I got my first teaching job in 1998. Six years and three schools later, I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach. There were a series of bad administrators and difficult positions that led me to the decision to try something different. In 2004, I left teaching, and by 2012 I knew I wanted back in.
So, I’m back. But it isn’t the same.
I’m older, which gives me a greater age difference between my students and me, which is great. Especially the couple of years I taught high school, I looked and felt so young that it was hard to draw that line between teacher and friend in the eyes of some of my students. Now that I’m in my late 30’s and most of my students are mere pre-teens, the line is broad and dark and ever so evident. And I like it that way.
But it’s not just me that has changed. The whole profession is different. When I taught before, teaching involved planning lessons, instructing students, grading papers, attending a monthly staff meeting, and occasionally contacting parents. These days, add on to those tasks the following responsibilities: attending weekly professional development (two hours after school each Wednesday); tracking data from standardized tests and the assessments I administer in my classrooms; documenting that I’m using that assessment data to plan my lessons; turning in lesson plans to administrators and making sure my objectives and the state standards are addressed; showing that I am utilizing technology in my instruction; avoiding making photocopies because we don’t have money for paper; keeping track of each and every time I have contact with a parent, whether that’s through e-mail, a quick conversation after school, a formal meeting, or a telephone call; monitoring after school detentions; proving that I am differentiating instruction for students since they are of different readiness levels; and showing through documentation that I am exhibiting leadership qualities to my students and among my colleagues.
All while keeping a smile on my face.
When I taught before, I rarely brought work home. I’d go to school early and stay after for a while, and that plus my prep time was sufficient to get all my planning and grading and photocopying done. Now, even going in an hour before school and staying at least a half hour after school and working all through my prep isn’t enough. I bring home work most nights and weekends. All the documentation and record-keeping takes up a lot of the time I used to spend just getting papers graded or lessons planned.
I’ve had to stop going to church on Wednesday nights. After ten hours at school (I arrive at 7:00, school runs from 8:00 to 3:00, and then we have meetings until 5:00), I’m too exhausted to do anything but go home and stare into space. After all that, I can’t carry on a coherent conversation with my husband, much less mingle with friends and acquaintances or concentrate on a sermon or a prayer gathering.
Please don’t misunderstand. I enjoy my job. I like my students, and I get along well with my middle school colleagues. I recognize and appreciate that I have fall break and Thanksgiving break and two weeks off at Christmas and a week off in the spring and at least one three-day weekend each month and a two-month summer vacation. But I also am at school at least eight hours a day and I work up to two hours in the evenings and several hours each weekend. Any time I’m at my computer, working on lesson plans or writing a quiz, I can expect an email from a student or a parent with a question or concern.
This is not the profession I began sixteen years ago, when I could just focus on being a great teacher. Now I have to be a great teacher and then document that I’m a great teacher so that there is some hope of keeping my job and maybe — if there is any extra money anywhere — get a cost-of-living increase in my pay.
I love my job, and I think about it constantly. When I’m running. When I’m falling asleep at night. When I wake up in the morning. During my prayer times. While I’m folding the laundry or grooming the dogs or watching my nephew run in his cross country meet.
But it’s not what it was. It’s a lot harder. It’s a lot more time consuming. It’s not for the faint of heart.
May the Lord give me strength and wisdom and grace.