Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the delinquent, and the negligent.
My friend, who is a first-year teacher in an Oregon public school, is beginning to get an inkling of the demanding and sometimes absurd dynamics of the classroom. He offers the following insights, and asks you to laugh instead of cry.
1. Assigned seating in rows is the norm for a very good reason. The pedagogy course book suggested arranging students’ desks in groups, to foster the exchange of ideas, and encourage collaborative learning. So why did all the veteran teachers gather and snigger the morning my friend set up this arrangement? It took only five minutes of the first class that day for him to get owned. For a rookie teacher, there’s nothing more dangerous than allowing chatty middle-school girls and surly underachievers to man up in learning-proof pods.
2. Translated, “teacher prep time” means weekends and evenings. My friend’s school can afford to allocate teachers one paid hour a week for team meetings, teacher collaboration and lesson planning. For a new instructor with no lesson plans in pocket, this has meant cancelling the gym membership, staying up late and neglecting all home maintenance except personal hygiene.
3. School lunches have not improved since you were in school.
4. Parents are not always grownups. A fellow teacher was interrupted mid-class by a brusque mom who was delivering a stack of late homework. A quick glance revealed it was not the student who had completed it.
Mom: Here’s Timmy’s late homework.
Teacher: This is not Timmy’s handwriting.
Mom, annoyed, speaking to Timmy: I TOLD you to change the writing.
Mom to teacher: What are you going to do? How are you going to grade him?
Teacher: Well, I can’t grade you because you’re not the student.
Mom: leaves in a huff.
In another incident, the school counselor called home to report to parents that Chad had not turned in school work and was failing multiple classes. This spurred them to action. That afternoon they called those teachers they had numbers for and berated them loudly for their son’s failing grades.
5. Teaching is a lot like parenting in this way: you have to show up, day after day, no matter how blah your mood, what the weather is like outside, or how little sleep you got. You’ll be expected to be prepared and to perform your best for a very demanding audience. Few, if anyone, will thank you. You’ll do it all gladly, for not enough pay, for those moments when you see the light bulbs spark up in young minds.