I was a teacher for 30 years, except for one five-year hiatus. This year I left the profession. The short explanation is that I was burned out. I arrived at school at 7:45 every morning, I rarely left before 5:30 p.m. and I was often there later. As a new school year gets rolling, I offer two lists. Keep in mind that these are drawn from my experience in private schools, which are regarded as an ideal place to teach because of their small class sizes.
What people think teachers do:
▪ Teach five classes or so.
▪ Prepare lessons.
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▪ Create assessments such as quizzes, tests and other assignments.
▪ Grade assessments.
▪ Take long vacations.
What teachers do:
▪ Teach five classes or so – which is like doing five performances every day in which you stand up in front of 15 people and entertain them for an hour. Or it’s like being a pitcher in a game. You are always part of the play.
▪ Prepare lessons. Research. Reread a chapter of, say, “The Scarlet Letter” and an article about Puritan culture, prepare discussion questions, plan an activity, figure out how to pace the class. To keep students’ interest, you need to shift gears.
▪ Create assessments. Write up the assignment, create a rubric, draft detailed instructions. Quizzes should be fair to everyone but also test whether students have done the work. A good five-question multiple-choice quiz can take 45 minutes to an hour to create.
▪ Grade assessments. One essay for a class of 15 means reading some 60 pages of student-written work, writing and editing comments, and making a judgment about each grade.
▪ Email with parents. Sometimes this means untangling a misunderstanding. No, your son’s iPad use was not appropriate for class. He was not taking notes. He was playing a game. Sometimes you get to write a thank-you for a parent’s kind words about how you’ve helped his or her child.
▪ Write a college recommendation. Go back through your grade books and papers. Check if the student was the captain of the soccer team. Send an email to find out more about her role in the choral group. Make it unique.
▪ Attend a game.
▪ Attend the school play.
▪ Perform at back-to-school night. Prepare what you'll say to parents; write, print and photocopy handouts. Get your clothes dry-cleaned, if you can afford it.
▪ Learn a new grading input program (about once every two years).
▪ Write exams. Come up with 12 pages of questions that are not too hard and not too easy, plus an essay question that will help them show what they know without freaking them out.
▪ Grade exams. (Ugh.) This is usually done during vacations.
▪ Be compassionate, rigorous, interesting, funny, smart, innovative, experienced and patient.
▪ And don’t be defensive about it, but fend off a stream of snarky remarks about your summer vacation.
Sidebotham has taught English in private schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Massachusetts.