Just in case this is the only paragraph of this article you are going to read before calling me names and informing me that every stereotype about teachers is true, let me acknowledge immediately that, yes, there are some really awful teachers out there. Similarly, there are bad lawyers out there and bad doctors, bad janitors and bad garbage men. Every profession has people in it who are good at their jobs and people who are bad at them. Teaching is no exception.
But, if you are a parent sending your child to elementary school, and you harbor some assumptions about all teachers that just aren’t true, it could lead to some sticky situations down the road (both with your child, who may love his teacher, and with the teacher). Teaching is one of those professions that people think they know a lot about but actually know very little. So it’s understandable that there are a lot of misconceptions. Here, in case you’re interested, are three understandable but untrue assumptions often made about teachers.
1. Teachers have tons of free time
It’s easy to understand why you might think this. A teacher’s official work day starts around 8:30 and ends around 3:00. It isn’t ridiculous to assume that, if you left your job at 3:00 each day and didn’t have to return until 8:30 the next morning, you’d have lots of free time before you had to hit the hay. The problem is, you’re making an incorrect assumption. Yes, the teacher’s official day is about six hours long, but her actual day is much, much longer.
Teachers don’t get a whole lot of time in their day that is kid-free. That means that the materials she needs for every lesson must be ready and waiting before she opens the door in the morning. Not to mention all the little details (like putting up the schedule and taking down the chairs) that are time-consuming if not difficult. So, instead of arriving at 8:30, a teacher is often at school by 7:45, 8:00 at the latest.
A teacher’s day definitely does not end once her kids are dismissed. Dismissal (which may start at 3:00, but often lasts until 3:30) is just the beginning. The room must be tidied, plans made for the next day, papers collected and packed away to be graded at home. She’ll probably spend time calling some parents, meeting with other teachers, writing a newsletter or a report card. Chances are she’ll be out the door by 5:00. If she’s lucky.
Then it’s home to grade homework and think about the next day’s lesson. I’m not saying she has less time than you. But she doesn’t, necessarily, have more. And summer vacation? Most of us work other jobs. They don’t pay us enough to take summers off.
2. Because I went to school, I could teach as well as the teacher
It seems fairly likely that everything your grade-schooler is learning in school is something you already know. It might be understandable, then, to assume that your child’s teacher doesn’t have to know much in order to be successful at her job. But the knowledge base is just the beginning. Yes, she absolutely must know the material and, if she doesn’t, you’d definitely be justified in assuming she’s not a good teacher. But she also needs to know how to teach that material to someone who’s never even heard of it before.
Kids don’t just accept things and then remember them because you ask them to. They’re much more complicated than that. They need to know what something is, how it works, why it works, and to try it out for themselves. A teacher needs to be able to break even the simplest and most obvious (to you) things apart and put them back together transparently so that a child can follow along.
In the same way that you are probably able to use the microwave to reheat your dinner, you are also able to quickly add 6+4 and get 10 without really thinking about it. But do you know how to build a microwave? (If you happen to be a microwave builder, assume I chose a different metaphor.) Can you explain what 6 is? What 4 is? Why they make 10 when you add them together? What adding is? Why will 6+4 always make 10? How will that help you to solve other math problems? Etc. Etc.
Don’t believe me? Sit down with your grade-schooler one night when he’s totally baffled by his homework. I don’t mean when he’s a little confused and you just need to point him in the right direction. I mean, when he’s somehow totally missed the entire lesson and has no idea at all what he’s supposed to have learned. When you both end up frustrated and more confused than you started, rethink your ideas about teaching.
3. Maintaining order in the classroom is easy, anyone could do it
If you look into a classroom at any given moment, and the children are sitting calmly in their chairs writing in their notebooks and the teacher is chatting quietly with one student at her desk you might think, This job is a piece of cake! But, in reality, you are looking at the physical manifestation of that teacher’s very, very hard work.
Chances are good that, when those kids arrived on the first day of school not so long ago, there were some who would willingly sit down and write quietly in their notebooks. But there were others who were definitively uninterested. Some talked with their friends when they were supposed to be working, some refused to take out their notebooks, some whined and complained and said they were bored, and one or two leapt out of their chairs and attempted some kind of practical joke to disguise the fact that they felt nervous or confused. Their willingness to work, and the teacher’s ability to speak quietly with one child while the others work independently, is a testament to her perseverance and skill.
And, before you say that you could do that too — by yelling at them every time they misbehaved or threatening to call their parents — I’d like to invite you to try. Except don’t, because those poor kids don’t deserve that. That type of discipline may seem productive but it’s a band-aid, not a cure. And I’ll bet you wouldn’t get very far with a class of kids if you tried it. So, when you observe a class of well-behaved kids, you’re looking at a teacher who has invested time, energy and thought into forming bonds with her kids, creating a respectful classroom environment, and enforcing clear and realistic boundaries and consequences. Which is work that she must continue to do from the moment she opens the door on the first day of school until she closes it again on the last. And that’s not easy!
A little respect goes a long way in a relationship. Knowing that your child’s teacher is working just as hard as anybody else might help to foster a bond that will support your child’s academic growth throughout his school career. And who doesn’t want that?!