Monday, October 11, 2010


Stephen King, author of over fifty bestselling books, was once an English teacher. At this time in his life, for the first time, he found writing to be hard. He writes in "On Writing by Stephen King - A Memoir of the Craft" that "The problem was teaching. I liked my coworkers and loved the kids - even the Beavis and Butt-Head types in Living with English could be interesting - but by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I'd spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain." He goes on to describe what might have happened in his life, thirty years later, still teaching, wearing the same shabby tweed coat, a beer gut hanging over his pants, smoking cigarettes, and merely dabbling in writing from time to time. Lucky for him and his readers, he had someone supporting him fully in his dream, his wife Tabitha.

The main thing that struck me about his words was when he said "The problem was teaching." The analogy of spending a week with jumper cables clamped to his brain really hit home for me. I think people often think teachers have a very easy job. We all get to leave at 3:30pm, right? Summers off, Fall break, Christmas break. What are we complaining about?

Most days I am at school by 6:30am. As the morning daycare director of our on-site before/after school daycare, I need to have the cafeteria opened up by 7:00am. That means arriving at school around 6:30am to get my computer turned on, turn down the a/c, check e-mail, prep my classroom, and maybe get in a quick bathroom break before I head down to the cafeteria at 6:55am.

Sometimes there is a student waiting at the door for me, other times they straggle in. But the next hour and a half of my day is spent in daycare, watching the kids, but mostly handling the financial aspect of the daycare. I take tuition, track it, call parents who haven't paid yet, write receipts, and turn it all in to the financial secretary at 8:30am.

From 8:30am-8:55am I try to make it to my classroom without getting caught by someone. There is always a ton of work to get caught up on whether it is grading or making copies or phone calls to parents. I try to sneak in one more bathroom break before the first bell rings because once the students are in the classroom, a bathroom break is out of the question. Don't even THINK about leaving those kids unattended.

8:55am. They're b-a-a-a-c-k! Regardless of how many times we go over the procedure for entering the classroom quietly and orderly, it never seems to go that way. Wait, it did ONE day last week. Once. The entire year so far. I'm beginning to question my classroom management.

Anyway, the kids are in, we do lunch count/attendance and get started on the day. It is non-stop until our unbelievably early lunch. We line up at 10:50am for lunch. I walk them down to the cafeteria, grab my lunch and scurry back to my classroom for a moment to myself before the kids who didn't finish their work last night come back during their recess. If I am lucky, I have fifteen minutes to inhale my lunch in peace. At 11:35, recess is over. Go get them again.

We do take about ten to fifteen minutes after recess for read aloud time. I recently got a used gliding rocker with gliding ottoman at a garage sale. It is so comfy, and I sit there with my students surrounding me as I read to them. But then, it's back to work. I look forward every day to my "planning period" which is technically thirty minutes but by the time you get the kids where they need to go and get in yet another bathroom break and pick them up you are lucky to have twenty minutes. I relish this time! It is finally quiet.....because........

Throughout the entire day, as I am trying to teach, there is the constant, "Sit down, pay attention, stop playing with your pencil, put your pencil down, pick your pencil up, pay attention, no we're on number four, not number five, I just gave you the answer to that, sit down, put your chair on all four legs, single file, eyes forward, no talking, no you can't go to the bathroom, where's your work, where's your book, where's your folder, sit down, bring it here, do it again, pay attention, ......................................................................." It is exhausting because you do this all day long. Every day. All day long. Every day. Again, I am questioning my classroom management skills.

The day is finally over. We line up at 3:25. I have an after school duty, so my class leaves a couple of minutes early so I can go stand in the middle of the street crosswalk with a stop sign and let people try to run over me. Watching parents completely disregard rules on a daily basis and pretty much do whatever the hell they please makes it very clear why the students we are attempting to teach today have so much trouble. There is no discipline because they, and their parents, feel as if they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and who are YOU to tell them otherwise? Last year I used to try to deal with parents. Now I simply ignore them. I found, at least in my particular situation, it is best to just keep my mouth shut. Tight.

3:45pm. I drop off the stop sign at the office. I usually need a bathroom break again. Then I head back to the disaster that is my desk. This is hard for me. I am, by nature, a very organized person. I don't understand people who can live in a continual mess. It clouds the brain. But in teaching, there is very little time to keep your desk organized on a regular basis throughout the day. So, I sit down and try to sort through the chaos. If I took all the time I needed every day, I'd be there for an hour or two. Many times I have stayed for that hour or two. So, after arriving at 6:30am I might leave at 5:30pm or 6:00pm. Some nights I have stayed longer.

I've been coming home at night too tired to think. It's one thing to work ten or eleven hours, but in teaching you are going 100 mph the entire time. At least I do. I can only speak for myself. But after that many hours at that rate of speed, I'm worn out. My brain is fried. My body is too tired to work out. All I want to do is stop. Just for a while. But when I do, I'm a goner. One night about a week ago, I was literally in bed, asleep at 6:45pm. I slept until 5:30am the following morning. This past weekend I slept for 12 hours each night. I am entirely too young for that!

Yesterday I had a conversation with my dad about all this. He taught for years and years. He finally convinced me to let it go and just come home. Give 100% while I am there, which I always do and have done, but when the day is over, leave. Ok, Dad. I listened.

So, today, I showed up about 6:50am. I had just enough time to drop off my purse in my classroom and turn on my computer. I left school at 4:05pm. For the first time in weeks, I came home with energy and actually walked after school. It was only a thirty minute walk, but it was brisk and invigorating. I came home and fixed an incredible salad, took a shower and now am writing....what?? WRITING????

Stephen King recognized that teaching zaps you, mentally, physically, creatively. Luckily he sold "Carrie" and was able to pursue writing and leave teaching. I became a teacher because I wanted to teach, to make a difference, and I do, I know that. I have so many students who come up to me years later telling me how much they loved having me as a teacher. My own children's friends know me from school and they all love me. I've had students who I thought would never make it come back and tell me what a difference I made in their lives. I appreciate all of them so much.

But the reality of it all is that we are spinning our wheels today as teachers. Again, I am speaking from my experience, in my school. I know how hard I work and I know everything I try to do to help my students be successful and learn all they need to know, not only from the curriculum I am teaching but also to fill in the gaps they have missed over the years. But every year it gets harder and harder and they pile more and more on us and quite frankly, they are killing the spirit of the teacher.

Students come to us knowing less and less, being able to retain and process less and less. Parents care less and less. Yet we are expected to produce bigger and greater results and in the meantime, our students are with us less and less in the classroom. I am appalled at the amount of time our students spend away from us as teachers. I value most of the activities that they are doing while away from us but they still need more time with the teacher, in the classroom. Yes, I think we should have longer school days and years. It is absurd how our schools are run these days with the summer break and short days. But that I will save for another post. Tonight I am just venting, writing, for the first time in weeks.

I have to let it all go and know that I am doing the best I can but there is only so much I can do. If I want to become a writer, photographer, and/or artist, I have to give myself the gift of time and sanity and I cannot achieve that by spending ten to twelve hours a day at school. I truly believe that I have something in me that needs to be expressed whether through writing, or my photography or art. I don't know yet, but I can feel it, deeply.

I know I need to write. I know I need to create. It's who I am.

1 comment:

Juleah said...

Enjoyed reading your entry. I couldn't imagine life as a teacher. I am hearing more and more from frustrated teachers that feel they are losing their passion. I look forward to reading your first book....I know you will succeed. I love the title of the love story! Start that one;)

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