I had another post all set for this evening, but I’ve set it aside for now. This week is a powerful reminder of what teachers are asked to do for their students, and that’s what is on my mind tonight. These tasks are nowhere on a hiring contract, and are certainly missing from the job description. Most of these duties are never mentioned in education courses in college. I should know–I taught middle school English for a few years.
Like police officers and ER nurses, public school teachers have little to no say about who they teach. Unlike police officers and nurses, a teacher spends eight hours a day for the nine months with these 35 little people, whether she likes them or not. (Sorry parents, there are a handful of kids every year that a teacher flat out doesn’t like. I’m sure it’s not your kids. Your kids are lovely. Just like mine.) I have no data to know if this is typical, but in my upper-middle class, suburban district I could expect:
- Four to five students who are extraordinarily below grade level.
- Another two who are emotionally disturbed and prone to loud outbursts and sometimes physical assault.
- Two or three who are suffering severe neglect and/or abuse at home.
- Two or three misfits who are having a terrible time adjusting to school in general.
- One with a notable physical disability, like blindness or deafness.
- At least two with some type of autism spectrum disorder.
I also had one of each of these:
- Exposed to lots and lots of crack in the womb
- Lost an eye to an archery accident
- Mom’s a hooker at a local truck stop
- Meals, when he ate, came from the local food pantry or me
- Smelled so bad that the parents were brought in for a hygiene intervention
- Masturbated unabashedly at her desk
- Drunk mom at parent-teacher conferences
- Dad holds KKK meetings in the barn
- Mom was dying but told no one at the school. Her kid was failing miserably and we had no idea why, despite lots of attempts to reach him. There was no father, so the poor kid spent the entire year counting the days until he would be an orphan. Is it any wonder he didn’t give a rat’s ass about his homework?
It was my job to keep this ragtag bunch of students moving along the curriculum, like the Bad News Bears towards the little league championships. As stressful as some days were, I never had to hide them from a gunman or shield them from an F5 tornado. At Sandy Hook and now Oklahoma, teachers gave everything they had to keep someone else’s children safe. Over thirty of someone else’s children.
When we drop off our kids at school or daycare, it seems like such a simple part of the routine. What we’re really doing is asking this person, whose main purpose is to teach, to also throw themselves into harm’s way should disaster strike. It’s an unfathomable thing to ask, which makes it even more noble when a teacher takes a bullet intended for a student, or throws herself on top of her students as a tornado tears the school apart. She does this unasked, in addition to the simple act of making your child more intelligent every day.
A first-year teacher makes $31,600 in Oklahoma. And that’s all I have to say about that.
You have said it all. Thank you for articulating it so well.
Amen, Sister. So well stated. What a beautiful tribute to teachers and their students.