Thursday, June 11, 2015

An English teacher poses a math problem

We all have issues that are close to our hearts and important to who we are as people. The way teachers are treated in this country with such disregard and disdain is something I want to try to change. The work we do goes way beyond school hours, yet people like Chris Christie seem to think teaching is a part-time job.

As an English teacher, I tend to shy away from math, but here's a simple math problem for you: If a high school English teacher has 150 students, and must grade student writing on a regular basis, how many hours will it take her to grade 150 essays if she spends only 5 minutes on each one?

Let's elaborate on this some more:
If she has to grade AT LEAST four essays a quarter, how many hours total has she spent just grading essays? In a school year? In a 30-year career?

Don't worry, I won't make you show your work. Just compute all of that in your head or use your smartphone calculator, I don't mind.

The above math problem is only factoring in essay grading. Add to this other formative assessments, communications with parents outside the school day, staff meetings, lesson planning, and other bureaucratic & superfluous tasks, and we've already lost count at how many hours in a week teachers are working. 

The fact of the matter is, Governor Christie et. al., the work we do is NEVER done. Yet you seem to think we sit around doing nothing for 4-5 months during the year. Just take a gander at my friend Sarah Mulhern Gross's list of things she will be doing with her "summer off." Join teachers on Twitter on June 21 for #nctechat to see what teachers REALLY do in June, July, and August. Better yet, personally come to #nErDcampMI July 6-7 for two days of literacy learning where teachers are using their "time off" to travel from all over the country (and even internationally!) to the small town of Parma, Michigan to share, learn, and hone their craft.

I also invite anyone who thinks teaching is a part-time job to spend a typical week with a teacher. Follow her around. Try grading a stack of papers (let her make photocopies first because you haven't actually gone to school to be a teacher, after all). Interview her family to see how much quality time she actually gets to spend with them. Then come back here and complain that the teachers' unions are destroying Western Civilization as we know it.

Funnily enough, I actually did work part-time this year. At least it was part-time on paper. I taught 3 sections of 8th grade English, 51 students total. And do you know what? that part-time status (and paycheck) actually felt like a reasonable full-time load. I was able to get to know my students, felt less stressed about meeting with and communicating with parents, and my paper load was manageable. Even with that, I spent a great deal of my evenings grading papers and weekends planning lessons. While my school day was shorter due to fewer classes, the time I spent actually working was a full-time workweek.

So please, policymakers, I beg of you, start talking to real teachers and not just the people who lobby for teachers' unions. See what real teachers do when the cameras aren't around and you're not trying to make a good photo op for your campaign. This country needs teachers to function. It is the "vocation of vocations, a calling that shepherds a multitude of other callings" as William Ayers says. So I don't understand why a democratic society that needs this profession to create knowledgeable, responsible citizens demeans and demoralizes teachers so fiercely. As Sarah Mulhern Gross says at the end of her blog post linked above, "What will you do when no one wants to teach anymore?"

1 comment:

  1. This is a great and very important post. I'm the mother of two teenaged sons in public school, NYC, and I know your value. Teachers are my heros. Thank you.