My note to Teachers
By Jordan Allen
I guess I should start by saying I am in my 5th year as a teacher. Through my experience, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for people who have committed their lives to “the calling.” Teachers are some of the hardest working and most under-appreciated people I ever met. You are bound to be when you take ownership of a 100+ students every year. I am all for fighting and campaigning for teachers to receive higher pay, respect, and extending their rights. I mean, why wouldn’t I be? However, it seems like every time I get on social media, I see teachers going about this the wrong way. I appreciate their effort, believe they have the best of intentions, and even agree with them. Sometimes I wonder if they are just doing more harm than good. After discussing this multiple times with non-teacher friends, I have compiled a list of 5 things teachers should NOT do. Now as a teacher, I learned that every time you tell someone they shouldn’t do something -- you need to follow it up with a different and hopefully better way. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do. Let’s begin:
1. STOP comparing pay-scale
First, teachers need to stop comparing our pay with that of celebrities, athletes, and anyone in the top one percent. I often see people post memes that say “[insert famous person here] made 36 million dollars last year and teachers make between 40-50 thousand.” Look, nobody wants to make more than I do. If I could have enough money to fill a swimming pool and pull a Scrooge McDuck off a diving board, I would probably still feel it wasn't enough.
However, using the example of someone in the top one percent doesn’t work.
Because the people we are talking to probably aren’t in the top one percent, and they feel they don’t make enough as well. It’s comparable to two starving people talking, with one trying to convince the other why he deserves food because his life is harder. People aren’t sorry for us when we approach the topic this way.
Yes, I understand that our nation’s priorities are skewed when we pay athletes what we do, and we don’t even pay our teachers enough to be considered middle class.
I understand the meme isn’t saying that teachers should be in the top one percent. Instead it’s meant to draw attention to the inconsistencies and messed up priorities.
All of this is fine, but we need to go about this differently. We should just present people with facts and hope they are smart and sensitive enough to come to the same conclusions.
Say things like: “Teachers often require a second job, meaning they have less time and energy to prepare their lessons -- which ultimately hurts the kids in the long run."
”A teacher’s career “life” expectancy is 5 years (3 if you are a Special Education teacher) with money often being the driving force for leaving." This leads to a very high turnover rate, which means inconsistencies with schools -- lack of leadership among faculty, and lack of experience in the classroom. The result: harmful for the students
You can be a little crazy and say things such as: “Did you know that a toll booth worker [Google ‘unexpected jobs that make more than teachers’ I warn you - the results are depressing] makes more than a teacher.” The point is, we need to make it relevant to the people whom are in these discussions.
We need to make it important to them, just like what we do with our lessons every day with our students.
2. Summers off doesn't mean work from home
Teachers need to quit giving the illusion summers are nothing but work and hardships. Yes, I know many of us work on curriculum, lesson plans, read, study, have a second job, and so much more. However, I’m going to say this (and it’s not going to be popular) but any school work done during the summer is our choice. Nobody is making us work over the summer. We aren’t even paid for it. When we complain about having to work over the summer, people’s first thoughts are:
“At least you get a summer.”
The truth is, we need that time for rest and to be recharged. Let’s be honest, it is a perk and a necessity. I know we are tired of people saying:
“You have an easy job, you get summers off.”
If you haven’t taught, you aren’t going to understand the importance of a summer break for a teacher.
So, just embrace it.
Quit working over the summer, take your break, and enjoy it.
Trust me, you need it.
3. Don't be petty
Teachers need to stop bringing up petty things to convince people that our job is hard. No joke, I've seen people post things like:
"Teachers are on their feet so much they get varicose veins”
”Teachers wake up early, because they don’t know how to sleep in"
”Teachers often develop bladder problems because they can’t go to the restroom whenever they want.”
So, to recap, varicose veins, getting up early, and bladder problems.
You just described my pregnant wife (she gave me permission to say that).
Point is, these petty complaints aren’t relevant to our cause. Instead, teachers have enough to talk about that demonstrate our difficult job. We need to make these stories meaningful. Tell people about:
how we get chairs thrown at us,
how students have attacked us in the hallways,
how we provide breakfast, lunch, dinner, clothes, deodorant, rides, and Christmas presents.
We have plenty of stories to convey our job is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, we don’t need to act like we’re desperate for more to tell people.
4. Don't Force it
Teachers need to stop forcing conversations and start waiting for appropriate times to bring up our hardships.
I must admit, I’m guilty of this one.
Teachers are often the worst at always bringing up how our lives are so much more difficult than yours.
We say things like “I’m used to it - I’m a teacher.” We wear that badge with honor.
One of my non-teacher friends once said to me “I’m just tired of it always being shoved down my throat. We get it! You aren’t happy with your pay and your job is hard.” When he said this, I must admit, my feelings were hurt. I remember we were watching a basketball game on TV and he sneezed. Instead of me saying “Bless you" - I said “here’s why I deserve more money than you - Varicose Veins!”
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how it went, but he did express that he’s tired of always being made to feel guilty that teachers don’t have enough.
Truth is, we take pride in our job and we want to talk about it.
The problem is, we don’t wait for the topic to come up naturally and we force it into our conversation. All we are doing is desensitizing people to our message. We need to be patient and let the conversations happen organically.
Believe me, you won’t have to wait long, especially this election year -- just listen to a candidate’s solution for poverty, repeat criminal offenders, over-populated prisons, bettering our country.
The answer is:
We need to educate!
The point is, education is constantly a trending topic. Let the conversations happen naturally. It will mean more to the person during the discussions.
5. Don't focus on the negative
Teachers should stop focusing on just the negative things in our career.
Unfortunately, this is the hardest, yet most important point.
This part is just as much for me as anyone else.
I understand that it’s easy to focus on the bad things in our career. Sometimes we’re just desperate for a win and we feel like we aren’t making a difference.
As hard as it is to believe, we are.
The problem is that we focus on our failures, the difficulties of our job, people’s lack of empathy, state tests, student’s behavior, low income, the lack of parent involvement, elements out of our control, and always being the “bad guy.”
It really is easy to fall into this trap.
So what do we do to combat this?
Instead, we start focusing on the positive things -- even if it’s something as simple as “little Johnny remembered his pencil for class today.”
We focus on our students -- the ones constantly trying, doing everything right, and showing growth.
We focus on the favorite teacher that we had -- we try to remember they probably felt under-appreciated too. We remind ourselves they probably never knew how much they impacted our lives, because we didn’t go back and tell them.
Lastly, we focus on all things good about our job. This is a practice that we should do every day.
Don’t wait or forget to do this.
It doesn’t take long to get burned out, jaded, or to become “that teacher.”
This is crucial because students deserve a positive adult in their lives. Unfortunately, sometimes a teacher might be the only one that's reliable. So, just remember, a great teacher might be all that it takes to change a student’s life -- and I’m not just writing that to sound positive!
It’s just the truth.
Jordan Allen lives in Yukon, Oklahoma.
He's currently in his 5th year of teaching.
He's married with a daughter and another
child on the way. He graduated with a degree
in English from Oklahoma State University and
he's a huge Oklahoma State Cowboy fan.