Surprises for New Teachers
Kelly, a young teacher whom I have trained, emailed me recently and said, “You’re never going to believe this, Mrs. E. Our whole district has switched to a new reading program that is 100% online. And guess what? We are a full week into the school year and not one computer in the whole school is working.”
I believed it. Why? Because in some form or another while teaching I’ve lived it over and over again.
Another young teacher said recently, “I’m supposed to be ready for students the minute they walk into my classroom, but I spend half an hour before school standing hall duty! How can I be preparing for teaching while I’m in the hall watching for fights that might break out?”
Another teacher was spending too much of her first year salary at Kinkos running off papers for her students because she spent all of her planning time fulfilling her assigned duties or waiting at the end of a long line at the copy machine.
Teacher Duties 101
Do you know what would be an excellent college course for future teachers? Duties 101. I’d love to have the opportunity to teach that class. Here is the truth taken from someone who has taught preschool through high school seniors.
Though it may seem like overkill to write elaborate three page, creative lesson plans while you are in college, you might as well enjoy the process. Because once you are really teaching in your own classroom, you will never again have time for three page lesson plans. Why? Because you will be “on duty.” I’m not talking patriotic duty here. No bands will play. No flags will furl. We are talking low-down-and-dirty teacher duties that they never describe to you in college. The variety is endless.
- In elementary school there is the adventurous playground duty. I once had a hairpiece knocked clear off my head standing playground duty! It was my own fault. I walked too close to the tether ball game. Amazingly we had NO playground equipment in the first school where I taught. Something about liability. Hundreds of kids would pour out onto the black top for recess with nothing to do but play our one tether ball game and chase each other. What was our job? To keep them from chasing each other, of course. “No running on the black top!” was our constant mantra. Our tether ball game became as vicious and competitive as ice hockey, just ask my chignon (hair piece) that flew 20 yards. I’m lucky it was only my fake hair. Just a few inches more and I would have had to say good-bye to some of my IQ points.
- What’s worse? Indoor recess. Sounds tame but don’t let it fool you. Ask any experienced teacher. You’ll know who they are because they are wearing hearing aids and they sport a nervous twitch.
- Then there is the ever-to-be-avoided cafeteria duty. In elementary school this involves using your fingers to open 213 cardboard milk cartons and poking a pointed straw through 303 drink containers in an hour. Correct dress code for cafeteria duty? Hand-me-down duds that ketchup and food fight stains won’t bother, skid proof shoes that keep you from falling on your tush while sliding on spills, and ear plugs to protect your hearing from the animated lunch room ‘conversations’. Your only protection will be the whistle around your neck. We give teachers whistles when they really need fire hoses. It builds their resourcefulness.
- Bus duty is another thriller. In my first life as an elementary teacher I thought this was the bottom of the barrel. I was wrong (more on that later). Elementary bus duty involved hundreds of kids swinging book bags larger than their bodies, darting this way and that between cars and buses as they scream comments to their friends. Our local voters turned down 4 school tax levies in a row. I feel so sorry for the kindergarten teachers who give up not only their lunch time but their before and after school planning time to carry umbrellas as they herd scores of five-year-olds through the rain to their cars four times each day.
- Teenagers take duties to a whole new depth. There is restroom duty. I fondly call this one ‘smoker’s duty.’ What happens? A previously healthy teacher stands in a restroom full of adolescent hormones breathing more smoke than someone at a happy hour held in a tobacco barn. Smoke flows from over and under every stall door. Each and every time you approach a smoker they question your right to accuse them of anything. Their attorney dad is already on their cell phone before they exit the stall.
- Once I was assigned morning hall duty in a high school. On this sacred duty a teacher spends every minute of their class preparation time, not preparing. I stood at an unlocked door asking students to show me their ID badges. One hundred percent of the time they told me their ID badges were in their lockers. At that time I was to direct them to the cafeteria door where there were other teachers stationed “on duty’ to supervise them. One hundred percent of the time they claimed they were on their way to the cafeteria. But my assignment issued from school administrators as a hall duty monitor is to NOT allow them in that doorway. During those before school hours teens called me everything but a teacher. By the time school would begin for the day I had the self-esteem of a roach. I wonder why that door couldn’t have been locked?
- Bottom of the barrel? I swear I’ve done the research and this one is it. High school parking lot duty! Picture this. During the last class of the day you have a six-foot-four 300 pound varsity football player mad at you because he doesn’t like the midterm grade he earned in your class. Five minutes later the bell rings and you have to run outside in the sleet to stand in the center of the main driveway though which all students exit. The same dude drives his two thousand-pound car right up to you. He honks his horn for you to move. You jump a foot high but stand your ground. You are, after all, ‘on duty’. You tell him lamely that you are not permitted to allow any students’ cars to leave until the buses pull out. He revs his motor and inches his automobile right up against your thigh. You can read his lips through his windshield. You know in detail every expletive he is screaming at you, and you’re tying to remember if he wore his weapon-disguising trench coat to school that day. Moments like these make me dream about the days when I taught preschool.
- In preschool the only duties that are distasteful are wiping snot and hearing the proud little voice ring out from the potty area. “Teeeeacher, I pooped. Come and wipe my butt.” The polite ones even say, “please.” High school parking lot duty makes me remember preschool poop-wiping fondly.
I swear I’m not making any of this up. Not… one… word. But in writing it out, I’ve just come to a revelation about why we don’t teach these important details in college. We don’t want to drive great people away from an already challenging profession. We have to keep future teachers in the dark until we reel them in and they fall in love with the profession. And the right ones will.
We have only one defense strategy, but it is powerful. We have to laugh. We somehow have to focus on the difference we can make in students’ lives and just laugh about the rest of the madness. Find a fellow teacher with a positive attitude who is committed to students and laugh together. If we let the insanity of the duties consume us, we will forget the real reasons we were drawn to this meaningful profession. We are in the classroom to change lives. Not one other profession in the world has the day-to-day power we have to improve lives. Laugh at the nonsense and focus all of your efforts on making a positive change in the lives of your students. Take it from a very experienced teacher looking back on a long career. You will be forever grateful that you did.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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