As a public school teacher, I take a lot of things personally. Whether it is hearing how bad our students do on end-of-grade testing, or some bureaucrat stating that paying out teachers more money will not improve achievement, it really bothers me. Then, you have some idiot that is either a teacher or is someone associated with the school system being inappropriate with a child. So, all teachers are then identified as being child molesters.
Most of us really take our jobs seriously, and we work not thirty-five or forty hours a week, but often work sixty to seventy hours a week writing lesson plans, grading papers and attending school functions that many parents are too busy to attend. Why do we do this? Well, it is not the big bucks that we supposedly make. We do this for several reasons. We care about the students and want them to do their best. We also want our schools to look good. If our students do well on end-of-grade testing, then our school gets a good grade. Personally, I feel if they become successful my taxes won’t have to support them.
End-of-grade testing is how the school systems put a value on the teachers. Teachers do not like giving the tests and students do not like taking them. Still, we put our all into preparing the students to take the test.
There is also a big push on teacher/student relationships. It is said that if a student doesn’t like a teacher then they will not do the work. My dad did not care if I liked the teacher or not, if an assignment was given, then it better be completed. I raised my girls with the same rule. It was never what did the teacher do, but what did you do? The teacher was shown respect and looked at as a professional. It is not like this anymore.
It really starts to weigh on a person when they are told they don’t meet standards, even though they have been doing a great job for years. Adequate compensation (pay raises) is a thing of the past, which tells us that our government doesn’t respect as professionals. It is always something that makes many teachers feel inadequate. Most only want respect and to be treated as professionals.
Our small town publishes a newspaper three times a week and on one day it publishes the court records. Seldom does a week go by where I don’t read three or four names of students that I taught – drugs, alcohol, assault… It just adds to the pressure. You wonder if you could have done something different to change their lives or their decisions.
For me, being told that my scores are not good enough, that I don’t know how to relate to students, plus all of the above really made me want to get out of teaching. Again, I take a lot of things personally.
Over the last year, things have started to change and my outlook has started to improve. Over the last year, I ran across a few of my previous students. One young lady followed some advice and was happy to tell me that she got a book published. (She started working on it in middle school and talked with me about publishing and what she should do.) Another was on maternity leave from her corporate job and she just had to show me her newborn son.
This summer I ran across two young moms that I had taught, one of which was a nurse practitioner. She told me about three other students that I taught that were also in the medical field. It is so nice and enlightening to see where your kids (yes, my kids – it I taught them then they are mine, no matter how old they get) become successful. What a breath of fresh air.
Then, my wife went to register our little boy for preschool. The lady asked if I still taught school and to let me know her son was now a doctor. Wow. After eighteen years, the mom remembered I was her son’s math teacher.
Most recently, I received an email from a parent stating her son was going into the military. They were giving him a graduation/leaving for the military party. She asked him if there was anyone in particular that he wanted to invite and he said that he would like for “Mr. Stack” to be there is possible. What a privilege to attend. I asked him why the Army and he responded that my influence and stories helped point him to what he really wanted to do. As a middle school teacher I seldom get to hear about the choices my previous students made. These are some of the bright spots.
Every new teacher goes into the profession just knowing that they are going to change lives. They are going to give everything they have to try to do this. I have a niece that is a teacher, a niece that is studying to be a teacher, and a young lady that my wife and I mentored that just took a position in the mountains of Arizona to teach in a Christian Indian mission.
Why do I teach? I feel God put me in this position, but still, I teach to make a difference.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure. Also, soon to be released Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and Secret Lives (of middle school teachers).