The burden of teaching is bittersweet – it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world and also one of the most misunderstood. Most everyone passes through the school system, but unless you’ve been a teacher, it’s hard to understand our day-to-day realities. There are many things I wish I could say to parents or guardians; many things I wish I could make them understand. Here, in no specific order, are a few of the things I wish my families understood.
1. I am a teacher, not a parent
I cannot count the number of times a parent or guardian has come into a conference at their wit’s end with their unruly adolescent. The parent says something along the lines of “I just can’t get him to do anything at home. How do I get him to do his homework?” I wish I had a magic bullet for this situation, but I don’t. My degree is in education, and while all teachers have taken some child psychology classes and many are parents ourselves, we are not parenting experts.
2. I want our relationship to be a partnership
Many students come to my classroom without an involved adult figure in the home. These children need food, shoes, deodorant, help filling out their FAFSA or finding their birth certificate. Will I step into an advocate role if need be? Of course. But a student who doesn’t have their basic needs met at home will have a hard time learning much in school.
3. I cannot force your child to learn
Teaching and learning are two separate things. I love to teach and have trained to do it well. But your child must meet me halfway. For learning to occur, students have to be receptive. They have to try, they have to apply themselves, and they have to do the work. The most successful students have learned a growth mindset and resiliency in the face of difficult tasks.
4. You need to make sure they go to sleep on time
According to the Healthy Sleep website, from the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, “Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgment, and our perception of events.” Healthy sleep habits include a calming bedtime routine and a bedtime that allows students to get at least eight hours of sleep. We know that electronics like TV, phones, and tablets negatively affect sleep, because the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin and disrupt circadian rhythms. Take the phones away and turn off the TV before bed.
5. You have no secrets
If you say something within earshot of your children, the chances of them telling us are really high. They do repeat everything you say at home. I promise we tactfully try to change the subject, but teachers are often involuntary recipients of all sorts of personal family information.
6. I am exhausted but for the sake of your child, I try not to show it
I love my job, I do. But it has me up at 5 a.m. and in bed past midnight most nights. I stay up late grading papers or worrying about students who are not succeeding in class. I stay late to chaperone prom or cheer on my students at volleyball games. Several nights a week, I am in the school building for 12 or more hours at a time before falling into bed, just to get up and do it all over again the next day.
7. Sometimes kids don’t need tough love, they just need love
Of course children need discipline – I would never argue otherwise. But sometimes, it’s okay to give your kids a break. Trust me, no one is harder on a student for that failed science test than the student themselves.
8. The most important skill your child will ever learn is empathy
I genuinely believe that learning empathy and social-emotional skills are more important than the content I teach. Sure, knowing how to format a paper or find the circumference of a circle matter, but at the end of the day, I care a whole lot more about whether my students are kind, decent human beings.
9. I do all of my grading – all of it – on my unpaid time
Grading is an overwhelming task for all teachers everywhere, and we are given very little time on the clock to do any work that isn’t actually teaching. I have an hour of prep time each day, and in this single hour, I am expected to plan the next day’s classes, make copies, respond to emails, grade papers, enter grades, and post lessons on my classroom website. Something’s got to give, so I prep at school and grade at home in the evenings and on weekends.
10. I spend hundreds of dollars on supplies each year
There’s no two ways around it, many schools don’t provide teachers with an adequate supply budget, especially for the special projects we dream up. The paper mache dragons we make in my mythology classes? Fully funded by me, as are the pizza parties and my entire classroom library. Teachers do this because we know those special projects are what make school memorable for your children.
11. I don’t get paid for three months off
I sign a contract for 193 days of work. When I sign that contract, I have the option of receiving nine paychecks or twelve. Many teachers opt for twelve so that we receive a monthly paycheck during the summer. In spite of this, many teachers struggle to make ends meet and find themselves working a side hustle or second job.
12. 90% of my work day is spent actively teaching or supervising children
This means I cannot respond to your email right away – and if I respond in under 24 hours, there’s a really good chance I’m doing so on my own time. Nearly all paperwork duties I have happen either squeezed into the few moments when I’m not teaching, or they happen after my work day has ended.
13. Your negative comments hurt – a lot
Please remember I’m human, just like you or your child. Please remember that I approach this job with utmost love and respect. But because I’m human, I may make mistakes. Or it’s possible a miscommunication occurs. If you have a concern, please approach me directly and with kindness. I promise I will listen and we will work together to sort things out.
14. Your child has a cell phone or access to social media whether you allow it or not
Your family may have strict rules around cell phone or social media usage, but it’s a safe bet that other families have less stringent rules than you. And because of this, you should assume that your child is accessing technology including social media sites you may not allow.
15. We hate having to ask you for supplies (and if you can’t afford them, it’s okay)
Because schools are short on supplies, our hands are sort of forced on this one, but asking you to spend your hard-earned money on even more school supplies doesn’t sit well with us, either. Whatever you send is very appreciated, and if you just can’t afford to send them, that’s okay too.
16. If you don’t respect teachers, your child won’t either
Respect for adults, including teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and youth group leaders, comes directly from the home. If you respect us, your student will, too. If you don’t, they won’t.
17. Your child is more than a test score
We don’t like standardized tests, either. It’s lousy to have a single number define our students. That number isn’t representative of a student’s intelligence or ability. We know your students are so much more. We see them for who they are, just as you do.
18. Often, our hands are tied by bureaucracy
The amount of red tape we encounter each day is truly mind-boggling. We are following both state and federal mandates (that are often unfunded) as well as policies and procedures mandated at the building level. Tasks that seem like they should be simple often are not because of the paperwork involved for us. Please be patient – we don’t like this any more than you do.
19. Please put more emphasis on learning than letter grades
I have many students who value an A so highly they’ll do almost anything to see that letter grade show up on their transcripts. Often, this translates to unbecoming behavior such as cheating, plagiarizing, or having a parent call the school to complain about a low grade. A hard-earned B is better than an easy A any day.
20. I have 100+ students a day
It’s not all about your child. That’s not unkindness, it’s simply the job I must do. For parents of middle and high school students, this move from elementary to upper grades can come as a shock. Every essay I assign I have to grade 100 times. Each time parent-teacher conferences roll around, I meet with dozens of families. It can be overwhelming.
21. We are rooting for your child
Once a child enters my classroom, they will forever be one of “my kids.” I am here for them even after they leave my classroom, whether you need a letter of recommendation or a reference for a job application. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my students succeed.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t ever dream of a different job. There is so much joy to be found in working with children each day, and I look forward to many years of working in tandem with parents to help future generations of children succeed.