Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Substitute Diaries: A Few Words About Teachers

I'm going to start this post by telling you that I have been suffering from a serious case of writers block, laziness, procrastination, exhaustion, or whatever. I just haven't been in the mood to write. In fact, I've been working on this post for almost two weeks and just can't seem to finish it. I'm determined to power through and finish it this time. If it stinks, you have my apologies.

Now that I have enjoyed my first week of summer vacation, I've had an opportunity to reflect on my third year as a substitute teacher. You probably already know that one of the few things I regret is that I didn't become a teacher back in the 1970s. Seriously, the very first thing I missed when I got my first full-time job was summer vacation. And besides that whole summer vacation thing, I really love teaching kids. It's both challenging and fulfilling. Of course, I realize that if I had the day-to-day responsibilities that teachers have, I would probably be a lot less enchanted with it. Not to mention the fact the teachers are so grossly underpaid.

The reality of teaching as a profession is daunting. Aside from being responsible for the academic success of every student in their class, teachers have so many responsibilities that I was never aware of before I started substituting. In the three years that I've worked in our schools I've learned a few things about teachers that I want to share with you.

I am sure that you already know that teachers spend a great deal of their personal time writing lesson plans, preparing necessary supplies, and grading papers. You may not be aware of how much reporting and record-keeping they must do for each student. This especially applies to special ed teachers who complete detailed reports on goals and attainment on every single student in their class several times a year.

We have all heard about those teachers who went the extra mile in protecting their students from horrific tragedies like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School who took bullets to save their students, and those at Briar Wood and Plaza Towers in Moore, Oklahoma who threw their bodies on top of their students to shield them during tornadoes. Those teachers are definitely heroes; but virtually all teachers do things that I consider extraordinary on a regular basis.

This year I subbed for a kindergarten teacher who brought a snack for her entire class every single day. Well, maybe not every single day. At the beginning of the year there was a schedule for the parents to take turns sending a snack. Each student was assigned to bring the snack on a particular day. But, after a few weeks, most of her students stopped taking their turn. For some of them it was a financial issue and for some it was a lack of interest from the parents. But this teacher knew that her kindergartners did better if they had a mid-morning snack, so she brought one for them. She even made sure they had snacks on the days she wasn't there. One of the days I subbed, she made a special trip to drop off snacks for them.

I often run across teachers who had come in early or stay late to tutor struggling students who want to do better. Almost all teachers do that. At one of the schools where I sub regularly, there were quite a few third graders who were struggling and stressing about being ready for the dreaded STAAR test. The entire third grade staff organized a tutoring program and invited selected students to attend daily tutoring sessions in the morning and the afternoon. The afternoon sessions included a snack, too.

And speaking of snacks, there are a couple of teachers I know who fill some of their student's backpacks with snacks every Friday afternoon. When I asked them about it, they told me it was because those students might not have anything else to eat until they return to school on Monday morning.

I know many teachers who put a great deal of their personal time into sponsoring a club, organization, or activity. True, some of them receive a small stipend from the district for this activity, but I can assure you that it is never enough to cover the time and energy they put into these activities. Not to mention that they spend their own money in support of those activities. I know one teacher who made 300 pickle poppers and sold them to raise money for her students' extra-curricular activities.

I can name at least ten teachers who have bought new shoes or uniforms for students because the parents can't or won't. I also know several teachers who paid field trip fees for some of their students whose parents didn't or couldn't pony up somewhere between $2 to $6.

The teachers and the office staff at both of the primary schools where I work go to great lengths and personal expense to be sure that their students and any siblings have gifts at Christmas.

Not everything teachers do is heroic. It seems like the primary school teachers tie at least one million five hundred thousand shoelaces every single day. And, do you realize that there are NO bathroom breaks built into teacher's schedules. Kindergarten teachers have it easiest when it comes to taking a bathroom break. In our district they have bathrooms attached to their classrooms. But that also means they have to supervise all their students when they go to the bathroom. Let's just say that not all five year olds are mature when it comes to that. And third grade teachers have it the worst. There is no bathroom on their wing at all. They have to dash to the other end of the building while someone else watches their class. In case you don't know, it is not wise to leave approximately 25 third graders without adult supervision for very long. I'm just saying.

Besides academics, teachers teach your kids important life lessons. They give important advice like "if she's not being nice, go play with someone else." They will also try to find the right words when a child tells them that their parents are getting a divorce. Yes, your kids tell their teachers almost everything. They also notice if your kid does not bathe regularly or wears clothes that haven't been washed. Again, I'm just saying, they do notice.

Teachers always expect students to do their best. In fact, sometimes they have to insist on it. If they know the student is capable and that's what it takes, they will make a kid redo a paper over and over again until they do it right. By the way, teachers don't give grades, students earn grades. If your kid just barely fails, that's because he or she got the grade they earned.

When she has to, the teacher will do your job. If you don't make your kid do homework, the teacher will. When everyone else goes outside for recess, your student will go outside with a clipboard, sit on the side of the playground, and do their homework while the other kids play. That's not the teacher being mean. That's the teacher doing your job. You are supposed to make them do their homework.

They will also work hard to make sure your kids learn integrity and citizenship. And if that means they have to walk laps at recess while everyone else plays, that's what they'll make them do. Then, when they've walked all their laps, they will make your kid explain why they had to walk laps, just to make sure they got the lesson.

Teachers are notoriously good sports. They wear costumes on Halloween and spirit shirts every Friday. They take a turn in the dunking booth on play day. They serve the cake you send to celebrate your kid's birthday and clean up afterward. Sometimes they kiss pigs for school fund raisers. They also make sure your kid makes you a card (and sometimes a gift) for Mothers Day.  On an almost daily basis they deal with runny noses, vomit, and otherwise sick kids that are not their own. The first year I subbed, I had a student throw up right at my feet while I was writing a nurses pass. Since then, if a student says they feel like they're going to throw up, I send them running to the nurse's offices without a pass. I have seen teachers walking down the hall holding a trash can in front of a vomiting student as they escort them to the nurse's office. I know a kindergarten teacher who was vomited on twice in the same day by two different students. In my opinion, that's above and beyond the call of duty.

And when the unspeakable happens and disaster strikes a school, whether it's man-made or nature's wrath, teachers will do whatever it takes to make sure your kids are safe. And, when it happens on another campus and your kids learn all about it from the media, they will do their dead-level best to prepare and comfort all the students in their care. Even I, as a substitute, had to explain more than once this year that it is unlikely that someone with a gun would come into our school and start shooting.

Don't let their school t-shirt and khakis fool you. They may not wear a cape, teachers are the real superheroes!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post and all parents should read it! I know that not all teachers are created equal but most of them are the amazing people you have described above and they don't get nearly enough credit or help! If all parents worked as hard to take care of and teach their own children as the teachers do, just imagine the possibilities!