Thoughts From a Teacher-Writer

As a teacher and a writer, I’ve got something to say.

I don’t write this as a complaint, but rather, because I am getting so sick and tired of the constant maligning of teachers and teachers’ unions that I am seeing everywhere I turn: Facebook, newspaper editorials, TV, etc. My own mayor, Richard Daley gave a speech last week, slamming Chicago teachers and implying that they are lazy. He said, “Our teachers work six hours a day. What do you think of that? Thirty hours a week!”

People who use this argument—that teachers don’t work enough to deserve a respectable paycheck—are the same people who believe that having gone through the school system is all you need to have an informed opinion about the state of education. It’s not. My contract requires that I be at school from 7:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. That’s 7 hours and forty five minutes. Not six. Furthermore, as a high school teacher, I spend an enormous of time outside class doing grading and planning—even with the prep time I have during the school day. If you take a grade school teacher, like my mom, who has taught in the Chicago Public School system for almost thirty years, these teachers have almost no prep time built into their school day. The total number of time most grammar school teachers spend away from their classes each day (in order to do things like eat lunch, grade, plan, etc.) is about twenty minutes. The rest of the time, they are teaching. How many office workers spend every moment of their work day—aside from a twenty minute lunch—doing focused, intense work?

But since we all went to school ourselves, we all know what teaching is like, right? Wrong. If your only firsthand knowledge about teachers is having been a student yourself, then you really have no idea about the demands the job requires. You probably think it’s an easy job because your teacher made it look that way—which is what good teachers do. But let me assure you that it’s not.

I’m not going to spend too much time in this post talking about the rewards that teaching brings and the way that it changes live for the better, every single day. Nobody seems to care about that, at this point: it’s easier, and more satisfying, to simply attack. But we teachers understand the honor and the importance of what we do. The only reason I’m able to write is because someone taught me how to. I believe in myself because my teachers, in tandem with my parents, made me feel like I could. Teachers didn’t just teach me how to fulfill my dreams; they taught me how to discover those dreams in the first place. We do change lives. We do influence the future. We do something meaningful every time that bell rings. And that’s why, despite constant attack, derision, and underpayment, people still do it. Our detractors can never take that away from us. But rest assured, WE are the ones who are in that classroom every day: not the educational pundits, or the newspaper reporters, or the documentarians, or the armchair Facebook commentators, or the politicians. It’s us. I wish that people who question our commitment to kids would think about that.

Let’s ask ourselves: Is it really teachers who are the problem? Is it really teachers (or for that matter, policemen, firemen, social workers, and nurses) and their “fat” pensions who are making this country broke? Or are we scapegoating a profession because that’s easier to do than to look at the real, systemic problem—that maybe kids aren’t succeeding because parents don’t put in the time with their children that they once did? That maybe the reality shows and the celebrity “role models” that are disgustingly overpaid and over-covered in the media give constant messages to our children that being smart and hardworking doesn’t pay, but being superficially beautiful, vapid, and ditzy is the way to become a millionaire?

You know what I think would solve this? If the news media spent half as much time covering a day in the life of an average public school teacher as they’ve devoted to the implosion of Charlie Sheen. Then maybe people who see what teaching is really like—and then maybe, just maybe, they’d support our outrageous belief that we deserve respect, fair treatment, and a chance to remain a part of the American middle class.

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts From a Teacher-Writer

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  2. Dana

    Good topic. Thanks for writing this!

    Do you have any non-fiction pieces to write in your MFA program? This would be a good topic. The life of a teacher.

  3. Jessie Morrion

    Linda, I love you comment about asking people to volunteer at a school. There’s no better way to understand what the job is about. And for the record, I have no problem with people who work in corporate America whatsoever. Most of them are underpaid for the work they do, too, while their bosses make obscene salaries. My only point is that I am utterly baffled at how, of all people, teachers and other union employees are being blamed for something that is so clearly not their fault. It makes me scared for the future of this country that people like Tiredofcomplaining are so easily manipulated.

  4. Jessie Morrion

    First of all, thank you to Laura and Joe.

    @ Tiredofcomplaining:
    1. There is not one school district in the country that still gives three months of vacation. Last year, summer break began on June 12 and we went back to school August 20. That’s two months–the same that is (deservedly) awarded as furlough pay for cops and firemen. We haven’t had a three month summer break in years. Here, you are clearly showing that you are exactly the type of person I was referring to–the so called "expert" whose expertise is based on their own personal experience as a student.
    2. Most teachers are required to have not just a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree (which the district does not pay for them to earn). In addition, they need to pass several tests and earn certification in order to teach, and many of them also need to earn specialization (i.e., "highly qualified" designation). With all that, they SHOULD earn more than an entry-level office worker. Not to mention the fact that they are responsible for doing things like, say, teaching children how to READ and THINK. That’s an enormous responsibility, and one for which they should be competitively compensated.
    3.) You call teachers "out of touch." Yet teachers are the ones in the schools, in the classrooms, face to face, day in and day out, with the actual students: dealing with the actual business of teaching. How can you call that "out of touch"? You know what I think out of touch is? Bloviating (anonymously) on a website because you don’t like your office job.
    4. I DO want something, not just for me, but for all teachers. It’s this crazy little thing called respect and a middle-class lifestyle. And the thing you don’t get, and probably never will, is that people become teachers because they want to help kids. It’s not an easy job. You probably couldn’t do it. So don’t begrudge those of us who can.

  5. linda

    Amen, Jessie!! I am a corporate employee and can tell you that we waste oodles of time in meaningless meetings, hunting down chocolate, and walking around the cubicle farm. I don’t have to be ‘on’ for hours at a time. I can surf the net, crunch numbers, take business phone calls and then scout donuts in the cafeteria.

    I am the daughter, sister, aunt, niece and sister-in-law of teachers. The hours they work in the evenings and weekends are enormous. Summers are spent taking graduate-level classes and workshops. I don’t know how teachers became scapegoats for what’s wrong in the U.S.

    I find in the corporate world that when someone starts counting how many hours they work vs. how many you work, they are somehow threatened. These are the same people who clock co-workers lunch times, doctor appointments and the exact moment you get to the office (and leave). It shows insecurity and a total lack of a life. If you’re one who thinks teachers are such slackers, go volunteer at a school so you can see all the laziness for yourself. Oh, you’re too busy? Maybe you’re not as busy as you think. You just like to think of yourself as important and, thus, busy. Shame on you. Focus your blame on the upper class who aren’t feeling much (tax) pain these days.

  6. joe

    Tired Of Complainning – She took a slight bash at corporate workers. Relax.

    It was more an attack on an embarrasing, disheartening, outlandish, insert-your-own-adjective comment from the mayor.

    Saying teachers only work six hours a day – so 30 hours a week – is just flat-out incorrect.

    And yes, the media should absolutely cover the plight of teachers, especially those in CPS schools, far more. And that in turn should eliminate the coverage of celebrities we’re bombarded with. It’s embarrassing.

    Most teachers do earn it. And most teachers, in the case of CPS schools, would TEACH (as you put it), if they didnt have to spend most the day BABYSITTING, because the kids in those classrooms are obnoxious, a result of poor parenting.

    Ok, you got all upset b/c she took a slight shot at corporate workers. Relax chief.

    Your "Your post here shows just how out of touch teachers really are" reeks of ignorance.

    Let me get this straight – one comment, from one teacher, "shows just out of touch teachers really are"? Ignorance.

  7. Tired Ofcomplaining

    OK, so you are to be at school 7.75 hours… That’s a 38.75 hour work week. Oh, wait, I forgot, you said you take 20 minutes for lunch. That takes an hour and 40 minutes off that total. So, your work week is 37 hours and 20 minutes.

    Do you realize that most "office workers" as you put it, are at work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.? Yes, that’s 9 hours a day. Most get a 1 hour lunch, but that is taken OUT, not part of the time they are there. That means in order to get a paycheck for a 40 hour week they must be at work for 45 hours. That means they are at work another whole day per week of a teacher’s work day. Many "office workers" do work outside of the office as well, from presentations to preparing for the next day. Also, they don’t get three months of vacation every year. Most "office workers"are lucky to have two weeks.

    If you do the math, and you’ll find that most of "office workers" who are complaining are doing so because teachers work only 2/3 of the hours in a year and get paid more for doing so. (about 1568 hours for teachers to 2080 for "office workers." Average teacher salary: $42K Average American salary: $33K — sounds like teachers are way underpaid, doesn’t it?) To use your analogy, this sounds like you believe walking through an office is all need to have an informed opinion of what goes on in business.

    Your post here just shows how out of touch teachers really are. You want to teach? Teach. Don’t make the kids suffer and be out of the classroom because someone won’t GIVE you something. You want it, earn it.

  8. Laura Marcella

    Awesome awesome awesome post! I’m tweeting this (@LauraMarcella). I’m not a teacher, but I have aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who are. I’ve seen the work they bring home with them. Teachers often have to work through the weekends because they have so much grading and planning. Not to mention those teachers who also coach sports and volunteer for extracurriculars! I have an enormous amount of respect for teachers of every grade. I was a student from kindergarten through college and looking back on it, I don’t know how teachers got through some of those days!

    Thank you for everything you do, Jessie!

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