Teaching is a Grind.

Blogger’s Note:  The Center for Teaching Quality is planning a major initiative for Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9) that is designed to raise awareness about the complexities of the teaching profession.  Called the #TeachingIs project, I’m sure that it’s bound to be a wonderful celebration of the difference that we make in our communities.

I wanted to make a contribution to the conversation.  As a glass half empty kind of guy, though, I wanted to be sure to bring a bit of pessimism to the party.  My goal isn’t to be the dark cloud to anyone’s silver lining.  My goal is to simply ensure that people realize that there’s more to teaching than shiny red apples and classrooms full of smiling children.

Hope you can appreciate that.

__________________________

Teaching is a Grind.

I’m sitting in a dirty McDonald’s restaurant right now.  It’s the same dirty McDonald’s restaurant that I’ve spent the better part of the past 15 years sitting in.  Stop by and you are almost guaranteed to find me in a booth near the back — next to the filthy bathrooms and just inside the door where the sketchy teens are chain-smoking Marlboro Reds.

I come here after school and on the weekends to crank out writing for part time projects.  Sometimes I’m blogging.  Sometimes I’m putting together #edtech or #ccss lessons that I’ll use in my classroom AND in professional development workshops that I deliver during  those legendary “vacations” that teachers get.  Sometimes I’m answering emails sent by school leaders who need a bit of advice on how to move their buildings forward.

Always I’m tired.  Finding energy AFTER a full day at school ain’t easy.  

I walk into my classroom at 6 AM every morning and spend the first two hours planning, grading and answering email.  From 8:00-1:30, I work with 140 of the most engaging eleven year olds you’ve ever met.  They are simultaneously beautiful and demanding, though.  Meeting needs, answering questions, calming worries, celebrating successes and soothing hurt feelings are all wrapped around delivering the content in my curriculum.

#whirlwind

I spend the last two hours of my day in meetings — with parents, with peers, with special educators, with principals, and with professional developers.  On good days, I might even get a few more minutes of planning before picking my daughter up from school.

As soon as my wife gets home at 4:30, however, I head to McDonald’s to start my second job.  Most nights, I work until 7:30.  Most Saturdays and Sundays, I work from 6:30 until noon.

Always, I’m worried about making ends meet because my family literally relies on my part time income to pay our bills.

Living in a state that ranks 46th in the nation for teacher pay — a full $10,000 behind the national average — means I’ve GOT to generate part time revenue in order to financially survive.  If the content that I create on nights and weekends doesn’t resonate — if I can’t convince SOMEONE to buy my ideas or my time — we’d be flat broke.

The hacks that harp on the horrors of the public education system would probably revel in this reality, wouldn’t they?  They’d argue that the stress of my poor salary has pushed me to be a better teacher. “Competition blah-blah-blah.  Pay for performance blah-blah-blah.  Cushy teaching jobs blah-blah.  Wasting our tax dollars blah-blah.”

And in a way, they’d be right:  While a part of me is constantly improving my practice because I know that improving my practice means improving the lives of my students, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m also constantly improving my practice because I’m hoping that someone will see me as an expert and hire me as a consultant so that I can cover next month’s day care bill for my four-year old daughter.

Long story short:  Teaching is a grind.  

On a good day, the grind feels like a noble sacrifice because I know that my work has made a difference for the kids in my class and the families in my community.  On a bad day, the grind feels like professional masochism.  I guess that’s the uncomfortable truth for those of us who have chosen a career that has always been undervalued and — more recently — been unappreciated.

The question is how long can I keep on grinding?

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

 The Straw

Saying Goodbye to Maria

A Profession That Doesn’t Give Back

 

11 comments

  1. Pingback: How Are YOU Planning on Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week? | The Tempered Radical
  2. Jenna Shaw

    Thank you for sharing a glimpse into our lives as teachers. Though our details may be different colors, the picture is the same for so many of us. At a very heart level, I ask myself the same questions, have the same worries, and wonder where that breaking point is and when it will arrive. Until then, let’s take a minute to appreciate each other, our fellows in this journey, as we grind side-by-side. Thank you for all you do Bill. It does not go unnoticed.

    • Bill Ferriter

      Thanks for the kind words, Jenna…

      What’s truly unfortunate is that legislators believe we are disposable. That means they don’t really care that we are grinding — and they don’t really care that we walk away when the grind gets to be too much. Instead, they just look for another warm body to throw in our place — and craft policies to make recruiting warm bodies easier.

      That worries me because it makes me believe that there’s not much of a chance that we’ll see meaningful change anytime soon.

      Anyway — hope you’re well. Really dig that we crossed paths and hope to keep learning from you for a long while to come.

      Bill

  3. MacKenzie Yancey

    It’s not everyday that you get to read the gods honest true from a teacher who is actually going through as what you call “the grind”. As a student in the process of becoming a teacher I have to admit that what you had to say was a little nerve racking. I consider myself somewhat of a realist and am aware that teachers are not paid well. I am also aware that they are unappreciated. Despite all of this, I can tell by the way you talk about your students that “the grind” is worth it. I appreciate such a truthful response to Teacher Appreciation Week.

    • Bill Ferriter

      Hey MacKenzie,

      As a preservice teacher, I DO think it’s important that you recognize that teaching is a grind. While there are moments of great joy in almost every day for me, there are also moments of great worry and frustration and exhaustion. That’s a national shame — we should be embarrassed that teachers are forced to work multiple part time jobs to pay their bills — but it’s also a national truth.

      The key to surviving, I guess, is trying to remember the joyful moments when you are stocking grocery shelves or babysitting or writing books or pumping gas in order to pay the bills.

      #ickchat

  4. scottgaglione

    Great post, Bill! You paint a vivid picture of what many educators face on a daily basis. While we certainly did not enter the profession for financial reasons, it is a shame that the vast majority of us hold down additional jobs just to pay the bills. Joe Public looks at teaching and sees the summers off, breaks during the year, and point to our diminished earning potential as a tradeoff for our schedule. What they don’t realize, though, is what we do during our ‘time off’! These extra jobs that we take on are not in order to drive better cars, or take lavish vacations, these are simply to be able to pay our bills and live day to day.

    Your post’s intent is not to have people say ‘poor teacher, you have it so hard’, rather it is to show people the reality that we live each and every day of our lives. I thank you for this candid perspective, and only wish more people would realize what teachers really go through just to handle our responsibilities!

    • Bill Ferriter

      Scott wrote:
      Joe Public looks at teaching and sees the summers off, breaks during the year, and point to our diminished earning potential as a tradeoff for our schedule. What they don’t realize, though, is what we do during our ‘time off’! These extra jobs that we take on are not in order to drive better cars, or take lavish vacations, these are simply to be able to pay our bills and live day to day.

      ————————–

      This. Totally this.

      I work extra jobs to pay for day care, not to buy a bigger house or a better car. Heck, I’m driving a 12 year old Saturn with 150,000 miles and living in a 1,068 square foot house with two bedrooms and 1.5 baths.

      Part time work is a necessity for me. Not a nicety.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by.
      Bill

  5. Mary Davis

    Ditto, Ditto. I’m not working for extra, I’m just working on week-ends and nights for my day job. Alabama just voted down a raise for us. It’s been at least 7 years since we had one. I wish someone would follow you around for a week, write an article or do a show and bring some reality into the real world about what teachers do. Possibly an idea to make extra cash for you? Don’t quit.

  6. Sutterlearn

    Wow and ouch Bill! If it stings that bad, it must be darn close to the truth…and you’re not alone, oh noble one. 8 – 1:30 are glory hours and I wish you rhythm to enjoy those as well as your family, because glory years pass us by quickly. Here’s to creating time for both loves!

    • Bill Ferriter

      Thanks for the kind words, Mary, Kris and Sutterlearn.

      I want to make it clear that I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just stating the truth.

      It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that people ditch teaching as a profession. What motivation do we give people to stay? After working 21 years at the top of any other profession, I’d certainly be able to pay my bills without worry. In education, though, 21 years at the top of the profession gets you nothing but a whole bunch of part time jobs.

      That’s a public shame.
      Bill