had to deal with those who have unrealistic expectations of their child's teacher.

On the other hand, teachers reading this blog may be trying to figure out which of the 3 categories they fit in and are finding things about that category that still don't adequately describe them.  Nothing in those above descriptions is absolute.  I know there's always exceptions.  I respect and admire so much those who are able to keep things well balanced (i.e. can stay late, get lots done, be Super Mom/Super Wife).  There is nothing that brings me more joy than seeing well-respected teacher friends on Facebook posting about being with their families.  And if you're an Eager Beaver, congratulations to you because you will never be so compelled as to write a blog like this one and risk getting your head chewed off!  You will always take joy in your job and will never think negatively about it.   That's an extremely admirable quality.  I wish I had a little bit of Eager Beaver in me now and then.  Maybe I wouldn't feel so conflicted all the time.

I have lots of friends that are teachers and I know how hard they work in their classroom and I also know how much they love their families.  I am not at all saying that if you stay at school until 6:30 you don't love your family.  I am not judging teachers stay at school super late. I get it.  You have to sometimes!  I am jealous of your stamina.  What I hate so much is that mind game that tells you if you DON'T do it, you're not a good teacher!  And speaking in defense of these teachers, I think a lot of times those teachers who live at school feel like it's the only choice that they have in order to stay afloat.

The twist in the game is that there is a choice!  There's always a choice.  And simply put, teaching is just a job at the end of the day.  I don't mean JUST as in a negative term.  Let me quote a blogger I found who so brilliantly described teaching.

"First is the word just. I wrote that teaching is just a job. This was the sentence that received the most push back.
I didn’t mean just as in merely, like if you said, “Just water, please” when ordering a drink at a restaurant.
I meant just in the sense of simplicity. Like when your children or students are being obnoxious and you say, “I just want some peace and quiet.”
Teaching is simply a job. It was one aspect of my life, but it shouldn’t have been the all consuming sum total of who I am. It’s an occupation, not an identity. I let my heart get too tied up in what I was doing. I lost myself in my job because I couldn’t find balance.
I wasn’t degrading the role of teaching, but rather writing about the need for balance in the lives of teachers. Like many professions, teaching can significantly influence the lives of others. That was a heavy responsibility I never took lightly."
To read this blog in its entirety, go to the following link: http://pursuingcontext.com/blog/2013/10/teaching-is-an-occupation-not-an-identity-a-follow-up
I guess rather than continue to describe all the different aspects of teaching and all the different teacher/non-teacher types, I'd just like to say that I don't think it is fair that teachers are put in a different category than other people with jobs as far as how they should balance their outside lives.  In other words, we should be allowed to have them.  Perhaps that statement sounds stupid or dramatic.  But lately I feel literally as though there is a mindset that teachers should apologize if they aren't sleeping and breathing their jobs.  And of course, I'm that one person who is apologizing and constantly worrying about how I look when I choose to walk away from my classroom at 4 pm instead of 7 pm.  But should it be that way?  
All that being said, Christmas break is coming up in exactly 8 school days.  I fully intend to spend my Christmas break with my family.  I might grade papers, if I need to.  I will not be going up to my school to work in my classroom and I will not be spending multiple hours of my break doing lesson plans.  I will get those done before I leave for the break.  Perhaps that makes me completely undedicated to my job.  But in the meantime I will be happily celebrating the holidays with the people I love.  If you're a teacher and you're reading this, don't apologize if you choose to do the same.  If you do choose to do school work over the break, more power to you.  But don't do it because you feel like others will judge you or look down on you if you don't.  Do it because you want to.  
Just my two cents....