Misgivings of a Tenured Teacher

I saw this picture on my Facebook feed this morning. Yesterday was “National Day of The Teacher”….. so….a coincidental post? I think not.

At first I looked at the graph above and was like,”What? Teaching is NOT as stressful as being a police officer.” And while I can’t tell what the other two professions are ( quite possibly a fireman and a, what? pilot?), I first felt like it was a biased represention, thanks in part to the creators of the image. But then the more I thought about it, this stream of consciousness took shape.

Policing definitely has far more moments of EXTREME stress, and danger, than teaching. And this stress is certainly exacerbated by  certain times, locales, holidays, and current events. There is also a constant vigilance required by cops,as well, that is emotionally draining, and poisoning to their psyche, in many ways.

Teaching is generally a low grade fever of stress, that spikes with fairly rhythmic  occurances…. parent/teacher conferences…report cards…SST/IEP meetings… unless of course you work at what is now a formerly called “Title 1″school, like mine. At sites like these, it’s pretty much like being in a trauma ward of a battle zone, with daily casualties requiring CPS, trauma counseling, truancy officers, learning specialists, on-site psychologists, free breakfast and lunch programs, a clothes closet, on site translators, doctor referrals, and homeless shelter vouchers, just to mention the highlights, all in ADDITION to trying to teach all of the expected curriculum. And teaching the curriculum really means getting every student to grade level,  some who are recent arrivals to America who, at 12 years old,  know English as well as an American-born 5 year old. It means getting the little girl to grade level who saw her dad arrested last night and her mom taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. It means getting the little boy to grade level whose mom is never sober, sending him to school at 7am every morning to sit in the cold, waiting for the first staff members to show up.  It means getting to grade level the siblings who just arrived from the Middle East, escaping their country with just the clothes on their back. Getting to grade level means the child who never has a chance to BE a child because their parent has them enrolled in every after school/weekend program to play better, learn quicker, study harder, and focus longer.  Getting to grade level these days is rarely a “normal, American kid” with a balanced and functional home life that compliments the school environment.

I think the biggest difference between, say, the two professions, is perspective, and the value we place on them. Policing has definitely taken a beating in recent years, and for good reason at times. But we still see law enforcement as heroes for the most part. We respect their decision to become cops. We value the risks they take every day to protect us.  We honor them for the sacrifices they make. Money is poured into programs and personnel for violence prevention/protection legislation.  Turn on any TV station or network and there are any number of public safety chronicles to watch, and live vicariously through, on any given night. And I am the first one recording them on my DVR.  I’m a sucker for a character  in a badge and a great storyline of them saving the day.

But teaching? Americans disregard this profession like the black sheep of the family. It’s the job you take if you can’t do anything else. It’s the role you choose if you can’t quite “cut it” with adults. It’s one of the few professions where you have to be educated like a Nobel Laureate, but ratio-wise, get paid like the amateur apprentice. It requires the skills of a dozen trained professionals, all while having to be a constant role model and stand-up citizen. Heck, I have to send out an apology email if I even whisper the words “shut up” to my class.  We have to be able to decipher the most complex rhetorical dialogue, but then break it down into “every day jargon” for refugee parents who often are experiencing  a cohesive educational system for the first time in their lives. It requires the patience of a saint, the “belief in people” even when you see NO redeeming value in a situation, and the multi-tasking abilities of the FAA director at O’Hare.

So my point here is not to pit cops against teachers. In fact, our professions  need each other. The more effective teachers are, the less criminal activity there is. And when teachers deal with students and families in difficult situations, we need law enforcement to step in and protect and serve all involved.  I guess what I’m really getting at is that it would be nice, in a country that pretty much created the first system, ever, of free education for all children ( relatively inclusive), and different college and vocational tracks  for every child to be able to take advantage of, that we would, as a society, value, respect,  and honor the profession of teaching. And that teachers would be valued just a little bit more, rather than relegating our gratitude for them  only when school shootings have occurred, and the attention is drawn for a single dramatic climactic moment , of what we pretty much do already, everyday.

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