Saturday, May 19, 2012

"American Teacher" on Netflix

This documentary made me cry.  My thoughts about teaching are definitely emotionally charged.  Here are some reasons, not edited to try to sound humble:

  1. This has been the most... well, maybe second-most difficult year of my life.  It probably would have been the most difficult if I didn't have Heidi.  I don't know if I could survive this year one more time, let alone decades on end.  Teaching is so much more demanding than I imagined.  I've heard that "teaching is only as difficult as you make it," which I now realize is true.  You can be a really crappy teacher, and it's not nearly as difficult as being a good teacher.  But I know I can be a really good teacher, so when I'm a crappy teacher (which means working about 40 hours per week), I feel like... a crappy teacher.
  2. I'm worried about supporting my future family.  I don't just mean surviving.  I mean a house big enough for gathering friends, a yard, sports teams, vacations, etc. etc. etc.
  3. Just this year, I've helped a student avoid suicide, another turn away from drugs, another came to me first when his dad died.  Also, ten are coming with me to Spain this summer, and seven are already signed up for next summer.  Those are all things I don't really get paid for.  In fact, in heartlessly practical terms, all those things mean lots of time NOT spent planning lessons, preparing materials, or assessing/grading assignments.  Yet, these additional expenditures of time are precisely what make me a really good teacher.
  4. Teaching is HARD (see #1).  Five 1-hour lessons (more like 'performances' interlaced with 'activities' in order to keep students' interest) per day, often with a 5-minute passing period between one lesson and the next.  I think that would be enough, but that is the easy part!  Honestly, it's overwhelming just to think of listing all my responsibilities beyond the typical classroom time.  Planning lessons, preparing materials, pacing the course, adjusting for setbacks, catching up absent students ("What did I miss?"  "I have no idea, when were you absent?"), emailing/calling parents, faculty meetings, grading assignments, classroom management, disciplinary issues, written reports about disciplinary issues, attendance errors ("Was Johnny present in your class on this date?"  "Are you kidding me?"), parent/teacher meetings, letters of recommendation, grade checks, updating the gradebook, updating the class website... I'm just going to stop.  Although one funny frustration just came to mind: telling students they can use the hall pass to go to the bathroom when I've been waiting too long for an opportunity to go myself!
Anyway, I am exhausted, and watching this documentary brought my emotions to the surface.  I highly recommend it.  It's occasionally dramatic, but for the most part, I think it's spot on.


Brittney said...

all I can say is've done well. And I hope you guys and us guys can all figure out how to survive and thrive on a teacher's income. :)

Dennis said...

You have done well! Don't die on the home stretch. You are making a difference in this world, affecting lives for good forever. I am proud of you.

Powelson Family said...

Remind me to tell you about an experience of mine at River Run. Good work Brett, it all matters... your concern for the students and your concerns for your future and time and finances. A challenging balancing act. Sounds a bit like parenting, only different :)

Patti said...

Whatever you do to influence another life for good will follow you through eternity.