Monday, January 12, 2009

The State of Education

I'm spending the next five weeks (one down, five to go) subbing for the local 4th grade teacher who is on maternity leave. As a certified high school teacher in English, Journalism and Speech, I've discovered that teaching elementary school isn't as easy as most high school teachers are led to believe. Guess I'm lucky that I've subbed in elementary classrooms before. :)

Maybe it's the school district, maybe it's the class size, but there aren't many breaks in her schedule. I've seen elementary teachers who can't wait to send the students to PE, music, band, library, guidance, computers, art...the list continues. Because of the extra classes, some elementary teachers have large blocks of time on multiple days to grade papers or work on whatever it is they work on.

As a high school teacher, I had one 50-minute block of planning every day, but rarely did I get to spend it planning. Usually, a student who needed help was in my room, or during speech season, kids would come in and practice, or meetings were scheduled during this so-called break. Grading papers and planning were pushed to MY time, which meant after the 8th period bell rang at 3:15.

So I'm wondering if this classroom is 'reality'? Do most elementary teachers not have much time? In the morning, there are ten minutes while kids do "administrative" chores, like sharpen pencils, take lunch count, and say the pledge of allegiance. During this time, I'm entering attendance on the computer system. Then it's full steam ahead until the lunch break, which is three and one-half hours later. OK, sure, there's an hour break at noon, but if you eat lunch (20-25 minutes), have recess duty (which I did last week), or have kids waiting in your room to finish assignments, you're really not on a "break," are you?

The afternoon gets a little better. There is a whole 30-minute block immediately after lunch when the kids go to social studies. Then there's another half hour of reading class, followed by 30 minutes of study time or AR. Trust me, the kids need the time to get homework done, but it's not a break for the teacher, because the hands are high in the air and I move from one desk to another. So, at the end of the day, there's about a 40-minute period -some days - where I have time to check papers. That is, I can check them when I'm not planning or dealing with student problems or entering grades into the computer gradebook or..... you continue the list.

Teaching can be a difficult job, especially when it's done the right way. I think about the teachers who made an impact on my life. They were dedicated to their career; teaching was more than a paycheck. They possessed a passion for learning and it spilled over to the students. They put in extra hours grading assignments and furthering their own educations because they enjoyed learning. It showed in their classrooms, their assignments, and the respect they earned.

I know that when I first started teaching, I had that passion. It's possible that I let it slip away after my husband passed away, primarily because I felt so tied down by the responsibilities I was given at school. And I know that when I left a full-time teaching position to concentrate on a freelance writing career, I didn't have any second guesses about it. I was burned out because of all the other 'stuff' that teachers are expected to deal with that does not have anything to do with teaching the subject matter. I enjoy substituting, but I sure don't miss being in the classroom on a full-time basis.

I am, however, enjoying teaching 4th grade. It's been a whole new experience teaching English at this level - how simplified I have to make it - and teaching math has been a good exercise for my brain. Obviously math was not a strong subject for me. Yeah, come on, I'm an English teacher! :)

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