A Message to Teachers about Going Back to School Tomorrow

Christmas memories are quickly fading, and New Year’s resolutions may have already been dropped. Tomorrow, after a long holiday hiatus, it will be time to return to work.

For my teacher friends who will be returning to school routines, I hope you are looking forward to Monday morning with joyful anticipation. You have missed your kids, perhaps, and you can’t wait to hear them regale you with all of their holiday stories of gifts gotten and trips taken.

For some of you, however, you may be experiencing a sense of dread. When I taught and worked as an elementary school librarian, I remember some of my colleagues talking about how they cried on the Sunday night before coming in on Monday.

I couldn’t relate because I loved my job as the school librarian. I knew then, as I know today, that being the media specialist was the best job in the building, and I never took it for granted. I did look forward to coming back after summer vacations and holidays and weekends. I know, however, that some of my colleagues did not share my enthusiasm because they talked about it with me.

It always bothered me to hear of my colleagues’ misery. Some were new mothers, and leaving their babies at the daycare or even with Grandma was excruciatingly painful for them. Others had just stopped enjoying their work but didn’t know what to do about it.

I suspect that the percentage of teachers who dread going to school tomorrow has increased dramatically since my days as a librarian. I suspect this based on the calls and emails I get from teachers who have lost their enthusiasm for teaching.

For many teachers, the fun has been sucked out of the profession by reformers and politicians who never taught a day in their lives but think they know how classrooms should be run. Add to the misery the countless number of tasks that have been added to the plates of every teacher in the country while nothing has ever been removed. (This is a pet peeve of mine, and I complained of it in my last speech before the Virginia Board of Education members in 2012 when I was still President of the Virginia Education Association from 2008-2012.)

Unless you have been a teacher or you have lived with one, and you have personally witnessed the work hours they put in at home, you can’t possibly appreciate the amount of work the average teacher puts into their job when they are not at work. Oh, I know people in business often bring work home at night. I also know that a lot of that work stays in the briefcase all night and is never touched. The work can be caught up the next day, after all.

Not so if you are are a schoolteacher. You have kids who are counting on you to bring them your A-game every single day, and every single period of every single day. You don’t have the luxury of slacking off if you have papers to grade or lesson plans that haven’t been created but must be ready for the next day.

Teachers have pressures to which people in business cannot relate, and they should stop trying. On top of that, if I hear one more time that teachers have it “easy” because they “only” work from 7:30 to 2:30 and they get three months “off for the summer,” I might scream.

Most teachers not only have the massive workload to which I have referred, but many of them have to take 2nd jobs to pay the rent, keep food on the table, buy gas for the car, and pay back massive student loans. Those loans will be anchors around their necks for decades to come because getting a college education today has become so oppressively expensive. But that is another topic for another day.

My first year as a teacher, after paying rent and utilities and budgeting enough for gas so I could get back and forth from work, I had $20 left for food. My roommate’s mom kept me fed, and the $20 went toward buying yogurt cups that I could get for 4 for $1 on sale. Occasionally, my dad would offer a few extra dollars to get me through the month.

I eventually took on additional jobs to supplement my income. Now, I ask you…who does that on a routine basis besides teachers and maybe actors? And why do teachers do it?

I will tell you why. It is because, for the most part, they love teaching. In fact, many of them never considered ever doing anything else!

Now, none of them went into teaching expecting to get rich. They did go into it thinking they could make ends meet, however.

Like other people, teachers want to get married and have children of their own. They want to buy homes and pay for college tuition for their own children. They would like to be able to take the occasional vacation, and they want to be able to live without fear of going broke every time the car breaks down.

As a Career Transition Coach specializing in teachers who are experiencing job burnout, I hear this refrain all of the time: “I love my kids, but it is all of the other stuff I can’t bear doing anymore.”

“All of the other stuff “is “teacher code” for all of the additional paperwork that is now being required of teachers everywhere. For the most part, nobody seems to care about the extra paperwork, but is required for the purpose of holding teachers more “accountable.”

“All the other stuff” is also “teacher code” for being evaluated using rubrics that make no sense, yet these rubrics tie a teacher’s evaluation to the achievement of their students with no regard for where those students live or their readiness for school.

A popular saying among top policymakers has been, “poverty is no excuse” for lagging achievement in our country. The fact is, however, that lawmakers and policymakers completely ignore the fact that sometimes children don’t do well in school because of factors over which their teachers have no direct control.

Some children come to school hungry. That in and of itself is a travesty given that we live in the richest nation on the planet, but it is no less a fact.

Other students don’t do well in school because they can’t see. They need glasses, but optometrists and glasses are not covered by most insurance policies. Still other children may be having trouble concentrating because they have a toothache, but they have no access to a dentist.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

So, to my teacher friends and colleagues:  I hope you will be able to start 2016 with a renewed enthusiasm for your profession. If that feels impossible, however, don’t lose hope. Your education, talent, and experience CAN be used in many other endeavors.

I never want to encourage anyone who still loves teaching out of the profession. I do, however, want to help those for whom teaching has lost its luster. I want them to know that they can find help with identifying their transferable skills, writing their resumes, getting their LinkedIn profiles optimized and setting them on course for a career that may be a better fit for them than teaching has turned out to be.

If you are a teacher who wants to hear more about that, let me know. Sign up for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. Let’s talk.

 

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