Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Woo Hoo! Spring Break!

March 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

by Renie Stag Smith

Spring Break vacation brings smiles to teachers around the nation.  At this point in the school year, we’re tired.  We’ve been working hard.  We need a break.

Why does it sound like I’m defending this time off?

Because as an educator, I am tired of the negative, narrow-mindedness many people harbor about my profession.  I constantly hear that we only work from 8:30 to 3:30 each day, that we have three months off in the summer, that we receive tenure three years into our contracts and can’t be fired after that.

I am weary of reading that we are the largest drain on states’ budgets, that our student loads need to be larger for maximum efficiency of district finances, and that we are grossly overpaid for the job we do.

I am tired of listening to news reports that we are the reason our students are performing so poorly when compared to other countries, that when our students advance to college they are ill equipped and unprepared to handle the rigors of college classrooms, and we are not educated enough ourselves to educate others.

And I am more than weary of hearing the worn-out, weak adage, “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.”

Let me address the first issue – the time a teacher works.  While our classes may only meet from 8:30 – 3:30, most of us get to school much earlier to tutor students who are having difficulties, prepare our classrooms for the coming day, do duty assignments, attend meetings, etc.  When that first bell rings, we are on our feet for the rest of the day, usually on extremely thin, carpet-covered concrete.

By the time retirement arrives, most of us have back problems because of this.  We cannot leave our students for any reason because if something happens, we are legally liable.   Bathroom breaks?  Only between classes and only if we manage to get away from students who have questions from the last class before we have questions from the next class. By the time we retire, most of us have bladder problems.

Lunch?  While the law says we must have thirty minutes of uninterrupted, non-duty lunch, we usually give make-up tests, tutor students, and have meetings during what is truly just a twenty-minute wolfing of some unhealthy snack to tide us over until dinner.

By the time we retire, most of us have digestive problems and weight issues.  After our last class of the day, our afternoons are consumed with grading and meetings.  We may leave school around 4:30 or so, but our nights are spent grading, doing lesson plans, making parent calls, composing letters of recommendation to colleges and scholarships, attending extracurricular activities, writing reports…  Nearly every weekend, one day of my free time is devoted to grading and doing lesson plans for the coming week. I average grading 2,000 essays of 3- or more- pages per year, and that does not count the daily work graded and recorded.   By the time we retire, most of us have high blood pressure issues and eyesight problems.

Many of us take part-time employment either after school or during the summer to afford to teach school.  If we are not working during the seven-week (not three months!) summer break, most of us are taking advanced college classes, going to seminars and workshops, or working on lesson plans to improve our teaching.

Many states have done away with teacher tenure.  I have no more job security than a first-year teacher, although I’ve been in the classroom for over twenty-five years.  Many states with teachers’ unions are finding it difficult to recruit new teachers and their political clout has been lessened severely.

The second point, that we are a drain on states’ and districts’ finances, goads me!  More money is spent in most states on the incarceration of criminals than on education, as though it were more important to help individuals after they’ve committed a crime than before.  More higher-end salaries are in the positions of administrators rather than teachers.

In my school district, as is common across the US, in order to make a less-than-meager income in education, a person must move into administration.  I enjoy the classroom – it is where I excel.  Why should I leave the place where I am best to be mediocre in a position I wouldn’t enjoy in order to make more money?  Which position is more important to the education of students?

I have a Master’s degree and have been in my profession for over twenty-five years, and yet I make less per year than a beginning masseuse or a ten-year short-order cook.  I like to think that I massage students’ brains and feed them as well, but neither of those occupations takes an advanced degree, as my chosen career path does.

Friends of mine who have their Master’s degrees and the same amount of time in their respective careers as I are making triple or quadruple the salary that I make.  While I get the satisfaction of changing a child’s life and they won’t, this does little to assuage my fears when it comes to how I’ll survive when I retire.  Or even how I’ll pay my gas bill when fuel prices fluctuate according to changing world politics.

I have not had even a cost-of-living increase in three years’ time, although my health insurance has increased rapidly, and next year, because of fiscal tightening by the state, I am expecting a reduction in my pay.  That’s even if I have a job teaching at all!  Many cities across the nation are giving pink slips to all teachers in their districts as states are tightening their budgets.  Who does make money in education?

Textbook companies.  Testing companies.  The new English textbooks my district purchased last year cost $152 each!  With the new rules of mandatory testing at different grade levels and the cost of each individual test running anywhere from $40 – $120 per test, it is easy to see that the business sector of education is profiting nicely.

As for the third issue – and I may be fired for even addressing this, look at what happened recently to a Philadelphia English teacher who blogged that her students were lazy (albeit her writings were profanity-laced) — many parents have become excuse generators for their children.  I recently had a parent call me up three days after a major essay was due. She wanted to let me know that her son had stayed up most of the night of our conversation working on his composition, but unfortunately, their printer quit working at the exact moment he tried to print his paper.  When I asked why he hadn’t done the assignment when it was due, she paused for just a fraction of a minute and then said, “Well, I was by his side last night and I know he did the assignment.  Can’t you just give him the grade even if you didn’t get his paper, since I know he did the work?”  Really???  So I did; I gave him the grade that he deserved for not turning the assignment in on time and in concrete form, although I’m sure it’s not the grade she expected when she called.  I’m afraid that administration will not back me up on my grading decision if and when she brings it to their attention; parents seem to dictate what their children get in grades anymore.

I had another parent who asked me during a conference about her son being consistently late to my first class, “Ms. Smith, what can you do to get my son to class on time?”  I was flabbergasted!  I did spit out, “I’m not his parent; I won’t wake him up in the morning and drive him to class.”  She allowed as how she couldn’t do that either, so he would continue to be late to school.  These are the types of parents who don’t want their children to be stigmatized by being held back a grade level when they aren’t proficient at basic skills, but demand that they be “socially promoted.”

When I get them as seniors, these students can’t read or write anywhere near grade level, and when I refuse to pass them based on their lack of skills, I am pressured from administration to do so for the sake of reaching AYP (Average Yearly Progress).  If you haven’t heard of AYP, you haven’t kept abreast of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is causing more students to be left behind than ever before and causing more highly-qualified teachers to escape the educational field than ever before.  We are forced to teach to standardized tests (made by the testing companies who charge exorbitant rates for them) so that we can prove that we are educating our students.

I no longer feel that I am teaching my students to think, to discuss, to write intelligently, but teaching them how to attack standardized tests and how to color in bubbles on Scantrons accurately. It’s no wonder that most of America think that the teachers are not capable of doing their jobs.

It’s soon to be Spring Break.  Teachers need it.  And if you can’t tell from my above rant, I need it!

–Renie – The foundation for Critical Thinking,9171,777058,00.html – about the Teachers’ Bill of Rights – The American Federation of Teachers


6 Responses to “Woo Hoo! Spring Break!”
  1. Tanya says:

    Have a great holiday!!!!! You well deserve it!!!!! I also agree with you wholeheartedly but then I was a teacher too. I know your pain. 🙂

  2. Lane says:

    Wow, Renie. I don’t even know what to say. Well, I do know what to say but there’s not enough space in this comment box. I will say this, though, thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to teach. Teaching is considered a profession, but I’m sure it feels more like charity work. Just know that for all of the grief that comes with teaching, you are a bright, hopeful example in literally hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Cheers to you all!

  3. Kristin says:

    Your third point brings up an interesting thought. I haven’t been out of high school that long and as a teacher now I am astonished at the difference in the kids. I, nor my peers, would have ever done half the things the students get away with today. I think that the parents have a lot to do with it, but I never considered the NCLB Act playing that role. Thanks for making me think. Enjoy your Spring Break!

  4. TC says:

    I am a teacher too and I agree! Enjoy your Spring Break!

  5. Jen says:

    Education, like all developmental processes, begins, flurishes, and is sustained in the home. Parents are the responsible parties, with children holding developmentally appropriate proportional accountiblity; teachers are the ones who expose children to the world of knowledge, not drag them kicking and screaming through it so they can pass standarized testing. And teachers, more than the children, deserve Spring Break!

  6. Franchesca says:

    I totally agree with everything you said! Teachers deserve more credit than can be possibly given. My mother is a teacher and I feel like she is never off of the job! Even when we go out of town to shop she swings by a teachers store! A teachers job is never done and they get paid pennies for it! Also no one ever realizes the impact teachers have and the lives they change! So Thank You Mrs. Smith for being a teacher even though it isn’t all it is cracked up to be. You can truly say you have touched many lives, I know you touched mine. I hope you had an amazing and well deserved Spring Break!

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