Welcome to the hot seat. So, let’s play “Who Wants To Be A Teacher?”
You know the rules, of course. There are no free calls or lifelines. Here is your piece of chalk. You are on your own…
Answer fifteen straight questions correctly and you will win the grand prize of a Teaching Certificate. This certificate will guarantee you the privilege of struggling against impossible odds for three decades to win the hearts and minds of the 5,700 children likely to enter your classroom.
Now, let’s answer the first question for which the prize will be the much-coveted reduced-interest-rate on your mortgage. If you miss at any time, you will revert back to the consolation prize of a ream of paper. So, let’s get to the first question!
“A person described as a Jack-of-All-Trades is also characterized as a Master of …”
There is a lot riding on this. So, think it through carefully.
The contestant wavers. “A” and “B” are obviously the distractors. It seems a fairly sure bet that item “C” is the answer, but our contestant knows some teachers and item “D” remains a troubling possibility.
The audience is in suspense as the contestant wrings her hands and wipes her forehead and fervently wishes she could call a friend or poll the audience.
So, let us discuss her quandary.
Teaching is not just one job. Classroom instructors hold a panoply of part-time jobs that require them to engage in frenetic multi-tasking simply to survive.
Teachers are part-time clericals, part-time security guards, part-time detectives, part-time counselors, part-time administrators and finally, by sheer necessity, part-time instructors.
“Part-time clerical?” you ask. From Advanced Placement to Special Education, most teachers drown in a morass of paper: endless corrections with no hope of reprieve, data-entry, Individual Education Programs, letters of recommendation, requests for daily individual progress reports, quarterly progress reports and gradesheets (and the computation thereof!), to name but a few.
Other professionals staff out various tasks; teachers carve time out of their evenings and weekends to do it all themselves.
“Part-time security guard?” you ask. The assignment of insufficient support personnel in the building leaves teachers with the responsibility of being in the hallway before school, between classes and for some portion of their so-called “planning” period supervising children in passage. Instead of organizing as one class departs and preparing for the next to arrive, potential instructional time is lost at the beginning and end of every class because keeping a lid on the pressure cooker in the hallway is a much higher priority in most schools.
“Part-time detective?” you ask. Because much of the information in the school database is obsolete within months of being acquired, it can take weeks to make the “required” parental contact prior to administrative intervention for attendance or behavior problems. Negotiating the labyrinth of disconnected phone lines, prior employment, changed addresses and serial guardianship can be a daunting task, especially in schools where 30% of the student body rotates between the ninth and the twelfth grade.
“Part-time counselor?” you ask. Go ahead and scold your students about missing assignments only to discover that one is living in a homeless shelter, or that another is living in a home for unwed mothers with an ailing six-month infant and no health care. Just luring some of these children into the schoolhouse constitutes a daily miracle as they confront the onset of adult consequences during adolescence. How does the school deliver meaningful supports to such students when teachers routinely have 190+ students and guidance counselors may advise 480 students?
“Part-time administrator?” you ask. The administration, too, is consistently understaffed. Teachers are enlisted, therefore, to help manage the school. Ostensibly, this serves to train future administrators, but such time would be better-spent planning lessons if better instruction were the primary function.
The inevitable desire to see increased academic performance leads teachers to accept unpaid committee assignments and underpaid department chairmanships that invariably consume far more time than foreseen.
“Part-time instructor?” you ask. Invariably, it is instructional priorities that suffer as typical teachers struggle to satisfy the myriad responsibilities that comprise their workday. Do you want your child’s teacher perfecting a lesson plan, providing feedback on some written work, OR standing in front of the school counting the school buses as they arrive? Which of these sounds like an optimal use of the talent pool?
The time has come for teachers to perform the task for which they are trained.
In most cases, teachers just want to teach. Teachers need the time to plan & deliver instruction and, then, assess whether learning has taken place. If the improvement of learning outcomes is the goal, then respect the act of teaching by severely reducing, if not entirely eliminating, non-instructional duties.
The community must find a way to furnish adequate human resources in support of teachers and children.
Much ado has been made in recent months about the projected teacher shortage. That much-discussed shortfall of educators is a figment of our collective imagination.
There is no shortage of persons certified to teach in this nation. There is a shortage of people willing to accept a 60-hour workweek for a 35-hour paycheck.
Former teachers do not disappear from the face of the earth. They quit the profession for just cause after dispassionately examining the ratio between heartache and reward. Teachers come into the classroom for the opportunity to teach children, and they leave because they are systematically denied the opportunity to excel at their chosen endeavor.
Our children deserve more than a frazzled Jack-of-All-Trades in their classrooms. They require the focus of a Master-of-One-Trade and until such time as the primary functions of teachers are delivery-of-instruction and assessment-of-student learning, we must anticipate a dearth of contestants for any game show called “Who Wants to Be a Teacher?”
[The original version of this “Viewpoint” appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal on December 19, 2001. The photo is from the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire”]