Editor's note: The following column by Doug Robinson, originally published May 6, stirred the response that led to today's Sunday Extra feature.
So, you want to be a grade-school teacher. Love those kids, do you? Come on, we'll show you what the job is all about on this National Teacher Appreciation Day.
You'll be teaching 25 to 30 children five days a week. Well, that is when you're not administering government-mandated tests, correcting papers, doing paperwork, taking in-service classes, serving on several committees, mentoring other teachers, pulling playground and bus duty and dealing with angry parents.
How do you like the job so far?
You do get summers off, but with year-round school and a requirement to complete the equivalent of 12 days of in-service, well, there goes the summer. You'll be paid a salary, but you will be expected to pay for your own supplies and take your work home every day plus weekends to grade papers. What!? You thought you'd do that at school. Silly you.
The federal government announced recently that it will hold teachers accountable if minority and special-needs students don't keep pace with their white, middle-class peers. Fine, just add it to the list! Let's see, teachers are already required to administer three different comprehensive tests, and if the students don't meet certain scoring standards the teacher is in trouble.
Still want to be a teacher?
You'll have to be a jack of all trades since schools can't afford specialists. You'll teach special-needs kids, and kids who don't speak English. You'll teach computers, physical education, math, science, English and keep pace with ever-changing curriculums that require more preparation and more supplies.
Teachers commonly pay for school supplies out of their own pockets. One teacher — let's call her "Leslie," because that's her name — spends $600-800 a year on school supplies; another teacher named Gerri spends $2,000; Terry spends $1,000.
They spend the money on luxury items, such as books, paper, glue sticks, crayons, lamination. Who knew this was a charity gig?
Fortunately, as everyone knows, teachers are paid handsomely. The average salary for a veteran teacher is about $36,000. Terry says she and her colleagues calculated that if they were paid the standard day-care rate of $3 an hour per child, they'd be making more than $100,000 per year. Dream on. Most male teachers take second jobs.
Ready to sign up for the job yet?
It's all worth it because the kids are so great, right? Not exactly. The behavior of children has deteriorated dramatically with the decline of the family. "Dad beats Mom, or they live with two dads or two moms, or they live with Grandma," says one teacher. Says "Vicky," who teaches at an upper middle class school, "These kids don't even have basic manners or morals. You would die if you heard some of the things they say. They don't even know why cheating or stealing or hitting someone is wrong."
Another job for teacher: Giving people lessons.
Teachers do get a break at lunch and recess, unless it's their turn to do lunch or recess, or it's raining and the kids have to stay in the room with them. Fun. Pass the Valium.
Teachers are so swamped that they can't complete their jobs without volunteer classroom help from parents and doing their own homework. At night, they give up family time to grade papers and assemble material for students. Leslie sometimes stays up until 1 a.m. finishing her work.
Are you sure you want to be a teacher?
Teachers also must mentor young teachers, because if other teachers' students are weak in a subject and don't earn the same scores as other classes, by law it could penalize all the teachers. This sounds fine, except a high percentage of teachers quit within the first five years, so the veterans have to break in another rookie.
Last week, Terry broke down and cried. A counselor took her class for 10 minutes while she regrouped. Gerri and Leslie have had several moments just like it; everyone does, they say.
"I'm just tired," says Terry. Gerri agrees. "Sometimes you just have to get out of class because you know you're going to fall apart."
By the way, there are plenty of teaching jobs out there; there is a national shortage of teachers.
Still want to be a teacher?
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.