“Do Teachers Care?”: A Day in the Life of a Teacher

In my local school district, we are in the middle of a superintendent search.  Lots of interviews and town hall-type meetings for various stakeholders have been taking place. Most of them have not been well-attended.  I choose not to judge why people do not come to these.  Life is busy and complicated and just because I can go doesn’t mean it is so easy for everyone else.  I do tend to think it a symptom of a systemic problem in our district rather than a lack of caring from individuals though.  However, I have seen and heard several comments in the past few days that have made me realize not everyone feels the way I do, particularly where teachers are concerned.

I have not been out of this teaching gig long enough to forget the multitude of ways nor the number of times teachers “show up”.  You can see dozens in a single day.

  • 2:30am: You wake up in a panic.  You forgot to call that parent back yesterday afternoon.  She isn’t happy with you because her child got a low test grade.  This is the third time you have tried to explain that he can retake the test after school on Friday.  It will cause you to have to stay late on the day before Spring Break and you will miss the 3pm deadline to have your grades turned in but you will deal with that when you get there.
  • 2:45am: You are in a full panic attack now.  Your doctor prescribed you a few Xanax to get you through times like these but they make you so lethargic.  Plus, you only have 10 pills.  Is this attack bad enough to use one of those or can you get through it on your own?  You might need to save those for the panic attacks you have in the classroom.  And you don’t want to be too tired in the morning.
  • 3:05am: You took the Xanax.  You desperately need the sleep.  You hope it helps and that you are able to sleep some because you can’t take off tomorrow.  At last week’s faculty meeting, your principal passed out statistics on teacher absenteeism in the district.  Apparently, the School Board can’t understand why these rates are so high in your district so they asked district folks to look into it.  The Chief Academic Officer did look into the absenteeism stats and then asked school administrators to discuss it with their staff.  Your principal chose to lecture her staff about it in a Wednesday afternoon faculty meeting that lasted until 5:00pm.  You feel guilty taking off a day when you aren’t really “sick” even though you have well over 100 sick days.
  • 6:47am: You overslept.  You had intended to wake up at 5:30am to get your lesson plans finished.  They are also due Friday at 3pm.
  • 7:00am:  You wake up your kids and get them dressed and fed.  You jump in the shower but don’t have time to wash and style your hair so you just throw it in a ponytail.
  • 7:35am: You all are out the door and headed to school.  Thankfully your kids’ school is a short drive away.  It isn’t the school they are zoned for but it is in your neighborhood.  You and your husband took turns sleeping in a tent last January in freezing temperatures to be sure you guys were the first in line to get them into the new Academic Academy which has a waiting list of hundreds.  Thankfully, both of your kids got one of the 50 spots in their grade level.
  • 7:47am: You run through McDonald’s because you didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast or make coffee before you left this morning.  This is part of the reason you have gained 40 pounds since you started teaching seven years ago.
  • 7:58am: You park your car and head into the school.  You sign in at the office and the secretary reminds you that you have breakfast duty in the cafeteria.  You forgot it was your turn so you run down to the cafeteria even though you needed a precious few minutes in your classroom alone.  Apparently the rest of your team is running late which causes you to be the only adult in the cafeteria with 300 students.
  • 8:22am: You and the cafeteria staff managed to get the 300 kids fed and to their homerooms.  You consider the cafeteria staff to be educators as well.  You couldn’t have done it without them.  It really does take a village.  You head to your classroom.  The teacher across the hall texts you and says she can’t be there today because her child is sick.  She wants to know if you can get an assignment ready for her classes.  Your students are lined up at your door waiting for you.  The morning announcements from the office have begun.
  • 8:30am: You are standing in the hallway so you can monitor your students and the students of the teacher across the hall whose substitute hasn’t made it in yet.  You have got to get your morning work up and find an assignment for the classes of the teacher who is out.  You can’t do that in the hallway so you bring the other class into your room so you can keep an eye on all of them in your room. They have to sit on the floor because you don’t have enough chairs for 42 students.
  • 8:42am:  The sub comes in and you give him an assignment to get the kids started on. The extra class leaves with the sub and you take attendance of your own students.  Thirteen out of thirty are there.  An announcement is made that three buses are late this morning.  Fifteen more of your students come in but three of them say they are hungry.  You can’t send them to the cafeteria because breakfast is over so you give them part of what you brought for your lunch and afternoon snack.
  • 8:48am: Last week at the two hour faculty meeting, teachers were told not to send students to the restroom on their own.  There was a fight in the boys’ restroom on the 8th grade hall and one of the stall doors was torn off as a result.  Your administrators decided that this would be the best course of action.  You line up your 28 students to take them to the restroom.  You grab the roll of toilet paper because the school doesn’t allow toilet paper to be left in the restrooms anymore.  Apparently there was a problem with students wasting the toilet paper.  You hand each student some toilet paper as they enter the restroom.
  • 8:59am: You walk students back to the classroom to get started on your lesson.  As you walk, you are trying to decide which part of the lesson to leave out because you only have 15 more minutes left in this class period.
  • 9:01am: The student who is scheduled to retake your test Friday afternoon comes in tardy.  His mother is at your classroom door and wants to speak to you.  Office staff aren’t supposed to send parents to your room.  You step into the hallway anyway. She begins to yell and cuss at you about why you didn’t call her back yesterday.  You try to explain and eventually she calms down and leaves.
  • 9:05am: You have ten minutes left with this class.  You go to the board to introduce the new skill you intended to start 3 days ago.  The office buzzes your room to send down a student and your phone rings for 3 of your students to go to speech class.
  • 9:07am:  You are able to teach for about 5 minutes but you can’t address any questions the students may have because you have to pass out their homework and collect money for the homecoming dance before they leave.
  • 9:15am: The bell rings.  You dismiss the kids and head to the hallway to monitor transitions.  One of your students comes to you and says that they can’t get their locker open.  You head down to their locker to help.  After a few minutes, you are able to pry the locker open.  You broke your nail in the process.  Maybe you can go for a manicure next week over Spring Break.
  • 9:19am: You head back to your classroom.  Your students are lined up just as you taught them to do.  Bless them.  You greet each one of them with a high five as they enter the room.  Finally, this feels normal.  This is why you teach!  You walk into your room and one of your assistant principals is sitting at your desk with her laptop.  It is time for your unannounced observation.
  • 9:20am: You take attendance and begin the lesson.  Thankfully, your lesson went as planned.  However, it would have gone much better if you had the chance to teach it in 1st period.  Still, you are confident that you got all 4s and 5s according to the rubric.
  • 10:10am: As your students are working on their group assignment and you are meeting with the second of your small groups, your assistant principal approaches you.  She asks you to complete your portion of the observation paperwork Friday by 3pm because she needs to get her paperwork in before Spring Break.  You promise you will.
  • 10:15am: The bell rings.  You thank your kids for being so great.  Two of them hug you before they leave and tell you they love you.  Sixth graders can be so sweet.  You make a mental note to grab them a treat on the way in to work in the morning.  You monitor the hallway transition.
  • 10:20am: This is your planning period.  But, you are supposed to meet with your content area teachers and your curriculum coach to discuss the testing schedule for the week after Spring Break.
  • 10:25am: You head to the meeting.  Doughnuts!  You never got the chance to eat the McDonald’s you picked up because your morning was so hectic.  You are starving. And thank the Lord…there is coffee!  Your curriculum coordinator introduces Sammy T. Salesman who brought the coffee and doughnuts and wants to tell you about disability insurance.  He is giving away a trip to Gulf Shores for Spring Break next week if you fill out his form with your planning time availability.  You really want a trip to the beach.
  • 10:47am:  Mr. Salesman is finally finished.  Your curriculum coordinator begins discussing the testing schedule.  Because the district doesn’t want any disturbances during testing and because there are so many small group testing areas on your hallway, you will have to keep one class all day long each day of testing.  Transitions in the hallway may cause students that are still testing to get off track.  What are you going to do with the same group of kids…four days in a row…all day long?  Sigh.  You will figure this out over Spring Break.
  • 11:14am: The bell is about to ring and your curriculum coordinator still needs to go over the security contract with you before you sign it. Can you come to her office after school for a few minutes to take care of this?  Of course you can.
  • 11:15am:  The bell rings.  You run back up the stairs to monitor the hallway between transitions.  You beg the teacher next door to you to watch your students because you haven’t been to the bathroom since you left the house this morning.  He agrees.  You run down to the restroom.  Sweet relief.
  • 11:20am: You turn the corner to go back to your classroom.  Your kids are in the hallway waiting for you, but a fight has broken out.  The teacher who agreed to watch your kids is nowhere to be seen.  You run down the hallway to your students.  You are able to get in between the two girls to stop them from fighting.  One of them accidentally smacks you on the arm as you are trying to separate them.  You ignore this.  This student is living with her elderly great-grandmother because her mom is in jail and she isn’t sure where her dad is.  The other student is picked on a lot.  The other girls tell her she acts like a boy.  You get your class settled and then pull each girl into the hallway to speak to her alone.  After getting both stories, you ask both girls to come into the hallway together.  They agree to apologize to one another and to squash the whole issue.  You choose not to send them to the office.  You are afraid that they will pull footage from the security cameras and see that you got smacked on the arm.  Assaulting a teacher is considered a zero tolerance offense and you know that your student would be sent home for the remainder of the year.  You don’t want to see that happen to her.  Plus, you are fine.  You pray that these students really did squash their issue.
  • 11:37am: You begin teaching this class.  These students struggle so much.  Many of your students in this class have IEPs. The Special Education teacher is normally your co-teacher in this class but he was called to the cafeteria to take care of lunch duty while the administrators are dealing with other issues.  Apparently the principal is escorting the superintendent around the building, one of the assistant principals is dealing with an issue where a knife was found in a 7th grade student’s locker, and your other assistant principal is attending a district meeting.  The guidance counselor and Special Education teacher are the only ones left to monitor the cafeteria.
  • 12:00pm: You walk your students to lunch.
  • 12:05pm: You head to the teachers’ lounge with a ream of paper to make copies for your afternoon classes since you didn’t get to that this morning.  Paper was on sale at Office Depot last week, so you bought two cases.  The case the school provided you with at the beginning of the year has been long gone.  The copier has been broken for a few days but the repairman was there this morning.  You had to get copies made at Office Depot earlier in the week.  It cost you $43 though and you can’t afford to do that all the time so you are incredibly grateful the copier is working again.  There are two teachers in line for the copier, so you set down your work and grab what is left of your lunch – carrots and peanut butter crackers.  The copier gets jammed so you help the teacher in front of you with that.
  • 12:25pm: You finally get to the copier but it is time to go get your kids from lunch.  You make one class set of copies to get you through the next class.  Maybe you will have time between classes to get the other two sets finished.  You head to pick up your class, eating your lunch on the way.
  • 12:30pm: Your students are lined up in the hallway outside of the cafeteria.  Those two girls who got in a fight earlier are arguing again.  You separate them until you can get to the classroom.  You take your entire class to use the restroom.
  • 12:45pm: You pull the girls into the hallway again to talk to them.  You let them know that you are going to call their mother and grandmother.  You make a note to do this after school.
  • 12:47pm: You finish your lesson that you started before lunch.
  • 1:00pm: You teach your next three classes without any major interruptions or distractions.  However, you never did get back down to the lounge to make the rest of your copies.
  • 3:00pm: Dismissal.  You are assigned to do bus duty, so you and another teacher walk about 350 sixth graders to the gym.  Other teachers take car riders and students who engage in after school activities to their respective locations.
  • 3:45pm: You are still waiting on one bus to arrive.  Apparently, they have a new driver on this route and she is still learning what to do.
  • 3:47pm: You head to the curriculum coordinator’s office to go over the testing security guidelines.
  • 4:03pm: You pick up some of your students from the after school activities location.  You tutor some of them on Tuesday and Thursday each week.  You aren’t required to do this but it is encouraged by administration.  You don’t get paid for this tutoring.
  • 4:05pm: Because this isn’t required by your school, there are no school funds to buy snacks for after school tutoring.  You bought the snacks at the store this past weekend when you were grocery shopping for your family.
  • 4:15pm: You go over some skills that these students have been struggling with.  You made a Jeopardy game out of the skills so they could have some fun with it.  The kids are laughing and enjoying themselves.  Their laughter makes you happy.
  • 5:00pm: You walk students to the front door to be picked up by their parents. Administration has told you that you cannot leave until all students in your care are picked up by their parents.  You hope that they all arrive in time for you to make the town hall meeting for one of the superintendent candidates that happens across town at 5:30pm.
  • 5:33pm:  Your last student is picked up.  You used your cell phone to call the parent 3 times to find out where he was.  He didn’t apologize or speak to you at all when he picked up his daughter.  You won’t make the superintendent candidate’s meeting but the local cable channel is broadcasting it live so you can watch it in your classroom while you work on grades.
  • 5:35pm: You find the live broadcast and get started on your grades.  You check in with your husband who picked your personal kids up from after school care once he got off work at 5pm.  He tells you he will pick up something for dinner.  Thank goodness. You call the parents/guardians of the two girls who fought earlier.  No one answers the phone for the first student and the number for the second student has been disconnected.
  • 6:27pm: While watching the live broadcast of the superintendent candidate’s meeting, you hear one of the local school officials thanking those teachers that showed up to the meeting.  There were about 10 there.  She expresses her disappointment that more teachers didn’t come because she scheduled it at a time when all teachers could make it.  She tells the superintendent candidate that she is sorry and that she hopes it doesn’t give him a bad impression of your district.  You feel guilty.  You really wanted to be there.  The superintendent candidate says he understands.  He knows teachers care but that they have many responsibilities that affect their students even after school.  Thank you!  You really like this candidate.  He seems genuine.  He gets it.  You hope the School Board chooses him and you hope he is who he says he is.  You consider writing them to tell them your thoughts.  However, you have written before and only two of the nine responded to you.  Those two voted against what you wanted anyway so sharing your voice probably doesn’t even matter.  You log off the computer and collect your stuff to go home.
  • 6:41pm: You are finally home.  You kiss your husband and hug your kids.  He has already made sure they did their homework.  And you all sit down for a precious meal together.  He got poppyseed chicken.  Your favorite.
  • 7:03pm:  Your husband decides to take the kids upstairs to get them ready for bed.  He knows you have grades to finish, lesson plans to write, and the observation paperwork to complete.
  • 7:10pm: You log in to the evaluation portal to see your scores.  You got one 4, five 3s, and one 2.  The two was in “Maximize Instructional Time”.  The assistant principal scored you low on that one because she said you should not have had students sharing copies of the assignment.  Those were the copies you never got to make because of your hectic morning, so you did the best with what you had.  You feel awful and are really beating yourself up about this.  You check the rubric and you really feel your lesson was all 4s and 5s.  You know that you strive to be a level 5 teacher every day.  Does anyone else know this about you?  The rubric doesn’t score you on breakfast duty, bus duty, after school tutoring, or breaking up fights.  You break down into tears.
  • 7:35pm: You know if you don’t start on your grades then you will have to stay even later tomorrow.  You pull up your online grade book and get to work.
  • 2:33am: Your husband shakes you awake.  You fell asleep on the couch working on lesson plans.  The last time you looked the clock read 12:17am.  Your sweet husband insists that you come to bed.  You listen to him.  5:30 will be here before you know it.

*Names redacted to protect the innocent.  And the guilty.

You may find this day in the life of a teacher an extreme example.  It isn’t.  Many of these incidents are actual ones that I experienced myself.  Some days were easier than this.  Some days were harder.  Most of the teachers I know and love are beginning their Spring Break this week.  Many of them will spend at least part of that break catching up on school work.   I hope that they find the time to enjoy their families and some time to themselves. They deserve it.

For everyone else, I hope you remember this when you consider questioning the level of care that our teachers have.  Most teachers I know care way too much and too often and too long.  And I don’t know where we would be if they didn’t.
“Every child should have a caring adult in their lives.  And that’s not always a biological parent or family member.  It may be a friend or neighbor.  Oftentimes it is a teacher.” -Joe Manchin


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