To those of you who think being a teacher is easy, let me tell you what my colleagues are doing today.
They woke up at 5:30, stumbled to the shower and then the coffee pot, skipped breakfast and drove across town to make it to their classrooms by 7:15. They do not technically have to be there until 8, but they arrive early because there isn’t enough time in their day to do everything that needs to be done.
Today, my colleagues are teaching someone else’s babies. They are teaching them how to read, add, subtract, multiply and divide. They are teaching them about rocks and life cycles and planets and dinosaurs and Native Americans and world history. They are teaching them to write and listen and think. They are teaching about kindness and growth mindsets and persistence. They are navigating friendships and drama and boys and girls and parents complaining about how often their child goes to the nurse or why they didn’t get all 4’s on their report card. They are constantly thinking about their students, at home, at night, in the morning, always.
My colleagues today are worried. Did each of their students have breakfast this morning? Will there be anyone home after school? Who is making dinner? Are they safe? Will they show up to school tomorrow? How many absences before they legally (let alone, academically) need to repeat the grade?
They are thinking about standardized testing. Though they spent the previous three weeks piling their students into stuffy computer labs to take test after test after test, they are still thinking about it. Will their students show the growth they need to meet their goal? What happens to their job or their pay if they don’t? Which student is still feeling anxious about all the importance teachers are made to place on tests?
My colleagues today are checking a student’s hair for lice, using No. 2 pencils they will throw away when they’re done. They’re checking the students hair themselves because the boy is distraught, and even though he’s already been to the nurse who has told him he does not have lice, the boy is convinced he does because his mom that morning told him his hair was full of bugs. And sent him to school anyway. The boy can’t stop itching his head and can’t focus on the lesson. My colleagues check his hair with their pencils while getting the other students started on their work. They tell the boy they’re so sorry his head is itching and that he’s worried but they don’t see any lice either. My colleagues then Google, “What does a lice egg look like?,” to be sure the dandruff they saw in the boy’s hair was, in fact, just dandruff.
My colleagues today are letting students color while they practice sight words. In small groups, the students feel safe. They start to talk while they color. They share their stories. My colleagues are listening while the students say things no one would wish on anyone, let alone children. They are listening as one student tells them their dad committed suicide when they were 3 and their stepdad yells at their mom. They are listening as one student talks about missing their dad, who is in jail. They are listening as a student talks about living with her grandma because her mom is “bad.” She drank while she was pregnant with her, a classmate says. My colleagues are absorbing this information, stuffing their own emotions down and responding in the only way they know how: with love.
My colleagues today are getting the kids to recess on time and lunch on time and specials on time and dashing to the bathroom before being asked to go to a meeting with a parent or an administrator or a grade-level team or a school committee. They are walking backwards down the school hallways, making sure their students aren’t talking or pushing or laughing or being kids. They are eating their own lunch standing up.
They have duty after school, standing with a stop sign in the middle of a street, rain pelting their face, wind blowing their hair, so your babies can get home safely.
After that, my colleagues will go back to their classrooms, erasing white boards, straightening desks, picking up trash from the floor, sharpening pencils, checking e-mails, calling parents … and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow.
My colleagues today are tired. They are so amazingly, achingly tired.
They are overworked and underpaid and underappreciated.
So before you say how good teachers have it, how easy their jobs are, how nice it must be to have summers off (ask any teacher how much time they actually take off each summer, by the way) please acknowledge you have NO IDEA what it’s like to be a teacher.
It is the hardest job, the most important job. And the only thing the rest of us should say is thank you.