The ups and downs as another teaching year ends…

Deep thoughts regarding the teaching profession, 2009-2010,
by Evan Jacobson

On June 28, 2010, my 7th year of teaching inner city English ended and I’d like to paint a picture depicting the daily routines. The alarm clock sounds at 4:50PM, I take care of my morning business, and leave with 16 ounces of coffee; falling asleep behind the wheel near the GW Bridge is not an option. I arrive at work around 7:10AM and rush to begin my lesson plan and charts for the day. At 7:45, I’m interrupted several times because people need favors. The race against the clock begins; lessons and homework must be done before 8:30AM. Ding! The students rush into classroom, take down the chairs, and begin their daily gossip. I allow socialization time as a reward before class begins at 8:50AM. Luckily, I get them going into the lessons. It sounds easy, right? However, it’s not always this mellifluous. Some of the morning issues work their way into sidebar conversations, note passing, and a lack of focus. Then, the distractions become part of English Class. Generally speaking this deducts 15 minutes from the 90-minute block. There is still time to get the teaching points across. I better do it quickly and find some way to hold their attention (the creative part) or it’s just another perfunctory school day in the eyes of the children. They are more interested in their gossip, TV, video games, or endless, random conversations with little substance. Who am I to judge? Perhaps, I uttered those same thoughts when I was that age… This routine occurs for 180 instructional days. This is the daily shell outline. Here’s what you don’t know: I answer roughly 1,000 or more questions daily; my mood changes and the emotional roller coaster fluctuates more than the tides; I have to somehow make everyone happy—an absolute impossibility. Well-planned lessons change on the fly; fire drills occur right at the apex of your teaching point; you try to refocus the kids on the lesson. Then, the phone rings. The momentum is lost again. Let’s try that again. There’s a knock at the door, another distraction… It’s time to redirect and focus. Trim the lesson plan again because time is the enemy. Let’s talk about—ahem—making a sales pitch to justify the homework’s rationale. Some students bite and others are just indifferent. Ding! It’s time to reflect—what should I have done differently to get through to them? It’s time for a 20-minute lunch and then I have another 90-minute block. Let’s make more on the fly decisions for improvement and differentiation. Rinse, lather, and repeat… Obviously there are inexplicable dynamics, filthy student language, and a myriad of problems, as the teaching profession has become mental health profession as well… That is a blog for another day!

The list of required tasks for the last school week and even the last day are enormous. The room has to be clean, walls must be stripped, items must be locked up, SMART Boards must be returned (along with other technological media), personal items and supplies are usually taken home, and the library has to be packed up and organized by genre, etc. Along with that, students are climbing the walls because their summer has already begun. For some students, the summer began after Spring Break. The tug of war escalates daily, Spring Fever has struck, supplies are diminishing, etc. Moreover, there are clerical duties, a few meetings, 2,000 questions, more babysitting, several favors to help one’s colleagues, endless trips to pack up the car, sweating bullets, and a struggle to get it all done before 3PM. There are so many variables, which also go beyond the scope of this writing…

Teaching is NOT a cakewalk by any stretch; moreover, I’m not suggesting that other careers are a walk in the park; there are pros and cons to everything. All I know is that teaching is an integral part of my journey as I develop and progress with life. I don’t believe there is an easier way, and there are few answers for the thousands of questions accorded to me and other teachers, respectively.

Teachers use the Summer as vacation time, ancillary classes, professional development, creative endeavors, or an opportunity to work for supplemental income. Generally speaking, civilians outside of the teaching profession lack the insight to understand the need for a diversion during July and August. In short, the 10 academic months are both physically and emotionally exhausting. Our batteries need to be recharged for the next academic year. As for me, I use the Summertime to reflect, practice my drums, READ, computer time, exercise (something very neglected for 10 months), and bonding with my cats and wife, etc. Some people have resentment towards teachers and think the profession is a cakewalk. More specifically, they are outraged by the July and August respite. In fact, one of my neighbors passed by my house a few years ago as I was manicuring the yard. We had a brief, glib discussion, which mentioned my time off. He said something along these lines: “You have too much time off and should get back to work sooner…” Then, I told him to “have a great day…we’ll catch up later…” Honestly, I don’t know what he does to eke out a living, but he is home more than I am. I’m not going to pursue his derogatory, ignorant, and judgmental comments because they’re futile. He is either jealous or inexplicably embittered about something. I’m not a psychiatrist. However, he symbolically resembles many of whom which share this same negative attitude about a teacher’s time off during the Summer months. Honestly, I don’t understand how people perceive teaching as a slacker career. Perhaps, a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. Yet, one can say that about any profession. Moreover, putting time into any career does not guarantee flawless execution and overall professionalism. For example, a contractor came to my house a few years ago to work on our heating system. He claims to have been in the heating and plumbing profession for about 30 years. Needless to say, I experienced several problems post installation and he had to return to fix the flaws. A few months later, we had more problems with the system… We decided to call in a different professional to “tweak” the system. All of the problems were fixed. I could easily use this scenario to condemn all people who work in heating and plumbing, but I refuse to be that myopic.

In sum, I choose to teach and assume responsibility for the brutal, dynamic, and enjoyable 10 months. This profession is not for everyone and educational brilliance does not equal effective teaching. To do what I do requires major people skills, books smarts, coping, intense decision making, the willingness to run the gamut of emotions, compromise, “liking” children (love would be ideal if I could actually figure out what that means), discipline, constant reflection, and much more. I don’t count down the days until the end of year (except for a few weeks in June) because I am not bitter. I deal with people that constantly mention, “ I can’t wait until Friday…”
I avoid those people like the plague because negativity is futile, infectious, and suggesting unhappiness. Similarly, I refuse to spend my 20-minute lunch listening to gossip and student bashing 101. It takes an intense amount of positivity and an open mind to just get through a typical school day. Negativity cancels any sense of hopeful intention and could ultimately destroy the desired outcome: Our success!

I’ll try to savor my time off. When the back-to-school sales ensue and the teaching nightmares begin (usually in August), I know it’s time to put on my game face and put forth the best effort for the next 10-month journey.

Evan J.

June 29, 2010