Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Typical Day

In general, the sight of a governor attempting to break a public employee union is enough to make me want to dope-smack someone. I can't speak to the way public-sector unions operate in Wisconsin, nor can I really speak beyond my own second-hand experience as the child of a teacher, NEA/NYEA member, and contract negotiator who has been retired from teaching for twenty-two years. By and large, however, much of the published animus seems directed at teachers unions in particular, so I thought I would set out a teacher's typical day, as our schools are currently run.

First, however, it is important to remember that, as most states require teachers to have a Master's Degree, yet usually pay far too little to repay the massive debt that comes from the way we finance higher education in this country to make ends meet, so when my typical teacher wakes up around 5:30 in the morning, he or she may well have gone to bed close to midnight because of a second job.

Anyway, after waking up and getting ready, as the coffee is being drunk and breakfast is being eaten, notes from the upcoming day's lesson plans are reviewed (my typical teacher is a literature teacher, because that is what my father taught, although I will mention other subjects as appropriate). For one class, it is the day to introduce Huckleberry Finn, but there's a memo attached concerning some parents' complaints because the book contains inappropriate language. The permission forms for the honors lit class are turned in and almost half of the parents object to the use of John Gardner's Grendel, so some other work has to be sought out, soon.

The teacher leaves home a half-hour early because he/she needs to stop at Target or Wal-Mart and pick up some school supplies because they are running low and the school just doesn't have the budget for them. Some erasers, chalk for the blackboard, book covers for some students whose nearly-20-year-old textbooks are showing the results of wear and tear. For a writing assignment in one class, he picks up a ream of printer paper so the students can print out their assignments on the single class-room printer.

After arriving at school, there is a note in the mailbox from the school nurse and counselor. The girl who seemed to be exhibiting signs of anorexia refused treatment and the parents were threatening legal action because the teacher had showed the temerity to follow the law and intervene in a situation where such intervention is demanded. The year before, a boy had admitted to being the victim of domestic violence after this teacher noticed some large bruises on his upper arms and the teacher reported it. Now, this young man was in foster care in another city, and his father had been leaving harassing phone calls on the teacher's answering machine.

Over the course of the day, the teacher sees students who are attentive and eager, stoned and dreamy, on the verge of lost in the grind of life, and overtly hostile simply because some people are that way. The teacher confiscates three cell phones from students who insist on texting during class. One girl wants to stop by after classes end for some extra help, but the teacher demurs on meeting in the classroom, because one of the teacher's colleagues recently was caught in a sex scandal with a student, so all after-school student-teacher conferences are held in a public area.

As students are filing in to one class, some are complaining because the biology teacher has been teaching evolution. One girl says, "My Dad is going to the next school board meeting to stop that." This same girl has been accepted to a pre-med program at a major university, yet she does not accept evolution, and wants it not to be taught in her school.

After classes end, the teacher meets in the library with several students who have requested extra help. Once those meetings are over, all the days papers are gathered in folders and put in a briefcase and the teacher heads home. He or she sits at a table and grades the papers from one class, then reviews the notes for the test being given in two days in another. Typing up that test takes about an hour, printing it another fifteen minutes or so. He or she leaves a sticky note on the refrigerator to stop and pick up a couple packet of Number 2 pencils before school the next day, because he or she knows about half the students will not have them, and the school does not supply them.

Then, he or she gets ready to head out to his or her second job. A quick kiss to the spouse, a pat on the head to the children, then it's off with a pit-stop at the school to check on the Literature Club who is running the concession stand at the basketball game that night as a money-raiser. Normally, the teacher would be there all through it, but with schedule conflicts, the teacher did manage to find another to stay there through the game, but the teacher is still required to make an appearance. Because of this, the teacher is ten minutes late to the second job, which earns a stern look from a manager who, a few years previous, was a student of this teacher's. After a four-hour, very physical shift, the teacher heads home, knowing there is still about an hour's worth of work waiting to get ready for the next day's lessons.

For all this, the teacher earns, roughly speaking, around the median national income of $50,0000 a year as a teacher. Supplemental income from various required extra-curricular activities - coaching softball in the spring, directing the fall play, earns another $1500. From the second job, part-time during the school year, full-time during the summer, there's about another $12,000.

So, yeah, teacher unions are a bad idea, don't you think? Teachers have it easy, soft, they don't care about our kids, and have no real outside pressure on their lives.

Virtual Tin Cup

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