Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A response: Are teacher's bleeding hearts the real reason for public education's decline?

I was tagged on Social Media by a friend and co-worker in her posting of this article:

Why Teachers Can't Have Normal Lives

And I couldn't stop thinking about it. My brain started blogging immediately. So forewarning, the rest of this post will be rather preachy and contain the words injustice. I know there's tons of greater injustices going on in our world right now.   But I feel very strongly about this subject. My health journey has made me realize many things about balancing work and doing what you can and letting go the rest. So here goes...

Everything written in the linked article is TRUTH, and I agree whole-heartedly with all of it.  But I also think to myself. "UGH.  BLEH.  This IS the root of our problem.  This is why children aren't getting the education they need."

I'd like to explain further by writing a response to the article and its many points.

Red = article
Black = my responses

I’m not entirely sure what a normal life is, but the author of this post says they aren’t in the cards for teachers.

I'm not sure what a normal life is either.  Do police officers have a normal life?  Do doctors have a normal life?  Do coal miners have a normal life?   My reason for these questions is that there is no normal, and each occupation has its own set of demands, expectations, and frustrations.  I would like to discuss further the rising injustice that teachers are experiencing in their set of demands later in this post.

“Oh you are a teacher? It must be so nice to have two months off. I just have a normal job with only two weeks’ vacation.”
We have all heard it — and to be honest, we are sick of it. Sure, we get summers “off.” I should not need to mention that during that time we attend workshops, plan lessons and rewrite curriculum we rework to meet changing standards, but, apparently, I do. Here are some things people may not realize about the lives of teachers.
Let's be clear.  Teacher's are LAID OFF for the summer.  FORCED WITHOUT PAY. (*more clarification on this concept at the end of the paragraph)  Yes, many teachers, myself included, rewrite curriculum and attend workshops, BECAUSE WE CHOOSE TO. Not because we are on a paid vacation.  And to clarify on that without pay part, its standard procedure that our employers take our 9 month salary and spread it across 12 months for the sake of convenience and money management.   It has many benefits, but one of them is not the snide comments from "normal people" who are disgruntled and unaware of the math.
Free time.  Our free time is spent grading papers, planning lessons, and researching new ways to teach concepts. The majority of us are more than teachers; we are tutors, coaches, and sponsors. We spend time after school helping develop talents and skills, for no extra pay. We give up time with our families to help mold your child.
Yes, yes, yes.  All of the above is true.  Our free time, a.k.a. non-contractual time is often spent doing work.  Much like teachers will give students time in class to do work and when they don't finish it, they are expected to take it home as homework. Teachers are expected to take "homework" home as well.  What's the data on other professions where the employees are expected to work overtime without pay?  I can't give a researched response on that question at this time.  But I will say this.  It is widely accepted by our American public school culture that this is just WHAT TEACHERS DO.
This is how teachers feel about that.
At my school, we are contracted to work from 7:30 - 3:30, a.k.a. given a salary based on 8 hrs a day, five days a week, 40 hour work week.   Teachers teach 6 class periods out of their 8 hour day, have a collaborative team meeting or lunch duty, a 25 min work-free lunch, one personal planning & prep period, and about 30 mins of miscellaneous work time before or after school, often times dominated by students who need extra help or tutoring.

Reality: 75% teaching.  25% everything else we can possibly fit in.  The teachers with bleeding hearts (most of us) stay late or take home the rest, sacrificing time with family, health, mental wellbeing, leisure, sleep, and spirituality.  This takes its tole on our resiliency, our most needed quality.  Any of you teach middle school out there??  Oh yes.....RESILIENCY is a very important quality.
I live in a state where the current Governor doesn't know how to balance his budget.  And education is taking the fall.  So teachers jobs are getting harder, more overwhelming, more time consuming, more expectations to produce high results.  
So what I am suggesting, and I can't take ownership for this idea.   I read it in an article or a blog somewhere and can't remember where it was to reference it.  The idea of teachers working their PROPER DUTY DAY.   Do the best you can within the allotted time you have been given/paid for.   Then leave. If every teacher does this, watch what becomes abundantly clear about education.  Its broken.  And it starts with the teachers time and resources. That thought hurts my soul. I personally would rather sacrifice my time than my work ethic.  But when are the punches going to stop?
Emotional distress. Being a teacher is an emotional roller coaster. We cannot “leave it at work or leave it at home.” We deal with children,  and we care about all of them. In many cases, teachers spend more time with students than their parents do.
Why can't we leave it at work?  Well, because our hearts are bleeding for the students.  Our caring is our Kryptonite.  And it is exploited by politicians and misunderstood by citizens.
We must take care of the teachers first.  Not until we do that, can we effectively take care of the really important stuff:  THE STUDENTS.  Not until teachers are given more time, more resources, the courtesy of enforcing our proper duty day, encouraged and expected to go home on time to be with our families, and renew ourselves for the next day.  (To clarify, I have great administrators that actually DO this. I'm referring to a collective whole.) Emotionally resilient teachers create the daily, sunny, productive weather in their classroom.  Teachers that are strung out create the daily stormy weather that frustrates students, teachers, parents, school board members, and politicians alike.
The bleeding hearts of our teachers have to do this together though.  WORK YOUR PROPER DUTY DAY.  Only when we take care of ourselves first can we best serve our students.  THE PROPER DUTY DAY, as it stands, is not distributed properly.  Changes need to be made.  In education, its never enough.  But we can make it better.  It will be excruciating.  In my entire career of teaching, I have RARELY stopped what I was doing at 3:30 and said, ok, time to clock out.  I haven't finished setting up my students to succeed tomorrow.  But you have to walk out that door, and we all have to do it TOGETHER.  Or else we individually portray that we are incompetent.  But if we all do it, we portray a message.  A collective commitment to ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  Our students deserve more.  Teachers need to be served first.  And then we can serve our clients, the students.  
I think I'm suggesting somewhat of a strike, in a way.  We arrive at contract time.  Kick total ass, as much as we can, with our bleeding hearts for our students that we love so much.  And then at the end of the contract day, WE LEAVE.  ALL OF US.  GOVERMENT BUILDING CLOSES DOWN.  Unless a staff member is being paid to sponsor an after-school activity, you leave.  There's only so much we can do given the resources that we have.  And those resources are continually being taken away, and expected to do more with less. 
Policy-makers have not a clue what the real issues are.  We do whatever it takes to help our students because we love them and we are committed to our ideals.  And its our biggest weakness.  Is it ultimately OUR FAULT that cuts to education continue because we quietly adjust and run ourselves into the ground?
We need to find strength in this:  #workyourproperdutyday  #gohome  #fortheteachersandultimatelythechildren  #theydeserveit
We save the world. It is not all bad. We save and guide our students’ lives. Teachers help choose majors, guide interests, and build confidence. We inspire and redirect. We don’t have superpowers, but we do have impact. And when things go well, we are thanked, years later. Our students remember us when they get older. They are at class reunions and say, ‘Remember when Ms. So and So said that? She changed my life.’
That is why we cannot live a “normal” life. We are not “normal” people.
In reference to "normal", what our society accepts and expects a teacher to be and do.  Its injustice.  You want to fix education?  Produce results on tests?  Fix the injustice.  Adjust how we use our 40 hour work week.  If you haven't set aside time during the PROPER DUTY DAY for teachers to grade papers and tests, don't expect graded papers and tests.  If you haven't set aside time for teachers IN THE PROPER DUTY DAY to make phone calls, don't expect your teachers to contact home, ever.  If you haven't set aside time for teachers IN THE PROPER DUTY DAY, to address and document discipline issues, don't expect students, your child or others, to receive appropriate consequences for bad behavior.  If you haven't set aside time for teachers IN THE PROPER DUTY DAY to plan, prep, and create authentically engaging, differentiated, collaborative, student-centered, well-planned lessons, don't expect the magic to happen.  Because, its gonna take magic to fix this mess called American public education.
Work the proper duty day.  Because, we teachers are bleeding all the way out.


  1. Re: Salary. I'm not entirely convinced everyone understands that were are not hourly paid workers. We are paid a daily rate per our contract. If we work extra hours beyond the contracted day, we often do NOT get paid for them unlike other contracted workers. However, unlike other contracted workers our employers elect to allow us to spread our salary out over 12 months...but we could elect to do 9 or a lump sum.

    Re: Balance. One thing my health has taught me is if I do not take care of myself, it will ensure I cannot help anyone else. Balance is not easy if you care about students, but while I put in a lot of extra hours I DO try to leave the "work" part at home. Only in rare situations do I take work home--I will go in early or stay late to avoid it. And I do not feel I care less or am less effective because of it.

    I HAVE to take care of me and that means emotional and mental health as well as physical. Right now I have had so many concerts since March, things are way out of balance. I can't do this next year or it will be the same. I am not giving my students what I feel they deserve if I am exhausted, drained, and emotional.

    I think, especially for introverts, it may be easier to take care of others than ourselves...because we feel so acutely the suffering of others. Then we end up overwhelmed with emotions making it harder to tell we need to take care of ourselves even more. (I guess we can be introverted even from ourselves at times? lol)

    Anyway I see the whole balance issue as a double edged sword; the very things making us successful at helping others can be the very thing that will prevent it if we lose balance.

    And I completely agree with being given the time to do my job rather than some of the other stuff we are asked to do that is really meaningless...or even gets in the way of doing our actual job, giving us twice the work to do in even less time. Frankly I don't have time to deal with that crap. Or others who can't do their job, but that's a whole other issue lol.

    I give everything I've got to this job and my students, don't ask me to do something else--FIX the problem. It's America's way, at least lately, to place blame and cover the problem with a band-aid. Very sad because it's our children we cut short when we do that.

  2. I stumbled across your blog through your comment on Love, Teach's recent post. This whole school year I've had the same nagging feeling that nothing will ever change if teachers continue to voluntarily fill in the gaps in our education system. Your post has really made me think about how I spend my time, and I'll be sharing this with other teachers. Thank you for writing this, and best wishes to you.