As a teacher, I do not write about teacher appreciation to solicit acts of gratitude, but rather maybe to educate more of the public on what actually informs some of our work not recognized or understood in our teacher contracts or in published test scores. There is so much about teaching that doesn’t fit in a column, cannot be added or subtracted, itemized, measured or categorized. Teachers are leaving or thinking about leaving or wondering about what else we might qualified to do. I am worried for my teacher peeps everywhere.
Five years ago today, I wrote another article where I explained how forcing teacher appreciation is a little like forcing someone to apologize. But we do appreciate the efforts. I’ve attended school board meetings since I was a high school student myself; I pay attention to parts of education which do not take place in my classroom to learn more. Yet there continue to be people who speak about my job as if they have experienced being an English teacher. I do not speak of being a Senator or electrician or architect or x-ray tech because I’ve never been in that role. Even within the realm of education, I can’t even begin to think about job descriptions for principal, kindergarten teacher, band director or sixth grade math and science–any position that is not my own. But if I were to write out a comprehensive job description for “high school English teacher” one would quickly recognize I can only do what I do because I work hours beyond what my contract expects, as do most of my colleagues in the teaching profession. The reason we do this is because the “extra” is sometimes more important.
For example, my students will tell you that most of their writing is assessed and commented on between 4 and 6 AM based on timestamps in their google classroom documents. They will tell you if you ask them because they often say, “I saw that you were commenting on my doc at 4:34 in the morning. Why are you up that early?” And then someone else says, “You know that is when she likes to grade because no one is awake in her family. And you know she is a morning person and does better work in the morning than at night.”
Teachers of writing know that writing improves with writing and revision and more writing and someone to read that writing and conference with the student so the student can talk it out. Given that we are a small school it helps with us improving student writing because we know our students’ strengths and weaknesses. However, what I do know is that my students receive timely and carefully constructed feedback on their writing. That would not happen if I only worked within the contracted hours I’m required to be at school.
Furthermore, we write letters of recommendations for seniors when they are applying for college, and then later we revise them when they apply for scholarships. There are no standards for this, but would I refuse a deserving student a letter simply because it is beyond my contract? Of course not. I could write a benign letter for a student easily in 25 minutes on official school letterhead, but that kind of letter won’t set them apart on paper from thousands of other students. My letters of recommendation for students take hours to write and then revise because our knowledge of our students as people, as humans beyond the walls of our school, helps admissions officers to recognize whether our students are worth the risk of acceptance. And, there are students for whom I cannot write a strong letter of recommendation, and I have to have those conversations with them. Who might know you better? Whose class interested you more than mine? Who is someone in this building who sees your potential in a specific area that is hard for me to see because you have openly admitted how much you hate reading, writing, and speaking every damn day in my classroom?
Not only do we assist students with the college recommendation piece, but we also require them to write drafts of their college essays in our English classes. Most of them begin terribly, but overtime and during much brainstorming and sharing and asking questions (normally outside of class time) we begin to find those nuggets of goodness and hope. That’s where the real writing happens after we sift through the fog trying to figure out what they are meant to say.
Lastly, we make time to give kids what they need even when it doesn’t fall within our contracts. Although I could look at each calendar week of the year and see appointments I’ve made with students, especially during COVID when I visited certain kids in their driveways after school or on weekends because it was the only way kids would complete work. I’m an English teacher, and there are no standards for this. There was the Saturday night a few years ago when a student shared a doc with me where she mentioned wanting to end her own life. This was part of my job description that could not wait until Monday morning at 715 when I was contractually obligated to be at school. This required a call to our guidance counselor who agreed with me that I ought to call the parents at 930 pm, which I did. The student had submitted the work on Friday, but I hadn’t opened the document. What if I had waited until Monday?
There are the students who want to talk about the need for family bathrooms instead of gender specific and the return of our LGBTQ club. I’m an English teacher, and there are no standards for this, but we must listen. And sometimes what they need is an adult who is not their mom or dad simply to listen to them. This is another reason why I remain eternally grateful for the teachers and paraprofessionals in my school who have now become my children’s teachers and helpers. There are miracle workers in every classroom in every grade level who see my son and my daughter for who they are as people. They understand my children differently from the way I know them, and my kids feel safe here at school. They feel safe and brave and smart and confident– everything we want our kids to feel as they grow up learning to take the best kinds of risks and learning how to avoid the very worst. Most of our teachers work beyond their contracts. There are no standards telling us to do so. We are teachers; it’s the work we do and the kind we love best. But people are leaving our profession one by one, and I wonder how long it will take before most people really appreciate why.
One last thing, congratulations to Lin-Wood Public School for placing 11th in the US News and World Reports ranking for NH best public schools. Always proud to be a Lumberjack.