I’ve always wondered how much I work a week as a teacher. Last week, I sat down with six other teachers (at different schools, different grade levels, etc.) and asked them to track their hours worked.
Two things shocked me.
First, out of the seven teachers surveyed, we spend only 42% of our time actually delivering content to students. That other 58% of the time is devoted to conferences, miscellaneous tasks, lesson planning, meetings, PD, and tracking (in that order).
“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”
During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.
But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:
Two years ago, when I was starting Institute as a brand-new corps member, I had many questions and loose assumptions about what the experience would be like. I was curious about housing, my students, the training, and just how exactly I would master the art of lesson planning and behavior management in a few short weeks.
Most of all, though, I had questions and assumptions about who worked at Institute. In a nutshell, I assumed that everyone on staff—from the School Director to the School Operations Manger to my Corps Member Advisor—was a Magical Robot of Awesome.
So often, my students view poetry as something removed from their lives. It’s for old people in dusty books. As one of my students put it, “Mr. Mishleau, I’m not a poetry kind of guy.”
What they (and I) didn’t realize, was that some of the best poetry is in them, waiting to come out. Perhaps not in the traditional prose of the old, dead white people Language Arts curriculum tends to emphasize, but in a relevant, modern and uniquely sophisticated style all their own.
Earlier this year, I took a group of five kiddos from my middle school in Minneapolis to Chicago for three full days of writing and educational workshops, regional and national performances and opportunities to network and collaborate with students from across the nation.
You’d likely never know. I live in a hip neighborhood. I wear (often thrifted) suit coats. But I have something to tell you: I’m one of the many, many teachers who are underpaid. In terms of hours worked vs. pay, my actual hourly wage is pretty abysmal.
Most conversations I have with strangers or family members eventually come around to this little elephant in the room. The inevitable point it seems they must make is “teachers don’t get paid enough.” It’s as if, if they didn’t say that, I had assumed that they were among the type who’d like to see me living out a daily struggle to survive.
These comments come from all over the landscape of our country: from my uber-liberal friends to my Scott Walker-loving Grandpa. There’s also always a clear or subtle undertone of “hardworking teachers like you should get paid more, but those other, lazy teachers shouldn’t.” Whichever “lazy” teacher they may be thinking of, I haven’t met many. In fact, a growing number of us areworking second jobs to make ends meet.
When I started my first teaching role, I was ecstatic to know that two of my classes would be “technology” courses. This excitement became frustration as my students and I struggled to have access to a quarter of what I freely enjoyed in high school. I had no curriculum, and the “technology” was Windows XP on some virus-ladden, ominously humming machines. These students were cheated out of experiences I (and many) expect from a K-12 education.
Technology fluency is an assumed trait most colleges have for their incoming students. That, of course, includes basic keyboarding and Internet skills, but there are also many assumptions about understanding more complex Internet database searches, MLA formatting and ability to navigate a variety of other systems of varying complexities.
As a teacher, and as a gay man, I oftentimes feel a need to “choose” a camp that I’m more “devoted” to. Do I care more about my kids or the state of my community? It’s typically a choice that I have to actively make.
While I did feel a bit of guilt for leaving my kids, last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. I was impressed by how well the conference integrated my identities as both a gay dude and a teacher.
For the uninitiated, Creating Change is a conference where 4,000+ queer folks from across all lines in one hotel for a four days exploring identity, evaluating our progress, pushing forward and having crazy fun.
It’s no secret that bullying (be it at school, on the playground, or online) is a huge barrier to kids’ wellness and achievement. The data is grim, particularly for LGBT students of color or from low-income backgrounds.
The problem is clear, but the solution is murky. One big step in the right direction, however, is talking about it—more than once, and in a way that’s accessible and engaging to students. I know, I know, small task, right?
As a teacher, I’ve observed too many examples of bullying without having the tools needed to discuss and unpack this behavior with students. As my kiddos’ teacher, nothing hurts more than to be at a loss when one student causes hurt to another.
For the start of Year Two, I found out I’d be co-teaching. After preening for a few minutes at my good fortune, I thought of all the time I’d be saving by having another person to shoulder the work. After all, I thought, having a second person by me every moment of teaching would cut my work in half.
If anything, having a co-teacher has made me work much harder than I did most days during Year One, and definitely not because my co-teacher is lazy. If anything, it’s because she is so much the opposite of that.
Pro/con analyses have gotten me through some tricky situations. They’ve helped me move forward with things that scared me—joining TFA, applying to the Peace Corps, being in a long-distance relationship, etc.—and have pushed me to be brave.
The process gets much more complicated, though, when children are involved. As I near the end of my two-year commitment (side note: when did having 25% of a commitment left mean that I was near the end?), I am filled with too many thoughts, in and out of my own head, to make sense of it all.