Monday, August 14, 2006

The first bell has rung

It's 9:15 on a Monday night and I've finished my first day as the official teacher of record in a 4th grade pre-exit bilingual class. I'm tired enough that I think I could lie down right now and be out, but I'm trying to hold off a little while longer.

The impetus to start this blog actually happened a long time ago. A friend of a friend, one of the Corcoran Brothers made some comment about teachers being overpaid. I had taught private school years ago, so of course I knew he was essentially talking out his ass. But since then, I've heard a lot of comments from people who aren't even libertarians to the effect that teachers have a cushy job. It's a hard thing to address. On one hand, I love my job. I love school and all its trappings. I love educating. I love books and desks and boxes full of crayons. I have always felt very at home inside a classroom, even when I hated my teacher and the other students. But there are also plenty of things that make my job very difficult.

As far as being paid too much goes, let me break down how much time I spend with my job:

My official duty schedule is from 7:30am until 3:15pm. I am, however, expected to be there before duty starts, and to stay until well after it ends. So my hours, at their least, are more like 7:15 until about 4:00. I supposedly have a half hour for lunch, but by the time I get the class down to the cafeteria and then go to pick them up again, it's more like 20 minutes. And, at any time, I can be called to duty during lunch if whoever is supposed to be watching the cafeteria can't. So scratch lunch. This is the basic, a bit more than 8 hour day.

But there's more. I work at a school that has struggled monumentally to achieve not only an "Acceptable" academic rating, but the much-coveted "Recognized" status. For an extreme low-income inner city school, this is a nearly miraculous feat. I'm not a fan of the obsession with standardized testing, but it's a reality I can't change. And the Recognized tag has gotten the school some good things. To achieve this status, though, has meant an even bigger time investment for teachers. Last year, there were after-school tutorials at least twice a week, plus many of the staff gave up their lunch periods to tutor right at the table. There was also Saturday school. On top of the regular duty hours, this adds up to about 10 more hours a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Admittedly, it's a crude average.

Now add in the take-home work. It's the first day of school, and I just spent about an hour going through my students' writing journals and penning responses to them. I promised them their journals would be interactive, and I meant it. As the school year moves forward and I am doing more assessments, I will probably spend a minimum of an hour a night grading them. Likely, I'll spend more time than that.

There is still more. While we have a certain amount of days on the calendar set aside for professional development, it doesn't cover all that is required of us. There are all sorts of conferences, meetings, and classes to be had. Since I am on a probationary certificate, on top of everything else, I have to spend every Monday night, after teaching a full day, at the certification center in training. Every Wednesday night I have to go to a graduate education class (I took three of them over the summer). There are also some Saturdays I will have to give up to training. Some of the costs of training sessions we can get our schools to cover. Some, we have to cough it up ourselves. Our math specialist spent $700-$800 going to a special training update last month.

When am I supposed to plan? Oh, yeah. I have a 45 minute a day planning period. Only, this planning period is also used for parent conferences and the seemingly endless meetings with the principal and other teachers. So I will be doing this at home a lot, too.

What about summer? In my district, we start school mid-August and end it the last week of May. Teachers report to duty early August. So there are really only June and July. But then you have summer school. Sure, we get paid extra if we teach summer school. But sometimes it's not as much of a choice as we'd like. It's all about testing, remember? And summer school is for kids who did not pass the standardized test, or for English Language Learners. And my students will all fall into at least the latter category.

Every single teacher I know purchases classroom materials with his or her personal funds, un-reiumbursed. This is a fact of teachers' lives. In some states, teachers receive an automatic tax credit based on this fact. That credit has been taken away recently where I live. I still buy things, though.

So that is the financial life of a teacher, and now I am bound for bed.

Please note that I am requesting anonymity from any commenters. Any reference to my district or my name will be deleted. Thank you for understanding.

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