Teacher friends, this is for us!

Even before my career change (which now is so long ago I’m not sure I remember it!), I never subscribed to the oft-thought belief that teaching is easy. I never quite bought into that whole “you get the summer off” load of manure. But in my now 15-year teaching career, I have never stopped being blown away by how hard and how demanding this job is.

I think most good careers and occupations share this trait – you never are completely off the job. Your spare time is often filled with thoughts about work, things you wish you’d said, things you wish you had done or done differently. I know that was true when I was a lawyer and it is true of my wife, my daughter, and most others I know who take their work seriously. But as a teacher, not only are you plagued with those thoughts in your free time, but they sometimes occur during the school day: “I didn’t do this as well 1st period as I did 4th period; I’ve got to remember to fix this!” And then there’s the fact that we are dealing with kids and we live in constant fear that we aren’t doing enough, aren’t caring enough, aren’t loving them enough.

I have said many times that there were few times as a lawyer when I came home from work, even when the hours were long, and was so tired I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon or evening; it’s rare that I come home from school and can stay wake until dinner. I need a nap just to be able to get up and cook! My mentor teacher was fond of saying that if we (the teachers) were more tired than the students then we were doing something wrong. I never believed that = I view my room as a closed system, and if I’m not putting energy into the system, then the system grinds to a halt. Consequently, I put everything I have into that room, and by the end of the day I’m tired. Really really tired!

And so I thought this article, “The Hard Part” by Peter Greene, was spot on and worth reading. here are a couple of really good passages, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you. . . .

Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don’t actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren’t making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.

Where are school reformy folks in this metaphor? They’re the ones who show up and tell you that having a ladder is making you lazy, and you should work without. They’re the ones who take a cup of your paint every day to paint test strips on scrap wood, just to make sure the paint is okay (but now you have less of it). They’re the ones who show up after the work is done and tell passersby, “See that one good-looking part? That turned out good because the painters followed my instructions.” And they’re most especially the ones who turn up after the job is complete to say, “Hey, you missed a spot right there on that one board under the eaves.”

There may never be enough, but we can still do something!