I’m not talking about the students or the parents. I don’t expect students to understand the professional world, it is my job to teach them how it works.
I’m not talking about parents either. As a parent myself, I can understand, if not always agree with, the urge to irrationally protect your offspring regardless of the offense or lack of responsible action on the student’s part.
I’m talking about administrators and politicians. Those in charge – the great “they.”
I came into teaching 15 years ago after spending five years working in broadcasting. I worked for two television stations, a commercial one (FOX) and a non-commercial one (PBS). At both stations I was treated better, although paid much worse than most teachers. TV is not as glamorous as it looks. Let me give you some examples.
1 – Lunch. It is insane that teachers (and students) are expected to wolf down lunch in 26 minutes. This can not be good for digestion and often forces us into making unhealthy choices based entirely on speed. There is no time for food preparation, you must have your food ready to eat. You also do not have time to get anything done either. If you are a really quick eater, you might have enough time to go to the bathroom. I would be willing to stay at school 30 mins. longer every day, in order to get a reasonable lunch time.
2 – That brings me to another sore spot – going to the restroom. You simply must hold it until you have a conference period or if you are really fast, during a passing period. I am currently lucky, my classroom is directly across from a restroom. This was not always the case. My old classroom was fairly far from the restroom and it was a challenge to get there and back in the time allowed for passing periods. Students face the same dilema, only they get to add in the humiliation of dealing with the whims of teachers ranging from the unreasonable to the tyrannical. I feel sorry for them, and try to treat them with as much respect as possible, as long as they don’t abuse it.
3 – Keys. Most teachers don’t get a door key to the school building. So, if they want to come in and work (unpaid mind you) on a Saturday or holiday, they must find someone to let them in to the building. It is like a child saying “mother may I.” When I worked in TV, they gave me a set of keys to the entire facility on the first day I worked there. I was expected to be a professional and use them appropriately. If I didn’t, I would be fired. Simple as that. That’s how adults work. I am fairly lucky, in that I have a building key and code card. But I have to fill out a lot of paperwork each year to keep them during the summer months, even though I’m already on contract for the following school year.
4 – Supplies. At both TV stations I worked at, even the really cheap one, if you needed office supplies to get your job done – all you had to do was ask. There was usually a procedure for obtaining the supplies, but it was very rare that you were told you couldn’t have something you needed. Usually, that only happened when you needed something really expensive – like a TV camera or 100 boxes of video tape. Then you better have a really good reason. Schools seem to have the worst supply chain possible. Items are doled out with an eyedropper or give in certain rationed increments. Other times you are flat out told no. This often makes it difficult to teach, without the proper materials. No other profession would put up with that, they simply would tell their boss, it can’t be done without the proper materials. And yes, I’ve had that irrational station manager that expected the impossible – but even he was quick enough to know the difference between “I want a new gadget” and “I need this to get the job done.” We always seemed to get whatever we needed when a car dealership wanted a commercial made in three days or less.
5 – Dress codes. I’ve worked with administrators who don’t care and others who care too much. But every couple of years, someone in the system decides to crank up the dress code. One year, we were told we had to wear a button up shirt and tie with slacks (men) or dress/skirt/pantsuit (women) every day. This is just not sane in a school. As a broadcaster, I was never told what to wear. I was expected to dress appropriately. I covered city council meetings (oxford shirt, tie, slacks, sometimes even a jacket) and I slogged out to interview city workers clearing a creek (stream to non-Texans) in a polo shirt, jeans and boots. As a teacher, I know to dress up to go a school board meeting or when attending a professional development session off-campus. But, when I’m showing my students how to shoot outdoor sports, I’m not going to wear a tie – especially in our sultry south Texas fall months. (95 degrees, sunny and humid) Just set the expectation that you should dress professionally. That is different for a PE coach, than for a culinary arts teacher, than for a math teacher.
6 – Collegiality. I wish I could say that teachers work well with others. But they don’t. Maybe it is the nature of our jobs – we work alone, usually, in a setting where we are “in charge.” So, when we are called to work together, everyone wants to be in charge and we are often worse than our students at playing well together. I’m not trying to paint all teachers with the same brush, but I think that our lack of day-to-day group skills eventually gets to all of us. When I worked in broadcasting, this was not the case. Sure, there were many days where I was given an assignment to do by myself. There were also times where I was in charge of others or working for someone else. But many times, I was in a team with equals and we had to figure out how to get stuff done without anyone being “the boss.” I think it came down to time spent together. In TV, you are a part of the crew. You work, eat and have fun together. Some weeks, you see your co-workers more than your family. That’s not often the case in teaching. We don’t often get to work and spend time together doing anything other than meetings. Meetings don’t build bonds. If anyone on a campus can work well as a group it is usually coaches, they understand the value of teamwork.
7 – Paperwork. The longer I teach, the worse it gets. Of course much of it is electronic these days, but that does not make it any less odious. The amount of time spent filling out forms required by the campus, district, state and federal authorities is insane. And don’t even think about taking a student on a field trip or do a fund-raiser for your student group. Then you’re really into it. Mounds of paperwork or screen after mind-numbing screen of online forms to fill out. Don’t forget your passwords and logins.
8 – Meetings. We love to have meetings. The one time educators do spend together is the time they dread the most – meetings. We meet for the worst things – staff development, state mandates, federal guidelines, etc. Most meetings are prescribed by a higher authority and deal with data, legal issues or soul crushing program details. Few teachers, and few administrators like meetings. So, why do we do it. In an age of email, online tools and web seminars – why do we still insist on making people sit in a room to watch a power point presentation. I know my district and campus are finally seeing the light. We have a lot more of these kinds of things available online, but I know that department, team and content area meetings still hog a lot of time away from our primary job – teaching.
9 – Pay. Let’s get to it. Teachers don’t get much respect in America – not from parents, students or the community. And I think it is due to the fact that we are not paid what we are worth. Teacher’s education level exceeds their pay more than any other profession I can think of in America. And in the U.S., our culture equates earning money with respect. Many people who would make great teachers choose other careers because they would like to make more money. Then we wonder why we have shortages in areas like Math, Science and Special Education. This isn’t the 1950s anymore. Gone are the days when a college educated woman had two choices – teacher or nurse. The teaching field hasn’t learned in 40 years that it is in competition with other careers for the best and brightest women and men. If you want the best, you have to pay them and treat them the best. Just ask Google. If schools recruited like they do and treated their employees like they do, we would crush every standard thrown our way. But as long as they treat teachers like proletarians or worse replaceable cogs, then as a society we will get what we deserve.
Post Script – This is not a diatribe against my own campus. In general, I’m treated pretty well – as are my fellow teachers. But much of that is at the whim of our campus principal. Should he get a promotion, retire, transfer or be fired – we would be faced with a new principal and new rules, be they good or bad. Too much of what we experience as teachers comes down to how well our building level leadership decides we should be treated. I’ve usually had good principals, but I have had a few bad ones and some just plain nutty ones too. And that is not the basis for professionalism. I’m glad that there are good principals out there looking out for their teachers, but there are bad ones too. And I think teachers live in constant fear of losing a good principal, or even a decent mediocre one. But I do think that we in education sometimes take the road well travelled, instead of trying to find better solutions to our problems. Because if we as teachers want to be treated like professionals, WE must act like professionals. Too many times we tolerate our peers to behave in unprofessional ways and then sit back and gripe when the rules are changed so that bad actors don’t have excuses. This doesn’t make us more professional, it makes us less so. We must stand up for the teaching profession each and every day by acting in a manner that will make parents want to entrust us with their most precious possessions – their children.