Monday, August 13, 2012

The Three Best Reasons to be a Teacher?

I once got a gift from a beloved student -- a mug with "The three best reasons to be a teacher: June, July, August." At first I was hurt, and then offended. Is that what people really think? Do they have any idea how intense teaching is? Do they really think those 'vacation' days are for our convenience? Do they think WE'RE the reason for summer breaks?

I remember at the time my response was, "Those are the only reasons I can come back to the job -- I do have some down time." While students are only required to attend school 180 days a year, I knew teachers packed in more than 8 hours a day into those 180 days...more, counting the professional days we're expected to be at school.

I knew I spent a lot of time during the school year, at home, working on school. I grade at home, make all my parent calls at home. Now, with online grade books, I can easily record papers at home and have them ready to turn back to students. I also spend time at school, outside my contract day, planning, in meetings (no, I don't count any part of meetings that occur between 8:30 and 4:30), answering emails from parents and colleagues, attending to paperwork. Neither did I count any work I did during my planning or lunch. I utilized those time within my contract day as part of my job.

I know of colleagues who have worked LONGER hours than I have, and some who work fewer. The point of my essay here, is all teachers work beyond the contract day in order for our time with students to be efficient. That is the professional thing to do, and we do it.

So, last year, in the heat of teacher bashing, I decided to commit myself to logging all the extra time I spent: days at school before and after my contract days and hours, time I spent grading and recording papers...all that. I found an app for my iPhone, TimeTracker, and after some consulting with the designer (a very helpful fellow), I carefully kept track every day of my time. Anyone who knows me knows that was not easy for me...

I had several conversations with friends about my motive for doing this...was I trying to sustain anger at my 'mistreatment'? Was I trying to prove myself to be a martyr to my profession? The answer to both questions was a resounding 'no'. I approached the year as a researcher. I knew teachers' jobs are not a matter of leave the room, lock the door, and don't think about the job until the next morning when you unlock the door. I knew every teacher invests time off contract-hours doing the work of an educator. I don't know a teacher who ONLY spends his or her eight hours a day. But, in order to prove my observation, I needed data. I needed numbers. Have I sometimes resented that stack of papers to grade? Of course. But I know in order to do the job the way I need to, I'll be spending time at home, and at school before and after my 'official' hours.

I have discovered I can't filter my hours into the different tasks, so I'll probably email the designer again and ask how to look at the way my time was allotted. But the tasks I tracked are: grading, meetings, paperwork, planning, reading professional literature (ended up NOT counting that -- I read lots of books about education!), responding to parents or students online, email communication (colleagues, other professionals), subbing (during my plan), and Teen Volunteers (the club I co-sponsor).

I know I spend more time grading and responding to students' papers than other teachers. I've written about that before. I've come to peace with my decision, because I learn so much about my students when I carefully read and respond. It's the price of doing business the way I need to.

What did I learn? In the school year from August 16, 2011 to June 11, 2012, I invested 479.25 hours of my own time in my classroom practice. The number seems overwhelming, but I have friends who worked even more.

What does that mean? Bear with me, and please don't hesitate to correct my math...but...

Norman Public Schools had 21 'vacation' days last school year. I repeat, these are not in the calendar for my sake, but for the sake of the district's clients -- our students and their parents. I have no choice to teach those days. I am forced to take them off. Twenty-one days of eight hours equals 168 hours. So I deducted them from my total of 479.25 and divided by the eight hours. That gave me, after my contract dates. August 17 to May 29, nearly 39 eight-hour days extra of free work...almost two months...

So, now...I worked from August 17 to May 29, with no breaks, and another eight weeks. That takes us to July 29 or so. With just over two weeks left before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

I worked nearly a 50-week schedule, but in just over 9 months. I told you teaching was intense. Teachers jam 50 weeks of work into 36 or 37 weeks. We work evenings, weekends. We work those vacation days the public envies us for.

Another way to look at it is to calculate the actual number of hours I worked, during the school year. That 479.25 hours averages out to nearly 13 hours per week, figuring a 37-week year. So, for the school year, I averaged 53 hours a week teaching and preparing to teach.

No wonder I'm tired all school year. No wonder I collapse in June. I've done fifty weeks of work in thirty-six.

I've paid for those June, July, and August days. I paid with the 479.25 hours I donated to the school...

Now, if I'm really working 50 weeks, let's talk about my pitiful, full-time salary. TimeTracker 'gave' me $10 per hour for each hour I logged. I would have loved seeing that $4,793 added to my salary.

Not holding my breath.

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