17 Things Every Public School Teacher Wishes You Knew
It's not all weekends off and summer vacations.
On the outside looking in, it's easy to think teachers have it pretty good. You probably imagine that they work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., they get summers off, and there are always baked goods in the teachers' lounge. Who could complain? But educators have a much more demanding job than most people realize, especially in public schools. Not only do they work tirelessly on weeknights and during that so-called summer "off," but they often have to pick up second jobs on the side just to pay the bills. We talked to current and former educators to get the real scoop on what life is like as a public school teacher. Here are all the things they wish you knew.
Public schools often have higher education standards for teachers than private schools do.
The perception is that private schools provide a superior education when compared to public schools. But did you know that to teach at many private schools, teaching certification isn't a requirement? And while most private schools will still require a bachelor's degree, that degree doesn't necessarily have to be in education. According to Top Education Degrees, all 50 states require a public school teacher to be certified, which means they must have a bachelor's degree in education—and that includes a certain number of hours working as a student teacher and a criminal background check. Many states also require public school teachers to pass an in-depth education examination, as well.
Suzanne Capek Tingley, a teacher with her master's who transitioned from public school to private school and back to public school, confirms that at her private school in New York, "certification wasn't a requirement … Those who were not certified usually taught in the upper (high) school, where small classes lent themselves well to discussion and debate."
And they have to get recertified (at their own cost).
Public school teachers go through years of education and supervision before they even get to the classroom. And after all that, you would think they'd be trusted to do their jobs. But it hardly ends there. "We are required to go through recertification every few years," says Tiffany Coleman, an elementary school teacher in South Carolina. "And we have to pay for many required trainings or tests out of pocket."
The job requires a lot of skill.
Despite the clichés that might have you believing otherwise, not just anyone can be a teacher. It takes a lot to master being a successful educator, and that's something Chris Drew, PhD, a public school teacher and founder of the teachers' resource The Helpful Professor, wishes more people understood.
"The reality is that it's crazy hard to come up with engaging lessons that are catered to children's learning levels, that are just the right length of time, and that don't leave the quiet kid at the back of the room confused and disillusioned with school," he says. "I'd say my first three years of teaching, I failed more than I succeeded. Now, with 10 years of experience, I still work tirelessly to improve my teaching skills—and I've still got a long way to go."
The work day doesn't end when the final bell rings.
A teacher's day usually extends well beyond the final school bell. "As a teacher, your day begins and ends long before and after the hours you are in the classroom," says Erica Jabali, a former middle school English teacher. "The amount of grading, planning, meetings, ongoing education, and more almost equal a second full-time job." According to a 2014 BBC survey, teachers on average put in about 63.3 hours per week, just about 19 of which are in the classroom.
And teachers don't actually get summers off.
You may have assumed that teachers have the perfect job because they get the entire summer off. But in reality, teachers aren't lounging on a beautiful beach in June, July, and August more than the average employee.
"You either spend [the summer] planning so you're not drowning throughout the entire next year, or you're picking up a side hustle: summer school, teaching at a local college, hospitality, anything you can do to squirrel a few nuts away for the winter," writes Viktor James, a former teacher in Colorado. "What's worse is that even if you do get summers off, your friends and family don't. The result is that summers are often filled with doing things you can't do during the year, certain chores or errands."
There's hardly any free time while at work.
Many people think that when students are at an activity or not in the classroom, teachers get to sit around and relax. But, according to D. Gilson, a writer and community college teacher, that's far from the case.
"My free time isn't spent 'not working,'" Gilson says. "Rather, it's spent prepping for class, reading to stay on top of my field, presenting at conferences, and of course, grading."
They don't even get breaks to go to the bathroom.
When you're responsible for managing a classroom of children all day, you don't typically get scheduled time to walk away for a few minutes—even for a bathroom break.
"In many states, teachers get few to no breaks, especially elementary teachers. Most of the time, we have to rely on the teacher across the hall or next door just so we can step away from our class to even go to the bathroom," says Coleman. "We generally have one 45-minute planning period, which is consumed by meetings, phone calls, and paperwork. And there is no lunch break—we eat lunch with and while supervising our students."
The pay is actually that bad.
With all the long hours and hard work teachers put into their profession, their compensation is hardly enough. "My first year teaching in 2012, I earned a little over $23,000," James writes. "During that year, I cashed out my retirement to pay off credit card debt, went back into credit card debt that took years to get out of, and had to borrow money from my mom for groceries."
Some teachers even work other jobs.
Since the pay is less than ideal, many teachers often pick up second jobs to make ends meet. So, on the weekends, you might just spot one of your kid's teachers working at a local coffee shop or retail store.
"Many teachers also work other jobs on evenings, weekends, and summers to help pay the bills. I know I did," says Jabali. "So, as parents, be kind to your teacher. Have patience if they get behind on grading or don't log grades regularly. When meeting with them, acknowledge the incredibly hard work and long hours they put in to be the people who are there for the kids every day."
They often pay for their own supplies.
When you walk into a classroom, you often see mounds of supplies ranging from stickers and staplers to pencils and Post-Its. But according to Kate Crowhurst, a former teacher and current financial literacy educator and director of MoneyBites, educators aren't getting all that from the school; it's coming out of their own pockets. "As a former public school teacher, I remember having to continually pay for whiteboard markers, pens, and paper to run classroom activities," she says. "If you don't ensure that your child has the pens and notebook that they need for class, it'll be the teacher who picks up the slack."
They want parents to become more involved.
One of the things teachers want to see more of is parent involvement because it really does make a difference when parents are involved in their kid's education. A 2010 study published in the journal Child Development found that students had fewer behavioral issues and better social skills when their parents were more involved in their schooling.
There's a lot of politics.
A school building is hardly free of your typical workplace drama. Not only do teachers have to deal with students and their parents, but they also have to navigate the politics of the teachers' lounge. "I watched a fellow teacher get pushed out because of politics," James writes. "Shocking hires, power plays, endless nepotism, idiotic decisions that only serve to make a few people's lives easier instead of benefitting the kids. … You wouldn't think that behavior existed in teaching, but it's there."
They're constantly preparing for standardized tests.
Public school teachers are all too often bogged down by never-ending standardized testing. A 2014 Center for American Progress study even found that in one Florida school district, kids were tested 20 times throughout the year, with 16 of these tests being district-level assessments.
Naturally, all of this testing leaves little time for teachers to actually teach. "From the hearing tests during the first days of school until what feels like the final bell, you're most likely sitting through one long testing session with short breaks when you're allowed to teach," James writes.
And the stress can be too much to handle.
As much as most teachers love their jobs, sometimes the ends just don't justify the means—or more specifically, the stress. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8 percent of the nearly 3.4 million public school teachers who taught during the 2011-2012 school year ended up leaving the profession entirely the following year.
That's because, more often than not, teachers are expected to do the impossible, according to Clarence McFerren, a high school teacher from Tennessee.
"Although it is one of the most rewarding professions in the world … it is one of the most draining professions," he says. "The teacher is held accountable for not fixing every problem. … Many teachers want to save the world and help tackle disparities within the public education system, but what happens when those dreams fall short? The teacher develops undiagnosed mental illnesses like many of the students they are pouring into on a daily basis, then they become burnt out and leave the profession."
They're always thinking about their students.
It's easy to think that teaching is just grading papers and putting together lesson plans. However, elementary school teacher Cindy Hemming says that there is a lot of emotional labor involved, even if parents and students aren't aware of it.
"The welfare of my students weighs on me each and every day," she says. "I know some students are struggling with mental health issues or are facing neglect and abuse at home. I think about them all the time. I cry about them, and it stays with me for years. I've had friends ask why I care so much since they aren't my children. Unless you are a teacher, it's hard to understand that the students in your class become a little family. They matter to you more than most people can imagine."
Forming bonds with students is often more important than teaching.
When Indiana teacher Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Pete Buttigieg, took to Twitter to ask teachers about what they wished other people understood about the profession, one teacher pointed out that, to get children to learn, teachers often need to first form connections with their students. "Some days you don't get any work finished because the relationships are more important," replied Brittany Moore, a teacher in Missouri. "If you can't take the time to cultivate those connections, you won't ever make progress."
And they want to improve the world.
The stress, the politics, and the hardships of the job aside, teachers really do love their job. At the end of the day, it's why they do what they do.
"We have a distinct passion for education," Crowhurst says. "The vast majority of teachers that I've met all love their job because they get motivation from helping others. … Their primary reward is improving the world around them by empowering others with knowledge and skills." And for stars who once inspired young minds, here are 33 Famous People Who Used to Be Teachers.
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