Today, teachers must continue to meet ongoing educational requirements throughout their teaching career to maintain their Provisional certificates, and they must meet federal “Highly Qualified” standards in the subject they teach. So, most of the time this limits them to teach in their major area, making minors for the most part useless.
I’m aware of all of this being in the educational field, but I know through conversations with people outside this field that they have no idea what it is like to be a teacher today.
Let me share with you what teaching looks like from the inside out.
After receiving a Provisional certificate, teachers must meet ongoing requirements for graduate education. Teachers might be taking graduate classes at night during the school year or going to school in the summer. The cost per credit for these classes is higher than undergraduate classes and is paid out of pocket by the teacher, along with the cost of commuting. These classes consume time and energy, and the work load is usually demanding.
Teachers not only teach, but they are life-long students as well.
School districts can require professional development hours. In my school district, the requirement is 60 hours of professional development per school year. These hours are earned by attending trainings and workshops on topics related to education.
Since school budgets are tight, teachers look for free or low-cost opportunities to gain these hours. Approval by several levels of administration must be given for a teacher to attend these.
When teachers go to trainings, they must prepare lesson plans for the substitute teacher. In addition, every Friday, teachers must hand in a set of lesson plans for the next week. In the event the teacher is sick, then there are plans for a substitute teacher. When teachers are absent for whatever reason, they must also locate their own sub, using an automated system called AESOP.
At the start of the school year, teachers return to school ahead of their students and receive blood-borne pathogens training. Each teacher has a kit in their room to use in the event a student gets sick or hurt. The kit has everything — including rubber gloves — so that they may safely deal with and dispose of any bodily fluids such a blood, urine, saliva or vomit.
In addition to the risk of handling bodily fluids, teachers are exposed to pink eye, head lice, scabies, chicken pox, strep, bronchitis, ring worm and impentigo on a daily basis. Since school is the No. 1 child care provider in the United States, many students come to school sick rather than stay home so that their parents can go to work.
The secretarial staff is trained to dispense medications, care for diabetics, check for head lice and locate parents of sick children. Too many times, sick children cannot be picked up because parents have no phone, no transportation or can’t leave work.
At the end of the school year, teachers pack and label everything in their classroom so that the custodians can empty the classrooms for a complete top-to-bottom cleaning. Imagine that every time you went on vacation you had to pack up half your house and then unpack when you returned.
At the start of the year, teachers unpack and ready their classroom for their students. On the first day of school, they greet their classes with open arms and start the process of helping every student make adequate yearly gains.
But this isn’t a level playing field. A teacher could have children reading below grade level, above grade level or have a student who does not speak English. It is the teacher’s responsibility to instruct them all at the level they are at.
As the year progresses, students move out or in, some go to homeless shelters or to foster care, some get sick, some come with crutches or wheelchairs, some have no food at home, some have no snow clothes, some pee and poop their pants, some throw up on the floor, some refuse to do their work, and sometimes the whole class faces heat exhaustion when the temperatures soar into the 90s.
But the teachers stay the course, and continue to provide a safe and structured environment for them. They advocate and accommodate for each of their students. Sometimes that means the teachers pay for field trips, clothing needs, supplies, daily snacks, book bags, etc. The average teacher spends $400 out of pocket for their classroom (I think this is an underestimate).
Teachers do all of this in the face on ongoing criticism and scrutiny about their salaries, their students’ test scores, their contracts, etc.
According to the 2010 King Features Syndicate survey, elementary education is one of the top 10 worst-paying four-year college degrees. Wow, and now what do the teachers do with $60,000 to $100,000 worth of college debt they incurred? Whether a school is union or not, there will always be contracts with the administrations.
If teaching was a business, we would send back the damaged goods so our product would be perfect. We are not a business. We take all comers into our classrooms.
So, despite all the nuances and obstacles of being a teacher, there will always be teachers because teachers teach from their hearts.
— By Janice Beuschel, who can be contacted through her website, www.janicerbeuschel.com.