Well, it looks like there’s about a week until school starts around here, so this will be yet another year I won’t be teaching in the public school system. I sat down today to think of what are some of the positives and negatives about my teaching experience.
What I miss about being a teacher:
- Getting to know a group of young people and getting to see them grow up and change so much over the course of just 10 months. Students learn from their mistakes, learn, and change, and teachers are only part of the equation.
- Sharing my love of literature with a variety of students and having them come around. For the many English majors who dream of showing a new generation the beauty and the value of poetry and prose the way someone showed us, it is a tremendous privilege.
- When things go smoothly. Hearing the buzz of discussion, seeing the hands in the air, or watching the looks of intensity in the room when I’ve set up a really great lesson plan. Teachers spend a lot of time studying, training, collaborating, writing, trying out, tweaking, practicing, actually working toward and for these magic moments, and it happens more than we give ourselves credit for.
- Evidence of progress. It is nice to see good scores, but progress has more of an emotional impact when it is less about numbers. When I teach writing, I get to implement real change through teacher comments, to see student work improve because the students start to respond to questions I’ve written in the margins of their work. Hearing students quote me, demonstrating that lessons I might repeat a million times really do get through, eventually.
- Learning from my students. Reading student written work that relates to a poem, book, essay, or the world in a fresh, unexpected way. As teachers, we sometimes have a window into popular culture we wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
- Camaraderie with other teachers. I love being part of a profession so full of people with ideals beyond ourselves. Good teachers are generous sharers who lift each other up. I always get a lot of energy out of collaborating with other teachers to combine strengths and come up with exciting lesson plans.
- Teacher-parent meetings when a group of adults meets with a student to collaborate and figure out what’s best for the student. It is remarkable when everyone is on the same page, working together towards success for an individual’s future.
What I don’t miss about being a teacher:
- Forgetting or mispronouncing the name of one of my 145 students when I’m trying to think or do many things at once. Teachers who care about their students learn all the names, but sometimes we slip up, especially if there are a lot of students with similar names or three sets of twins on this year’s roster. (We all have our moments, especially when we have to pee on top of everything else.)
- Having to meet advanced educational goals before students have foundational skills. For instance, I was held responsible for teaching gerunds, participles, and infinitives to students who didn’t quite grasp nouns, verbs, and pronouns. Teachers held accountable for multiple years of learning strive to play catch up.
- Hearing a groan when I announce an assignment that is longer than a couple of pages of reading. This always struck me as being more about stamina than about motivation.
- It is never easy to find effective ways to deal with bullies, whether it is students who are in a constant battle to prove their toughness to other students, students who confront teachers, or parents who confront teachers. We’re on the same side. Why can’t we all get along?
- Disappointment over students not handing in their work. This isn’t just about homework or long-term assignments. People outside the classroom are always surprised to learn that students somehow manage to not complete or hand in class assignments. This is especially trying for teachers who expend a lot of energy and time designing assignments meant to appeal to students and specific student interests.
- A certain amount of claustrophobia can set in. Teachers know better than to leave our classrooms for any reason. This can mean having to go to the bathroom really badly and suffering through the 45 minutes until your planning period. Then eating lunch in a very loud cafeteria after finding out that we are not entitled to a lunch break.
- Planning periods are really meeting periods. There is a block of time, usually about the length of one class period, when teachers are supposed to plan lessons, but this is also the time meetings are scheduled. These meetings include curriculum meetings, grade level meetings, special education planning meetings, professional training, and parent meetings, to name just a few. So there really is no time set aside for planning and grading during the work day.
- “Borrowing” a Youtube clip, worksheet, etc. and realizing it has a typo in it. With time constraints, teachers borrow from other teachers who also have time constraints. There is no room time in teaching for perfectionists.
I’m sure there are many more pros and cons when it comes to teaching. Some of these difficulties could be overcome. Overall, though, I do miss the classroom, and maybe someday soon I’ll go back. Who knows, I may even end up teacher of the year.
It’s more likely that I’ll write a memoir. What do you think?