End of Year

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A better understanding of what teachers go through at this time of year

School's outTonight’s posting is dedicated to a number of friends as we reach the end of the year. This is the time when every single emotion is tested, stress levels will be off the charts, and people long for the next week to be done. Yes, I am talking about teachers and the rest of the crew that works in education. The end of the school year is upon us, and oh what a time of year it is. I know that some might think this is premature, but our district now has less than one week left before the halls go silent.

Now, before getting into the heart of the post, I will start by saying that almost every job comes with some form of stress. Employment of any sort brings deadlines, demanding bosses, colleagues that don’t get along, as well as a whole list of items. However, those who work in the public’s eye being paid for “by the tax-payer” deal with something different. Being the son and son-in-law of nurses, as well as a quasi-brother-in-law, of an Angel of Mercy, I know that the men and women who provide loving care to those in need have just as much stress. The same goes for jobs such as firemen, police, and others. While all those jobs bring stress from the public eye, I think education does being an additional level since parents are involved every day. Parents that want the best for their kids.

This is not a martyr piece. I am just writing about what the end of the year is like. I hope that I can provide a little bit of insight into the walls of education about what the end of the year is really like. I do this because, well honestly, I have been asked enough if I am happy about the end of the year. I also am questioned whether I am excited about the upcoming summer, and am I looking forward to the next few months off.

Here is what is going on in the classroom of every child at this time of the year. The children are excited about the upcoming end of school. Depending on their age, that excitement could be in check as they prepare for finals. Yes, even the students are having to complete the job before taking the first breath of summer air. There is stress right now for students in the upper levels as they prepare to spit out facts, figures, equations, chemical information, and other instruction. The worry about getting in to the right college (juniors and sophomores not seniors) is high. Students will spend hours getting ready to do their best. Younger students don’t have those worries. They will spend the last week enjoying the company of their friends. They will dance with their teachers. They will have kickball competitions. Their tests are done. They will enjoy. But what about the teachers? Are they rejoicing like so many in society believe?

Teachers have now kicked into high gear – no matter the level. The upper levels are going through the process of administering the finals spoken about earlier. They must have two hours of silence as the students work through each and every question. This is not a time for them to sit at their desks drinking coffee. They must actively proctor assessments since some students, just like students of the past and future, will find ways to gain assistance during the test. Teachers must be up and moving about the room.

Teachers are also going through stacks of final projects, papers, and other assignments getting them all done so that they matter toward a grade. Many, like I used to be, are also being bombarded with homework from weeks past that miraculously showed up in a binder. Then we have the other aspect starting to turn up. Some parents are just looking at on-line gradebooks for the first time in weeks, and they are shocked.

This is the time of year, like the week before winter break, when parents find your phone number and e-mail address. Requests for extra credit come pouring in so that Johnny can move from a D to a C- or Becky can move from an 88% to that all too prized 90%. “Can you please give my child something extra to do to raise his/her grade?” I have even had parents ask if their child cleaning the classroom could add some points to the final mark. You try to explain that the child has had the last 20 weeks to do the assigned work and get extra help, but that, sometimes, falls on deaf ears. The best is when you are told, “A good teacher would just bump up the grade.”

One must not forget the report cards. Both elementary and secondary teachers are now pouring over the books trying to give each student the grade that he/she earned. On top of the that citizenship and work habits must be marked and comments added. One might think that elementary teachers have the easy end here, they only have one class. However, they must provide grades for all subjects and for all students. Secondary teachers could have up to 175 students if they have a normal 5 classes or 210 if they teach 6. Each student must be given grades and comments.

I think out of the two levels, I have the most sympathy for the elementary teachers at this point. They may not have finals, but they have so much more. The schools all have their final activities – dances, sports, presentations, and more. These teachers are with the students all day with little breaks. They must keep the students engaged all the way to the end. And in the end, they will say good-bye. They have had these students all year, all day. The fourth graders and below will be back next year, but not the fifth. While all teachers will lose students, the younger students are still cute. It is harder for those good-byes.

Good-byes. I almost forgot about these. On top of everything else. Teachers must prepare to say good-bye. 5th graders will move to middle school. 8th graders will move to high school. 12th graders will graduate. At each level, they leave. At each level good-byes must be said. At each level, come next Thursday, the rooms will be empty. Parents and others think that the teachers’ countdown as well. Okay – they do. But then soon it hits. They are gone.

I remember walking the last students out after the last bell rang on the last day. I then would go back to my room and sit down at my desk. The room was a shambles. Papers strewn about. Chairs and desks no longer in line. The walls now had faded marks surrounding where the students’ work hung only days before. I remember those moments when my door would swing shut. The click echoed in the empty room. A lone paper would fall to the floor. I would sit and look at the empty desks. For me this was a hard moment. This was the time I questioned whether or not I did everything possible for those kids who just tore out of the building. Would they succeed? Would they remember my class?

As for the summer, well, teachers may not come to work every day, but the students are never far from their mind. After a bit of a break, or for some no break at all, there will be conference to attend, classes to take, and new curriculum for which to plan. The weeks of summer will pass quickly, and before they know what happened, they will be back in their class lining up the desks, hanging the posters, and getting ready for the next group.

Me. Well, I chose to move out of the classroom. That choice also meant working through a good part of the summer. I will look forward to the summer as well because my phone will go quiet. I will get to help put together ways to help teachers next year with the technology. I will help plan so that maybe, just maybe I can help a teacher worry more about their students and less about other things.

The same goes for principals, assistant principals, and staff. They are busy with promotions, text books, transcripts, parent conferences, building next year’s schedule, and a multitude of other things.

I started this piece by saying this is not a martyr piece. I don’t want people to walk away feeling sorry for teachers. Teaching was a choice – a calling. It is not easy by any means, but then again, one should know enough about their career before entering it to know the difficulty level. No. I do not want you to feel sorry for them. However, I do want the reader, especially parents, to know what is happening right now. If a teacher is unable to drop everything to talk with you, do not take it as a slight. Take it as they are working to get everything done for your child and all the other children in their care. If your child has reached this point of the year with an 89.95, don’t ask for the teacher to, wink wink, bump it up.

More importantly, this is not the time of year to be telling a teacher how to do their job. Unless you have done the job, you do not know. The fact that you sat at a desk for 12+ years does not make you an expert in education. If you must feel like you need to do something, call the school and ask what help they need. If you think of a school as a factory running at high speed all year long then this last month, the factory’s gauges are now all topped off in the red zone.

You do not have to feel sorry for teachers, but at least now you have a little understanding.

Thank you for meandering with me tonight.

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