Thursday, September 27, 2018

Teaching is More Exhausting Than You Think!

I’m often asked why teaching is so exhausting. Since I’ve left the classroom, I often tell people how much less tired I am than when I was teaching. With private tutoring I have one, maybe two, kids at at time. There are weeks that I work all 7 days, with 5 of the days being 9-11 hours days. I have many fewer days/weeks off than I did when I was in the classroom. On paper, I work many more hours. And it is SO MUCH less tiring. 

So, why is teaching so tiring? This list will not at all be exhaustive and I’d love to hear from other teachers because I’m sure I have forgotten some important reasons.

First of all, we’re always “on.” Teaching in front of a classroom is a performance. I don’t mean it’s insincere, but you are definitely performing. Keeping the attention of 20-36 students is no joke! I knew a first grade teacher who, when he sensed that he was losing the attention of his students, would walk into walls, in his own slapstick routine. No kid fails to find that funny, and he would get their attention. Most of us don’t do that, but we do funny voices, little dances, jokes, and more. I know that I always froze up when I realized that adults were in the room because I felt so self-conscious about all the silly things I was doing, that totally worked for the kids. I very rarely feel self-conscious in front of children, but throw a peer in the room and it’s tough.

Besides the performance aspect, we also have to be “on” in that we have to be aware of everything in the classroom, all the time. While we’re teaching a math lesson, we have to be aware of the kid trying to touch another kid (and plenty of desks are double desks so they can’t get away easily). We have to watch the child who can’t be trusted with scissors. Depending on the age we work with, we have to make sure all the phones are put away, no one is snapping bra straps, kids aren’t cheating, no one is eating crayons, kids aren’t squirming in their seat as a precursor to having a bathroom accident, they understand the lesson, their earbuds aren’t in, they’re not drawing on the desk, and much, much more. The hyper vigilance required is astounding.

During “breaks” — recess and lunch — teachers rarely get a break. Recess is usually 10-15 minutes and, depending on where your classroom is, it can take that long or longer to walk to the bathroom, wait for other teachers using it, and walk back. I STILL, 10 years later, have dreams about not having remembered to make copies in time and rushing to do it during recess, along with every other teacher who forgot or had to adjust lesson plans. If you need to call parents, plan field trips, or just plain call your doctor, this is when you have to squeeze it in.

Lunch is, in most districts, “protected” time for teachers. Most contracts allow for a “duty-free” lunch period of 30 minutes. We all know that this is a joke.  First of all, you have to walk the kids to the lunchroom and make sure they all get their lunches and sit down and begin eating. Most of us try to leave the classroom a little early to get this done, but sometimes are reprimanded for that by administrators who have somehow forgotten how long it takes to get children through the lunch line. We then try to scarf down our lunches (and if we forgot lunch, we usually just power through without eating because there’s not time to get anything) and do all the things mentioned in the recess time. It’s no wonder that teachers have such a high rate of bladder infections — we don’t have time to go to the bathroom frequently enough!

But at least we only work 6 hours a day! Right? You can deal with an exhausting job if you only work 6 hours a day! 

WRONG.

I know teachers who get up at 5 am to prep for the day. I can’t do that - I’m far from being a morning person. I prepped late into the night instead. I would go to social events with stacks of grading or lesson plans to work on because I needed time with my friends and I still had so much work. I usually left the school as soon as I could because I was so exhausted that I needed a nap. I’d make the copies I needed at school (or often at a copy shop, paying out of my own pocket, when they put copy limits on us without providing us with enough materials), go home and take a nap, then start hours of lesson planning, cutting things out, laminating (I bought a laminator!), gluing, organizing, grading, writing in journals, etc. 

I could go on and on and on. The social interactions; switching between talking to colleagues, parents, students, and administrators;and more. 
I remember in my second year of teaching, a friend came to teach the kids a few martial arts moves during PE. He was "in charge" of the kids for about 45 minutes, and that's in quotes because I did all the crowd control and took care of their behavior. At the end of it, he sat down, exhausted, and said, "Wow! So that's what a day in your life feels like!" I said, "No, that's what about 1/10th of a day in my life, with all the hard part done for you, feels like.

He didn't respond.

For you, what is the most exhausting thing about teaching?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Family Giving Tree!


I had such a great time speaking to the Drive Leaders for Family Giving Tree last week. This organization provides back-to-school backpacks and holiday gifts for under-resourced children in the Bay Area. Rather than re-explaining everything I like about them, I'm just going to quote from my own speech! Please check them out at their website or on Facebook!

Think of yourself as a student, or a parent of a student, at this school. Think about all the things I’ve just mentioned, and the financial stress that comes with trying to keep your family housed, safe, clothed, and fed. Now imagine that you’re getting ready to send your child to school with the feeling of shame that comes from not being properly prepared – not because you don’t want to do the best for your child, but because you literally can’t afford to.

In many more affluent schools, parents and PTAs join with teachers in providing books and supplies. Our school didn’t have a PTA and most of our parents couldn’t help out much, although they did when they could. And supplies and books were more important for kids who didn’t have them at home, so teachers used their meager paychecks to buy these for their students.

Now that I’ve given you the context, I think you’ll understand why we as teachers are so grateful for Family Giving Tree and for all of you and your work with getting these donations into the hands of students who need them.

Many of my students came to school with their belongings in plastic grocery bags because they didn’t have anything else to carry them in. I started asking my friends in tech who went to trade shows and got laptop bags to donate them to me. Pretty soon my class was the only one with 20 kids proudly sporting laptop bags, but they were not really the right size or shape for third-graders. They did, however, help the kids with their dignity, as they had something that didn’t look like a trash bag to bring to school.

Even when the kids got a backpack substitute, they usually didn’t have school supplies. Their parents wanted to help but they just didn’t have the money. I spent thousands of dollars of my own money each year. That’s right, thousands. On a beginning teachers’ salary! But what the school gave us was in no way enough and I needed to help these kids learn.

In addition to what I spent myself, I started asking people for supplies. I posted on Craigslist and got supplies from strangers. I begged friends for supplies. I asked my family to give me money for my classroom instead of Christmas and birthday presents. I was shameless – because it was for the kids. In fact, one of my friends who worked at Pixar Animation studios, recently reminded me that when we met, I asked him to come talk to my students before I even told him what my name was! I had one friend who made holiday gift boxes for all my third graders and the joy on their faces as they unwrapped the boxes – which contained practical school supplies, socks, art supplies and fun toys… well, these kids would be in their 20s now and it still makes me smile. If you want to hear more about how effective donations are, I have some great stories in my book. The truckload full of paper donation – and I mean full – is my favorite, but is a little too long to tell here.

People stepped up as I asked for help, and I had another surprise. I thought that my students would feel embarrassed about these donations. I thought they’d feel like they were accepting charity and have some shame about it. I was totally wrong. The kids were not only grateful, they saw these donations as proof that people cared, and that they were special. One third-grader said it, straight up: “People keep helping us because they know we’re special and they know we need an education.”

Now, a lot of people and groups try to help, and not all of them do it well. Every single teacher has a story of people who come in and donate… junk. I’ve gotten donations of stained clothing, used wrapping paper, and random tea bags. Family Giving tree is one of the good groups. Before I agreed to do this talk, I asked specifically how they communicate with the schools about the needs of the kids, and they gave me the answer I was hoping for.

Family Giving Tree talks to teachers and administrators at the schools to find out what is actually needed in the backpacks. They don’t assume, they actually talk to the people in the know, which is something I wish everyone did! There’s also a grade differentiation of the backpacks to make sure they have what is needed and appropriate. They also make sure that the contents of the backpacks are consistent, so there is no envy between kids.

This model is one of generosity, not of pity. It is not looking down on people and helping them because we feel sorry for them. It’s respectful and thoughtful, and actually helpful in a way that maintains the dignity of the recipients. This is essential I’m so grateful for all of you. I hope you will keep doing the drive every year and keep increasing the number of backpacks you collect, because there is so much need out there!


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