There was a day last year when I had to miss school because of a conference I was attending. I came in early the next morning to check on how things had gone while I was out, and I found one of the best notes from a substitute teacher that I had ever received.
“I wanted to let you know how the day went,” the note read. “Some students were talkative and did not want to get to work at first, but eventually settled in. Almost all of them have finished and placed the assignment in your tray.” That sounded pretty good coming from a sub, but what came next was the real surprise.
At the bottom of the paper, she had gone on to write a final line: “After talking to your students, is clear that you make learning fun for your students while still maintaining their respect. That is certainly a tough balancing act. Congratulations on your success with this remarkably tough job.” I had to read those two sentences over and over again before I recognized just exactly how highly this sub, a retired teacher herself, was praising me.
My natural tendency was to disagree. Even now, two years later, I still question that sub’s honesty. But if there was one thing she got right, it was that last part of her note — teaching, and especially good teaching, is a tough job.
Behind The Scenes
There are long hours and low pay, of course, and rarely do teachers actually have “summers off.” Teaching is certainly not like the movies make it seem, where each activity and transition flows seamlessly into the next. Good teachers might make it look easy, but the real challenge is the work that goes on behind the scenes.
I wish that parents and community members knew more about the constant planning and self-reflection that teachers do, how we monitor our students’ progress with data and strive to tailor our teaching to fit our students’ needs and interests. I wish people knew how hard teachers have to work to capture students’ attention and keep them engaged, but also ensure that they’re learning at the same time. I wish families could see the different roles we play, from counselors to nurses to social workers, and understand how we are expected to provide socioemotional support for our students while still maintaining high academic standards.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of planning periods I’ve spent with students, tears streaming down their faces, just needing to talk to someone they could trust. I have coached twelve-year-old boys at basketball whom I later discovered were homeless; I have seen students lose their homes in fires.
I have seen beloved students escorted out in handcuffs for making a dumb mistake; I have sat in far too many meetings to learn that a student was suffering in a broken home, abused or abandoned or without food.
Too often, I worry that parents and community members don’t get to see this other side of the profession; it’s not all about solving two-step equations and diagramming sentences and identifying parts of a plant cell. In many ways, I think that’s our own fault, and I wonder how much better off our children’s education might be if we parents, teachers, and community members were all on the same page.
Those Who Can, Do?
There is a famous quote often used to disparage teachers: “Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.” There’s nothing farther from the truth.
While I’ve often been the first to point out that teacher quality around the country has room for improvement, we know that teachers are the most significant factor in a student’s academic success. And in a lot of places around the US, they’re not doing too shabby in spite of the challenges that often accompany the job.
Let’s honor the teachers that work hard everyday to help kids get ahead. Teaching may be tough, but so are they.
Photo from Darin McClure, CC-Licensed.