Everyone knows teachers are underworked, overpaid, lazy and Leftist, right gentle readers?
I’ve certainly known teachers who were not as industrious as they might have been, but I’ve been fortunate to work in states and schools where political indoctrination had no official sanction. As to underworked and overpaid… I thought, as always, I’d provide the means for you to decide for yourselves. Therefore, I present this, a day in the life of a high school English teacher: Friday the 13th, September, 2019.
0700: I arrive at school at my usual time, and set about my morning rituals: making any changes to the assignments and daily work on the blackboards, making any necessary copies, visiting my mailbox, running down an assistant principal to discuss disciplinary referrals on several kids, straightening desks and books, and conferring with colleagues on the day’s activities and upcoming issues. One of my colleagues needs help with a bulletin board, so we use up my entire supply of blue sticky stuff to put a heavy layer of paper up. I buy more at shopping tonight. Each my three classes does a weekly word quiz based on their academic vocabulary/literary terms lists, so I have to put up three separate lists for daily five-pint extra credit questions to help prepare them.
I always try to make next week’s copies no later than Wednesday of the current week. If I wait, the copiers are usually out of paper, broken or both. I, and most of my colleagues, buy a large box of copy paper at the beginning of each year, and always have to use it.
When all of that is done, it’s usually well into my “conference” period, my one free period of the day to try to get things done. I happen to have first period each day. I finally have about 30 minutes to sit and think, to plan what I’ll be doing and what I need to have ready to do it. I only had about 10 minutes today to check up on the news and read the latest e-mails in my school account. Most of it didn’t require a response or action, but it’s time consuming.
0914-0959; Second Period: Mythology 1. 45 minutes; that’s what we have for every class. When I first began teaching a quarter century ago, class periods were just under an hour. That hasn’t been true for a very long time. Remove 8-10 minutes to get things started and to put things away at the end of each class, and we have only about 35 actual minutes of class time.
I have to fight the Friday slump. By this time of the week, everyone–teachers and kids alike–are tired. So to rev them up, Fridays are “Name That Tune” day. Normally each day, I post an aphorism on the board. The kids copy it down, and we discuss the topic, tone and theme. But on Fridays, I post an actual newspaper headline. These are headlines that made it past the layers and layers of editors and fact checkers. Today was “Doctor testifies in horse suit.” We do this to give the kids practice at editing. It can be hard. Their brains try to fix it, but they soon realize they meant: “Doctor testifies in horse lawsuit.” This is just one of many repetitive ways we subtly improve their brains. Making it unusual and fun helps.
I have to fight the Friday slump. By this time of the week, everyone–teachers and kids alike–are tired. So to rev them up, Fridays are “Name That Tune” day. I play pieces on the stereo–I had to buy it– and if they can identify them, they get five extra credit points. I always begin with classical, today “Hornpipe,” from Handel’s Water Music. They recognize the piece, but don’t know the name. Then “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” You’re the One That I Want,” and “Greased Lightning” from Grease,“Surfer Girl” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” from the Beach Boys, and “If This Is It,” from Huey Lewis And the News. I try to pick something reasonably familiar and upbeat. They’re all happy and smiling, and much more energetic when we’re done, and they all look forward to Fridays.
This is my first Mythology class of the day, Mythology 1. I teach Mythology 2 in the Spring. It’s an elective class, only a semester long, so I have Sophs, Juniors and Seniors in every class. One can earn a doctorate in this particular discipline, so there is virtually no time to teach the kids the subject. It’s a semester of trying to squeeze in as much good information as possible, and there’s never, ever enough time.
Today, we’re reading and discussing Gilgamesh, the first heroic epic. The kids take turns reading a page each in our text. Some are faster readers, so I have to choose carefully to ensure we make maximum progress. I often have to stop the reading to explain vocabulary, culture, and to add historical background, and always, there is discussion of human nature. Times change, people don’t. We manage about seven pages. Not bad, but to read anything of any length can take a week or more.
Why don’t I just have the kids do it? We don’t have enough books to send home with them, and most are not readers. Most just wouldn’t do it. The only way I can ensure they’re exposed to the material is to read it aloud in class. If kids only spent as much time reading as they do concocting ways to simulate reading without actually doing it…
Have I mentioned yet that no educational “reform” will ever be effective unless cell phones/ear buds are banned entirely from the schools? They’re the most fiendish weapons of mass distraction ever invented. If an enemy wanted to ensure our kids didn’t learn, that’s the weapon they’d invent, and we’re doing it to ourselves.
1003-1048; Third Period; Junior English. Because of the two elective classes I’ve been given, I’m only a part time English teacher this year–three of seven classes. We’re working on our research paper project, so we spend about five minutes reviewing what we’re doing today, and then it’s off to the library, which is a part of our one-story, sprawling campus. We share it with the community.
They’re finding books on the American author they’ve been assigned to research. It’s not a biography paper, but one on some aspect of their works, but of course, some biography is necessary. The first part of the assignment is a number of source and note cards in the correct MLA format. I’ve provided a handout with everything they need, including a complete example paper. I have to provide the note cards. If I didn’t, only a tiny portion of the kids would remember and bring their own. Yes, I have to pay for them. Removing transit time there and back, we have only about 25 minutes, so I give them three days in the library, and all the books they find are kept on a single cart throughout the two-month long assignment so they can return and easily find them any time.
That 25 minutes is a mad dash from student to student, helping them find the correct format, copyright dates, books, and other resources. The period passes quickly, far too quickly.
1052-1121; Fourth Period: RTI. This is a sort of state mandated study hall for kids that haven’t passed the mandatory, high stakes English test. They also do the mandatory–state law–daily Pledge of Allegiance, the Texas Pledge and daily announcements during this period, reducing 29 minutes to a bit less than 20. We’re reading today. Because few of my students in any class are readers, lack of reading comprehension is always an issue. Not much time.
1148-1210; Lunch. No time to go anywhere. I have a small microwave in the room, so I make a pasta, veggie and bit of chicken prepared bowl meal, and wolf it down at my desk. I write the names of the kids in each class on small stick on notes, along with their current average, which I give them every Monday. They can check their grades in the computer gradebook–I update them daily–but most don’t, and they like the stickers. They decorate their portfolios–each keeps a hanging file portfolio in two large filing cabinets in the room with all of of their work for the semester/year–with them, and there is much “what did you get?” always. I had to buy the filing cabinets and the portfolios. I have to use Clorox wipes on the desk because we have a massive ant problem. I have to buy all that kind of thing too. I have quite a few cleaning supplies. We’re always undermanned in custodians, and I can’t afford the time to call one of them for daily student mistakes, so I keep the things I need to quickly clean up without disrupting even more of the slight time we have.
1215-1244; Fifth Period: Professional Communications. This used to be called “speech,” but it’s branched out over the years. We just finished a brief introductory speech that required the kids to research the origins of their names and find a historical person with that name with which they identify. Now we’re reading the Gettysburg Address, and answering many questions that not only require research, but require deeper analysis of the speech and Lincoln’s intent. This is a work day for the kids, so I get to catch up on the stick on notes, and grading other papers, mostly late work. There is always late work.
1248-1333; Sixth Period: Professional Communications. PC is an elective, so I have Sophs, Juniors and Seniors again, all for a semester. There is never enough time to cover everything we have to cover, and never in sufficient depth, but I do my best to give them what will do them the most good. Thankfully, not many of the kids need my help with things. The time passes too quickly, but I’m caught up with stick on notes through this period, and all grading–for the moment.
1347-1422: Seventh Period: Mythology 1. This is my second Myth 1 class of the day. We manage only about six and a half pages. I’ll have to allow more time than the Second Period class will need to answer the questions at the end of the chapter. The text I’ve chosen is college level, but it’s very complete and accurate. For a change with texts, the questions at the ends of each myth are actually quite good, though I often have to eliminate a few in the interests of time and understanding.
1426-1511: Eighth Period: Junior English again. Off to the library. Taking a group of happy, talkative teenagers anywhere is like herding cats or pushing spaghetti uphill, but we manage. They know I’m serious about no cell phones when we’re working, but I still have to keep after them. They’re not malicious, but if a cell phone is out of their hands for more than a few seconds, they experience acute separation anxiety, and often reach of it without thinking.
1515-1600: Ninth Period: Junior English, the final class of the day. This class needs a great deal of help. Several students were gone the day we introduced the handout and the assignment, I they, and I, and playing catch up. It’s a rare day that at least one student is gone from each class–usually more–and that requires me to do substantial adjustment to keep them up to speed, or at least to give them that opportunity. We absolutely can’t slow down to wait for them to catch up.
1640: I’ve prepared the daily sayings for next week, finished all grading, finished all the stick on grade average notes, put all the papers to be returned to the kids–they get their papers back the day after they hand them in–in the return trays, erased the boards so the custodians will clean them–that doesn’t always happen, so I have to do it–put everything in its proper place, and covered my computers and printers. Classrooms are dusty environments and electronics don’t like dust. I had to sew the covers and buy the materials for them.
The walls of my classroom are lined with bookshelves and my own books. I had to build the bookshelves and buy the materials.
The school provides a computer for me, but I do most of my work on a Mac. I had to buy that, and the three printers I use. I also have to buy all the toner and ink cartridges for the printers. I’ll buy two–$50.00–when Mrs. Manor and I do our weekly grocery shopping in about an hour.
A note about desks: I used to have the all-in-one type, but this year got desks with separate desks and chairs. This is good because so many of my kids were too big for the old desks, but bad, because instead of pushing their chairs back, they push their desks forward and the things creep all over the classroom. It takes time to rearrange them so the custodians can clean. At least I didn’t have to buy those.
1705: I finally make it home. Ten-hour day. Every day. Half of each summer is spent preparing for the following year.
2010: I finish tending to this scruffy little blog, preparing the article for Saturday, and get to sit down and read a little. There’s never enough time for that. Sigh. I planned a 21.5-mile trike ride for Saturday morning, and for a change, actually got to do it. I’m still fighting a sinus infection–can’t miss school for that–so it pretty much kicked my rear end, but I needed it. The exercise, not the rear end kicking. Life does that enough.
There you have it, gentle readers. One day in the life of a high school English teacher. Underworked? Overpaid? You decide.