When I was 7 or 8 years old, my sister and I were playing school in the backyard. We always played school, and I was always the teacher. I remember using marker to write “page 2” on the wall of the garage because that was the page I wanted my sister to read in her imaginary text book. Oh, man, were my parents furious! Twenty years later, when they were selling the house, my scribbling was still there, never cleaned and never painted over. I was always going to be a teacher.
I went to college in the 1980s. There was a glut of teachers. My parents warned me that there were 20 teachers applying for every job. Since I had an affinity for science, they argued, I should probably major in nursing. No, that didn’t appeal to me. But I did like science, especially biology, so I majored in biology and minored in calculus. A few months before I graduated, I realized I would be grossly over educated and at the same time underqualified for any job I wanted. While my friends started interviewing in their chosen fields, nothing appealed to me and I felt lost.
On January 28th, 1986, a week into my last semester of college, a New Hampshire teacher named Christa McAuliffe was to become the first civilian in space when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart, 1 minute and 13 seconds after launch. The footage of the Challenger was relentless for days, interspersed with footage of McAuliffe and her students. The lesson I learned that day was that the impact of a teacher was truly infinite. Even though McAuliffe had died, her legacy would live on. 22 year old me was transfixed, and inspired. I was going to be a teacher.
A friend of my parents was a principal at a local Catholic elementary school. She offered me a position teaching 6th grade math (private schools don’t have the same certification requirements that public schools have) and I LOVED it! I think my first year’s salary was $12,000. (I hesitate to write that even now because it makes me sound so ridiculously old!) The principal helped me get my certificate a few years later and then I blinked and 30 years have passed in the classroom.
It’s different now, to state the obvious. One of my first years teaching, a 3rd grade teacher gave me some of her books and supplies. I remember one book in particular was well worn. “Oh,” she told me. “I used to use that as a resource for my 3rd graders, but it’s too hard for the kids now. Maybe the 7th graders can do it.” I still have that book, more as a tribute to a cherished mentor than anything, because it’s way too hard for my 7th graders now. What happened? When did basic skills become not so basic? When did work that a 3rd grader used to be able to do become too hard for a 7th grader?
I was always going to be a teacher. It’s what I was made to do, and I love it. I love the time in my classroom, I love the relationships with the thousands of students I’ve known through the years. I still love the excitement of a lesson that went particularly well or the lightbulb moments in their eyes. I have no regrets. But it’s different now. I lose at least 2 preps a week covering for my quarantined or sick colleagues. I have more IEP, 504, I&RS, PDP, PLC, SGO paperwork in one year now than I had in the first 25 years of my career combined. I still love teaching, but I really don’t love management.
What’s can we do?
If you’re a teacher, we can make it easier for each other. Cover my class when I have to use the bathroom and I’ll do the same for you. Don’t spend your whole prep period, and mine, complaining without solving anything. Hold our students accountable so they’re not surprised when I do.
If you’re a parent, you can make it easier for me. Teach your child to wear a mask properly. Provide him or her with pencils every day. Make education a priority in your home.
If you’re an administrator, you can make it easier for me. Don’t have a meeting when an email will suffice. Don’t add more to my job without taking something else away. Tell me you recognize what a great job I’m doing and that you appreciate me.
Comment below to share your ideas to help each other!