by Camile Biggs.
In honor of the school year rapidly coming to a close, let me tell you what you should know about your child’s elementary teacher.
Let me begin by saying I don’t know your child’s teacher. I don’t know how long he or she has been in it, and I don’t know whether you like him or her. What I do know is that your child’s teacher isn’t given nearly enough credit.
This is the teacher with way too many kids in class. Held to standards stating that math, writing, reading, social studies, and science all need to be taught in the 6 hours of school each day (5 after specialist classes and lunch) with about an hour and a half – in half hour increments – to prepare the day’s lessons. That art, health, computer skills, character education, and life skills should also be taught; yet they aren’t the main focus, so a teacher has to get creative about how to include them. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Surely an hour and a half every day should be ample time to prepare.” Sure. In text it even makes me question why I couldn’t ever do it. But what that list of to-do’s doesn’t show is student, parent, or teacher interactions–not to mention finding quality resources. Think of how easily you can clean your house without any or all of the following: children needing your love and attention, resolving a conflict between your children, the phone ringing with your mom on the other end asking “What are we going to do to help your brother?”, or your neighbor coming over to consult on a fence issue–all of course unannounced and not good enough excuses for why your house isn’t clean by tomorrow, therefore making you work later when distractions are fewer.
I’ll say it bluntly: your child’s teacher isn’t only working while your kid is at school.
I have heard many different people allude to how nice it would be to work from 8am-3pm. My reaction to that every time is that “YES, it would be nice.” Do you realize your child’s teacher spends hours outside of her contract hours preparing for school? That your child’s teacher recruits family members to help cut, record, grade, or otherwise donate time to your student so your child’s teacher has a little more time with her own family? A friend of mine said her husband referred to his help in her classroom as his second job.
In reality, a teacher never feels completely “caught up.” I don’t know a single teacher that leaves work at work. The emotional ties with students are constantly on a teacher’s mind, not to mention the desire to help each child despite circumstances outside of school. A teacher can’t even go to the grocery store without wondering what needs to be picked up for the next week’s lessons or activities. Then, of course there are all of those “teacher days” that I hear so many people complain about–you know, the ones where the students don’t have school but the teachers do. I wish I could say those made up the difference of time needed to prepare, but they never do. Your child’s teacher also goes to school on weekends, summer vacation, and even during Christmas break–and feels guilty if by chance it doesn’t happen as much as he or she would have liked.
Taking a sick day isn’t likely unless absolutely necessary because a teacher has to have all the work they would do lined out for a substitute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but just try writing down directions of exactly how to clean your house for a stranger – complete with the order of where to start, where to find supplies, how to operate appliances, how to keep the children behaved while trying to clean, how long each task should take, and so on. I’d say the two are pretty similar. It takes longer to write the instructions and put out the materials than it would take to just do it yourself.
I taught 3rd grade for four years. I have been away from it for two years only experiencing it vicariously through my husband, who teaches 6th grade. On some days I miss teaching terribly. Did you know that your child’s teacher may cry at the end of the school year at the thought of students moving on? Granted, this is the same teacher that questioned “Why am I a teacher?” so many days throughout the school year. It’s an interesting experience.
Your child’s teacher doesn’t teach to make a living, he or she does it to make a difference in your student’s life.
Your child’s teacher plays kickball at recess, does class cheers, washes student clothing at school, helps scrub dirt from arms, gives hugs when moms or dads are mad in the morning, listens to dreams and wishes, watches them grow and measures their growth, catches them cheating, helps them resolve fights with friends, hangs up their pictures on display, jokes just to make them smile, and eats lunch with them on occasion. Yet, does your child’s teacher know if you have liked him or her as a teacher for your child?
You might be surprised by how little feedback (that is, positive feedback) your child’s teacher gets from parents. So, here’s your assignment: Write a thank you note to your child’s teacher expressing at least one specific thing you liked about him or her this year. It would surprise you how much that kind of note would mean to your child’s teacher.
Editor’s note: this is part of a series of posts aiming to draw on our collective knowledge and enrich our understanding of how things work. Camile lives near me and has become a great friend, patiently helping me grieve and heal. Your child would have been lucky to have her as a teacher!