Sometimes it feels like what I do is look up from the bottom of a well…and cry.
I get this a lot more than you would think I would even though it’s 2017. Some of my friends have this nasty habit of thinking that because they are a VP of a corporation, that if they ‘had’ to, they could be a great teacher and it would be easy for them (lol). This has gone on for a few years until one of my buddies proclaimed that he was getting out of the high-paced world of executive management and was going to ‘take it easy for a while’ to ‘give back’ by becoming a middle school teacher.
Oh boy. This was going to be good. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his idea of what teaching was going to be like shouldn’t have been based off of watching Mark Harmon in Summer School (circa 1987). Since he had a college degree and could base the basic competency test, getting a temporary license was pretty easy. That was the extent of the easy part.
After his first week in the classroom it was obvious he needed some help. I know this because I got a panicked text message to meet him at a bar to talk about teaching. My response was a typical teacher response:
Me: I can’t go to a bar, it’s Tuesday and I have lesson plans and grading to do.
VP: Come on! Just one beer!
Me: I can see you’re taking this ‘teaching’ very seriously…
VP: Where then?
Me: Just come over and we can talk.
About 45 minutes later VP walks through my door. “What do you do all day that you’re still working at 9:00 at night?”, he asked a bit incredulously.
That’s when I got a bit mad. “What do I do all day? You really have no clue what good teachers do every single day, do you?”.
Ok VP, let’s walk through a typical day.
5:00am: Wake up
5:05am: Dressed and out the door. There was a student in yesterday’s class that needed extra help and who’s VP dad emailed me and can only drop her off at school at 6:00am so I need to be at the building by quarter of and it’s a 30 minute bike ride. I ride my bike because my Porsche is ‘in the shop’…
5:05am-5:40am: Try not to get smacked by cars driving in the bike lane and not using their turn signals all the while thinking about the aforementioned student and going through the list of questions she might have and how I’m going to help her get to the answers on her own so I’m not giving away answers but helping her build strategies to understand her thinking… but I digress, run-on sentences sound so William Faulkner-esque.
5:45am: Get to school. Have to wait outside because the custodian forgot to unlock the building. I text him (because if you’re not on great terms with the facility-management staff, you’re toast) and he lets me in.
5:46am: The student who needs help waltzes in and proclaims that her VP daddy thinks this assignment is stupid and she should have to write a thesis statement defending her opinion about ______________. I sigh. Kids…
5:50am: The student takes all of four minutes to think of a decent enough thesis statements and begins writing on her own with no support. Feels like daddy just wanted to get to Dunkin Donuts before the line.
6:00am Finished writing the agenda on the board for the day and print off the class hands for the day. Walk to the copy room.
6:01-7:00am: ARE YOU KIDDING ME, CARL!!?!?!? The guy that is always at school early and monopolizes the photocopier for an hour. Every. Single. Day. I can’t leave because I’ll lose my place in line. Good thing I brought a stack of papers to grade while I sit on the folding chair that is too dangerous for students. They dumped it in the copier room for teachers to use because, you know….death trap.
7:00-8:00am: Students begin to arrive and my time is usually usurped with breaking up arguments, help students understand an assignment from another class (or last night’s homework). Then there is the kid who just wants to talk about Monty Python and the Holy Grail (again). While I do love that movie, my attention is being split between five different student conversations.
8:00am: Take attendance (be patient and make sure that the one kid who is always dropped off late because his mom has three jobs and is doing the best she can, is NOT marked tardy). It’s always the little things that we do that can make the biggest difference.
8:01am: Get email from principal. There will be a disruption in the schedule today and a class assembly from 1:00-200pm. Great. All classes have been truncated to 35 minutes. Plenty of time to teach kids about the Middle East peace process.
8:01-:8:25am: In the middle of managing a classroom of 25 middle schoolers, redo entire lesson plan to fit into a 35 minute window. Easy? No. Coordinate will all the other teachers on your team what the time line of the new schedule will look like. Make sure the whiteboard has all the times right and students know about the change.
8:27am: First class of the day. Things to think about during class and things to accomplish
- All students need to be engaged in discussion. If they’re not your principal will probably walk in at that precise moment.
- You can NEVER get ‘mad’. See above about arrival of principal.
- Each and every student gets at least a minute of 1:1 individualized attention.
- Each and every student is on an IEP so I hope I’ve adjusted the lesson plan accordingly so that all students have access to the education they so truly deserve. (if you don’t know what an IEP is…. You’re screwed already, buddy VP)
- Students need to know what the expectations are for class, clearly communicated every two minutes because, you know… kids have the attention span of a gnat.
- Sit quietly with a student who is having a hard time at home (her parents are in the midst of a difficult divorce and she can’t concentrate. Make sure no one can tell that you are keeping her from breaking down in tears in the middle of class. Make up an excuse to send her to the office with a handwritten note that tells her to go to the guidance office so she can talk and have a moment’s peace and quiet.
- Know the difference between that student and the drama queen student who is having a fake breakdown because she wants the attention of the boy she likes but doesn’t know how to express it in a healthy, non-during class time way. (yes it’s easy to teach).
- TEACH! Yes that does need to happen
- Don’t get fooled by Captain Technicality and get diverted on a tangent that could quickly lead to nothing getting done in class today. (He will try at least seven times)
- All students must understand class objectives and be able to complete a ticket to leave class (because your district implemented it as a policy).
- Accidentally drop a desk on your toe. Don’t scream “F%#U*¥?>€%#+•¥£K!”
- Smile to all kids as they arrive and leave.
- Make witty banter with all students so they feel appreciated and that they feel you’ve developed a unique learning/professional relationship with each of them.
- Answer the same question at least five times.
- Have 12 extra pencils for students that either forgot or lost their own (even though it’s May and they should know by this point in the school year that they need a writing instrument…. Argh, actually VP, grab me one of those beers you brought over)
- Try to not have another energy drink/coffee (you’ve already had two).
9:02am-12:00pm: Rinse and Repeat for all five sections of students you have today.
12:00-12:54pm: Attending mandatory collaboration meeting. Listen to ideas and have a productive time working on an interdisciplinary project that is slated to start next week. Nothing will go wrong, promise.
12:55-2:00pm: School assembly about… I have no idea. I don’t get to watch it because I’m trying to keep 600 middle schoolers in their seats without pinching, kicking, wet-willying, ear-flicking, teasing, talking, wiggling, or trying to cut out of the assembly to walk the halls alone (which is what I’d like to be doing, too…).
2:00-2:45pm: Meeting with evaluator to discuss what worked and what didn’t in the class that you were observed in during your third section of the day earlier in the morning. Administrator mentions that you tried to pack too much content into the lesson and that you should try to manage your scope/sequence a little better next time. Right. That school assembly that too 2o minutes from each class had NOTHING to do with it.
2:45-5:00pm: You’re a coach, play director, chorus director, club leader because while it’s not ‘mandatory’, it’s pretty clear that your future employment involves a level of after school involvement.
5:00pm: eat breakfast, go pee.
5:00-6:00pm: clean up classroom. Answer emails from confused parents, students, et al. Wait for student whose parent can’t come and pick them up because they are working three jobs. Get some grading/lesson planning done.
6:00-6:35pm: Ride bike home. Almost get hit by three cars, one of which is a police car who didn’t use their mirrors when turning at an intersection. White knuckled riding during rush hour, trying to make sure a parked car doesn’t open their door without looking and flat out maim you. Good times… Good times…
6:35-11:00pm. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Beer. Grading. Grading. Scotch. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Wine. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Grading. Did I mention you have to grade the papers you assigned and get them back to students tomorrow?
VP just stares at me. He didn’t even touch his beer. I see the fear in his eyes and a tear starting to form. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. It’s easy, right? Just like you’ve told me for years”.