Part of teaching is accepting the extra work, accepting that there is work to do outside the contract time. There’s volunteering as a chaperone for various student activities or reading novels, short stories, and news articles with an eye to teaching them. There’s the constant retooling of units and lessons and how to teach information, what skills to focus on, what gaps in knowledge will need to be back-filled. There’s the grading.
I love the planning. I love the teaching. I love class discussions and helping students dig into topics and pieces of literature. I love helping student become better thinkers. I love helping students become better communicators.
I hate grading. I don’t actually know any teachers who enjoy grading. It’s the series of moments where we have to check that students are paying attention, are assimilating information, are evaluating information for value and usefulness, are applying information—some students take pride in their work and even if they have mechanical flaws, their content rocks; other students roll their eyes, punch the time clock, do the bare minimum, and turn in work that is clearly five-minutes or less.
As an English teacher, I have more to grade. If students are going to become better writers, then they have to write which means I have to read through it and comment on it and return it in a somewhat reasonable time frame (that last one is the challenge). I understood that part of my unwritten job description included the 15-20 hours a week I put during the summer, included the extra 10-15 hours a week during the school year that I put in to grading and planning and keeping up on pop culture and the news, so I can keep things relevant to the world my students live in. I understood that part of this unwritten contract would involve me donating a great deal of time in the pursuit of improving my students.
I’m not one of those “If I just have a positive impact on one student, I am fulfilled” kind of teachers. No one I’m tight with is like that. We want to make a positive impact on most of our students every year. We want our students to be better at thinking, writing, consuming information, and producing work they are proud of. We are lifers (or at least dedicated to 30 full years or more).
With all that said and true, I discovered early that I needed to jealously guard time for myself. I need time to read, to write, to sleep or exercise, to hang out with my friends—teachers need time to renew themselves too. We don’t have a job we can leave when we aren’t on site. We don’t have a job we can ignore when it suits us. I have former and current students who work all over my community, who I run into while I’m shopping or having drinks with friends. I love it. I also love my down time. Weekends are rarely duty-free. There’s always stuff to grade, there’re always lessons to refine, there are usually books to re-read. At least one day on the weekend, I don’t work. I won’t work. Whatever hasn’t gotten done by that point won’t get done during that 24-hours.
I sometimes worry that new teachers don’t understand the social contract. They go straight from school to protecting their time. They miss the few years where the rest of us learned how to create a balance between being a good teacher and staying sane. They miss the fact that the balance is in a constant state of renegotiation. They don’t want to understand how much we have to put into our jobs, because they don’t want the depression or anxiety or general “ohmygodI’mkillingmyself” of it all. To be fair, some new teachers err on the side of total insanity and abandon relationships or children for getting everything graded and commented on the next day. Unfortunately, the second kind of teacher burns out faster and doesn’t always last the full thirty (hell, past the first three).
I don’t know if there’s one answer for everyone. Maybe take into account that everyone has difficulties in their job. Everyone has to deal with hoops they don’t always feel like jumping through. We need to be more compassionate with ourselves, our colleagues, our students, parents of our students, and those who choose other paths. All we ask is a little understanding and respect in turn.