It’s been awhile, but sometimes advice needs a precipitous event to pour forth and seem relevant. That time is now.
Teaching is hard, people!
No, it isn’t as difficult as digging ditches or harvesting produce or crab fishing or actual brain surgery, but it is hard. It is rigorous, (to use a current and much-favored buzz word), and it is getting more difficult and skin-crawlingly nit-picky by the day. There is no room for coloring and worksheets. “Follow along as I read the passage” is not a sound instructional strategy. This isn’t just me talking, either. It’s the data. Oh, the data! Don’t remind me about the data. It is everywhere and data is driving the school bus for the forseeable future!
So, go ahead, put your anecdotal observations on the counter by the crayons and the hole-punch and pick up some cold, hard facts. Data is king. It is a queen. It is the Alpha and the Omega. And really, when you consider things, it should be, right? I mean, measurement is useful. Measuring success and failure and everything in between is what helps us make decisions and improve the outcome of endeavors across the spectrum of human activities. Why should it be any different in education?
It shouldn’t. And it’s not.
That’s just one reason that teaching is tough. We are driving for results and we are driving at top speeds. There’s no time to waste. The pressure is on and the finish line is in sight. Only, with this job there never really is a finish line. The very notion of a finish line is preposterous because do we ever stop learning? We can never sit back and say, “Ah yes, the ol’ brain’s full to the brim. I’ve finally learned it all!’ That’d be, well, rather dumb.
But my real point isn’t really about the data. It’s about how tough you need to be to be here day in and day out. To really be a teacher you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and kneel down in the muck next to your students in search of that elusive gem that will spark their imaginations. To be a really great teacher you have to be willing to devote your entire existence to your craft and to ignore virtually everything else, including your own family at times. There are kids depending on you, even though they are not related to you. You have to commit. You have to fulfill your end of the bargain. You must be there. You have to follow through.
This isn’t like working at a restaurant. There isn’t anyone else who can pick up your shift. There is a classroom full of kids waiting for you Monday through Friday, 180, or more, days per year. They need you. They trust you. They depend on you, even the weasely ones, even the ones who act as though you are a massive bore and bother, not just the ones who greet you every morning with a kind word, a bright smile, and a hopeful look in their eye. These children have expectations. They have learned that they have a mountain of work before them, but they know you will be there to help them through it. They count on it. They count on you.
These children are not entitled, they consider you part of their team. They have heard the whole “we want you to become a productive member of society, independent, capable, self-reliant, and self-sufficient” monologue and they believe it, even when it seems like they don’t. If you aren’t there, the team spirit starts to falter. The not-so-secret secret of teaching is that it is more agonizing to be absent than it is to be in the classroom.
For a teacher, an absence means lesson plans, and not just watch-a-movie lesson plans like it once was acceptable to do. No, nowadays, well, you’ve got to be there and if you’re not you have to communicate clearly, in writing, what you wish. You have to structure the day so that students are working on something relevant and meaningful, THE WHOLE TIME.
In other words, no worksheets.
In other words, it isn’t up to the sub. God bless ’em, but subs are there to observe and report essentially. It isn’t their classroom. They just fill the responsible adult role for the day. YOU have to provide them with the engaging lesson plans, otherwise, well, you failed. And it isn’t yourself that you failed, it’s the kids. Don’t let them down. Be here, even when you’re not. Ron Clark, famed “55 Essentials”-teacher-extraordinaire used to make videos of himself teaching lessons when he was ill. That’s extreme, but in a way that has become the bar. It is expected. That’s why we ruin our health and put others in jeopardy to come to work sick.
There are other jobs that are harder, physically and mentally, but I’m telling you, teaching will kill you if you aren’t careful. If you think, even for a split second that you can’t handle it, that you can’t hang, that you might bail out, then don’t sign up! Because it’s not just a job that you are walking away from if you are unable to meet expectations. No. If you walk out on teaching like you might walk out on working at a lumberyard, then you have failed 20-30 kids. Children depend on you. You ABSOLUTELY cannot let them down. And if you do, God help you, because we teachers can be a vindictive bunch, especially when we’re charged with picking up the pieces.