Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Being a Teacher in ON

I'm a teacher.  I don't talk about it much here because really, this blog is about faith, family and a bit of everything else.  There are lots of wonderful teacher blogs and I don't aspire to that.  This is for me to live the life that means the most to me.  Don't get me wrong but I learned early on in my career that while it was important to me to strive to make a difference in the lives of my students, if I didn't cultivate what meant most to me personally, I wouldn't have much to give.

Today, I'm going to change the pace a bit.  I need a vent and it's not one I can do publicly.  "Teacher me" needs to rant a bit.  After hearing some real horror stories of the way that some teachers at my school were treated at Meet the Teacher night and then the way that I had a good friend hold me accountable to everything she thinks is wrong with teachers, I NEED to say my piece somewhere.  Here, I don't imagine it will get me in trouble.

1.  The teacher to whom you are speaking is not the teacher who made you feel like you were worthless when you were in school.  This person is no more responsible for that than is any male you meet because a man was horrible to you once.  Don't project your history of bad feeling onto the teachers you deal with now.  We agree, the way things were done 30 years ago didn't work.  That's why we don't work that way now.

2.  Teachers work hard.  We don't think that we work HARDER than anyone else but we do work hard.  We can't slip up at all.  You might make a mistake at work and a file goes missing or a car doesn't get sold or, horribly, a cheque gets lost.  We make a mistake and a child's self esteem is tattered for years, if not a lifetime.  We have to measure every word we say.  That's exhausting.

3.  We don't get free pensions.  I paid $10 000 into my pension plan last year.  I think anyone would consider that a fairly good RRSP contribution.  It's no different than all of those who get contribution matching from their employers.  It's not uncommon for people whose jobs require the amount of university education that teaching does.

4.  Every time we take a stand, we are blamed for putting ourselves over our students.  Let's be clear.  I may decide to withdraw some voluntary services to express my displeasure with the government taking away our charter right to collective bargaining.  I will still plan my programme, teach my class, report to parents, write all kinds of assessment forms, deal with children with a wide range of disabilities and try to teach children about boundaries who see none at home.  I will continue to do my job.  I am not giving up on the kids.

5.  You do not have the right to go in screaming at a teacher because you don't like the level of book they are sending home, you feel that they are not teaching math the way that you think they should or because you feel that they are being unfair imposing a detention on your child for rudeness or disruptiveness or for not living up to his or her responsibilities.  Teachers are no less entitled to respect that any other professionals with whom you deal on a daily basis.  You wouldn't go in yelling at your doctor, your lawyer or your minister.  Don't expect to do it with us.  It's not o.k.

6.  You would not go in a scream at your doctor because you don't like his or her diagnosis.  You recognize that:
a.  He or she has seen this a few times more than you have
b.  He or she has considerable post-secondary education to allow him or her to make an informed decision
c.  It's very hard, as a parent, to be objective.  This teacher is seeing your child in the context of many children the same age.  Most likely, he or she is more right than you are.

7.  A teacher is the person who bears the brunt of an imperfect system.  It is ridiculous to think that 20 (or more!) children who have nothing more in common than being born in the same year will all have the same learning needs.  We are often trying to teach a range of abilities that is greater than 3 years difference.  We will do the best that we can but we can't make a system that is unmanageable work for everyone.

8.  The teacher hates a split grade class as much as you do.  Don't blame us that the school boards are going to do what is financially best.  We did not impose the hard cap of 20 and we would rather your child be in a straight grade, too.

9.  If your child is bored, it is most likely that the child is spoiled.  Gifted children are rarely bored (contrary to what so many parents believe).  Gifted children make the most of all learning opportunities.  They take their learning into new and exciting directions and often have to be reined in, not entertained.  There is an element of learning that requires the learner to want to learn.  While we do everything we can to engage your child, not all children have the motivation to strive for their best, especially if they haven't had much required of them before they come to us.

10.  We deal with the classes we are given.  We teach many children who are neglected, abused, ignored, who are exposed by their parents to many things they shouldn't see, who have no social skills and who have a huge range of emotional, cognitive and physical disabilities.  We are trying to do the best we can with the children walking into the classroom every day.  That's all that we can do.

11.  We have to act as social workers, nutritionists, therapists and parents to children with great needs.  We do that every day and in a group of 20 in a short time span.  We are doing our best, I promise.

12.  If we had done six years of university and gone into the private sector in many careers, while we may not have the pension we have, we would make a lot more money and have more control over our hours, our working conditions and have the possibility of bonuses.  That doesn't happen for us.

13.  Many of those who criticize us the most are people in business.  Just for the record, while we get an (unpaid) summer off and a good pension, we don't get to write off our gas, our meals out, our hotel rooms, our parties that we host or any of a number of other perks that business owners do.  We don't get a company car, either.

14.  If we have it so good, you get yourself into teacher's college, pay what you have to pay in tuition and spend the years that many spend trying to get one of the very few jobs available.  We work hard to get our qualifications and work even harder to get jobs.

15.  We have to balance the needs of all of the children in our classrooms and we are responsible to teach all the kids in our classes.  We can't pick and choose who gets taught and who doesn't.  You may believe that your child is the most important in the classroom and we understand that but we can't take that same perspective.  Any parent of more than one child understands that, sometimes, what's right for one child isn't right for another and it feels awful having to put the needs of one over another.  We do that with 20 important little beings every day.

16.  If you are my friend, I don't expect you to agree with me but I don't deserve to be attacked for wanting to enjoy my constitutional right.  I don't ask politicians to take away all of your business tax breaks or call you lazy or spoiled for trying to exercise your rights.

17.  Teachers are not the enemy.  Go volunteer in a school for a month, attend every meeting, write a full set of report cards and conduct the parent interviews and then come back to talk with me about what teachers should get.  Just because you were a child once doesn't mean that you understand the ins and outs of education.

18.  Or, as my husband often suggests, host a birthday party for your child's entire class but instead of doing it for a couple of hours, try an entire day.  Then, you might actually have some right to offer your opinion.

For the record, I do want to say that 99.9% of the people I deal with, particularly at my school, are wonderful, helpful, supportive and encouraging.  They understand that I want the best for their children and they see me as  part of a team and we work together.  That's how it should be.  I think that's why, when I either hear stories about nastiness (like the two stories I heard about parents who went in yelling and screaming at their children's teachers at Meet the Teacher night last week and created a big scene in front of all the other families) or when I am subjected to an aggressive attack by someone who is supposed to be a friend, it hurts... it's such a shock to the system and so uncalled for.

The child part of teaching is the most wonderful thing in the world.  Sadly, the adult part has times that is nowhere near as much fun.

Rant finished.


  1. oh, sweetie. You know I'm going to agree with you because I know that you work hard, I know what work teachers do, and I know what crap public sector workers take both from those they "work for" and particularly over benefits that are not out of line.

    But more importantly - I'm so sorry that you had to take hurtful stuff from someone who should be at the very least respectful in their disagreement, even if they really believe that they cannot be supportive of your frustrations at this year's definitely frustrating turns of events for your profession.

    I am well versed these days in how much it hurts for friends to haul you over the coals, so please take my commiseration here! Also? We need to talk more often. Sounds like we have both needed someone to cry to, and who better?!

    Hugs, and while this was a while back, I know it may still be stewing and hurting, but I hope it's gotten easier.

  2. Kittenpie, how did you know that I needed to hear that today? You are so right, we need to chat more often! You honestly do always make it feel so much better :-)