Today is the first day in a long time that I haven't had camp or class to go to. A totally free day with no obligations. I had a conversation with a friend, who works an office job. When I told him I had nothing to do today, he said, "Must be nice... I wish I had your job!"
"Oh really?" I replied. "You know, it's not so easy being a teacher. I do a hell of a lot of work."
"Like what?" he challenged. Surely he did not know the Pandora's Box he had opened with that seemingly innocent question. Wow. Where to begin? The rest of the conversation went something like this...
"On a regular work day, I get to school at 7:30 AM and don't leave until 5 PM (even though we're only required to stay until 3:30). On special nights, like Back to School Night, Parent Teacher Conferences, or Open House, I stay at work until 8 PM. On those days, I don't eat a single meal at home. Three Saturdays during the school year, I drive back to work for our Family Unity Mass. Because I'm expected to keep up with education credits, I've been taking grad school classes during the school year for the past two years, which means I'm in school for a three-hour lecture one or two nights a week after a full day of teaching. On the nights that I am home, I'm doing grades or planning lessons or making something for my classroom. In the summer, I work summer camp to make extra money (because Lord knows I don't make enough) and I cram in as many grad school classes as I possibly can, so that I won't have to take as many during the school year. Two weeks before school starts, I go back to my classroom to start setting up for the new school year. I don't get paid overtime.
"Now, that might not seem like a lot of work to you. But consider this: I don't sit at my desk all day. In fact, I couldn't sit at my desk even if I wanted to, because it's usually piled high with papers and books and projects and notes that need my attention. I spend my day teaching an average of 20 six- and seven-year-old children who, combined, have more energy than my morning mug of coffee provides me. Speaking of which, teachers don't have 'coffee breaks,' or even 'bathroom breaks.' I use the restroom when and if I have a break... after I make my copies, call some parents, meet with the teacher I'm mentoring, or whatever other errands I need to run.
"And before you tell me that teaching six-year-olds sounds like fun, let me assure you that I have seen and heard things that you would never see or hear in an office building. Things that my college professors never taught me. Being a teacher doesn't mean my job is limited to teaching. I'm a mediator, a cheerleader, a nurse, a secretary, a banker, a story-teller, a singer, an actress, a psychologist, a mind-reader, a janitor, an exterminator, a chef, a comedian, a librarian, an artist, an author, an editor, a lawyer, a mother, a hair-dresser, a catechist, a trip-planner, a magician, a puppeteer, a scientist, a judge... the list goes on. And if you think I'm exaggerating about these extra duties, I could tell you stories about the bodily functions I've had to deal with in my room... vomit, blood, snot, tears, spit, pee, poop... all cleaned up without so much as flinching (or puking myself), and while keeping a classroom full of children engaged in another activity.
"It's my job to take non-readers and turn them into readers... and hopefully, into book-lovers. To take children who can only write their names and transform them into authors. To get them to understand how to tell time, count money, read a graph, add two-digit numbers, estimate, and skip count. To teach them how to get along, respect others, treat people fairly, walk away from fights, believe in themselves. I'm personally responsible for the educational development of all twenty children. Just me. So it stands to reason that I feel personally responsible for the students that I cannot reach.
"I've done the math. I know what I make compared to those in other professions. If you took the going rate for baby-sitters and multiplied it by 20 children, 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, it'd be more money than I'd make in five years.
"I LOVE my job. I can't imagine being anywhere else, doing anything else. I just wish people would stop making assumptions about our profession.
"So... do you still want my job?"