I arrived at school at 7:30am as I usually do. School starts at 8:30, but I have found that having an hour before school is helpful to clear my inbox, make copies, and complete other various tasks to get ready for the day. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, my students can come in as early as 7:30 for math tutoring. Today, I come in to find three students waiting for me at the door. Each of the three students is working on something different. I help each of them as much as I can for about 45 minutes while finding a moment here and there to try to complete the list of things I mentioned above.
At 8:30, first block begins. My first block is 28 seniors who… let’s just say struggle with math. Or, rather, struggle with school in general. My co-teacher and I have done some formative assessment this year and have found that the majority of these students are at about a 7th grade level of math competency. We do our best to pull them through a curriculum that is designed for students with a competency 2 to 3 years ahead of theirs. 10 of these students are failing this class. All of them need the class to graduate. My co-teacher and I are in continuous contact with parents, principals, and counselors trying to do everything we can to get these kids to graduate.
At 10:00, students go to their second block. I teach Honors Math 1. Honors classes work a little more how you would imagine school should work. The kids mostly listen to their teachers, mostly learn what they are supposed to learn, and mostly do what adults ask them to do. They are freshman, so they get a little crazy sometimes, but most days it is more funny than obnoxious.
At 11:40, students go to their third block. My school is overcrowded and there are not enough rooms in the school for every teacher to be able to stay in one room all day. I pack my milk-crate full of math packets, two 3-inch three ring binders, 28 calculators (many of which are broken, all of which are out-dated), and various spiral notebooks and papers onto my cart and make my way to the other side of the school. My third block is in a classroom where intro to health/nursing classes are taught. It is filled with skeletons and models of various human innards. This is another class of 28 low-level seniors. 12 students are failing from this class–all of which need the class to graduate.
In the middle of third block, we have a 25 minute lunch. I allow failing students to stay and get tutoring during lunch if they so desire. I usually have 3-4 students stay per day.
For 4th block, I have a planning period. However, since I have 22 failing seniors who all need the class to graduate, anyone who has early release that would like to stay for 4th block tutoring can stay. I usually tutor 2-4 students per day for an hour plus during my planning period.
It is a Tuesday which is the day the club that I advise meets. It is a small club, but the students are passionate about it, so I am glad to advise it. They meet for about 45 minutes today.
I finish my day with an hour and a half of grading and emailing parents of students who are failing to keep them updated on their child’s progress (or lack thereof).
Tuesday was an average day. 10 hours of work (10.5 if you count tutoring through lunch) and I am working with students for about 8 of those hours. Some days I work a little more than this, some days a little less. Depending on the month/week/day, I get paid between 15-20 dollars per hour before taxes. Plus we do get state employee benefit options.
On the surface, that seems pretty OK, but consider three things.
1. Teaching in NC is a job that not only requires a 4-year college degree, but also a license that takes 2 years to earn, then must be renewed through various continuing education, professional development plans, and observations every 3-5 years. Other jobs that require a college degree and a specific license that must be earned/renewed include architects and real estate agents/brokers who make about 50% more per hour on average in NC than teachers. People often point out that teachers work 10 months instead of 12 months as a reason why their salaries are smaller. However, when you examine the approximate “per hour” salaries it is evident that even despite the 2 month working difference, our salaries are still unreasonably small in comparison with other jobs that require similar qualifications. You can find many other (much more elegant) sources around the internet that better portray this difference.
2. My dad is a house painter with a high school degree. He makes 25 dollars per hour. I do not mean to belittle what my dad does. He is a perfectionist, an excellent painter, and one of the hardest working people I have ever met. However, I struggle to rationalize why I literally had to go to college for 4 years to do what I do and must continually prove that I am qualified to do it and still make less money.
3. Our benefits are getting more expensive. Many of our benefits have doubled or tripled in price over the past 3 years. Two notable benefits that this is true of are health insurance and life insurance.
NC schools have… let’s just say many problems. First and foremost, in my opinion, is the pipe dream of a 100% graduation rate which has decreased the value of an NC high school diploma by a great deal and made being an effective teacher more difficult (a discussion for a completely different blog post). My working conditions are not good. I work too many hours for too little money. My school does not have offices for teachers which means we all eat, work, and go to the bathroom in a space about the size of one classroom. With the trends in modern education, students and parents have essentially become our bosses in addition to our actual bosses, and our principals and counselors are so obsessed with graduation percentages that student discipline has become all but non-existent.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher after my freshman year of high school. I am a recipient of the NC Teaching Fellows Scholarship (which no longer exists due to another NC education budget cut). I got into teaching because I loved it. I don’t mind doing extra if it will benefit my students. Today, I bought 40 dollars worth of batteries as our math department ran out of our calculator battery allotment 3 months ago. Each year I have taught it has become increasingly more difficult to love this job. In fact, there are days when I have told my wife that I hate this job. I hope today’s walkout lets people know how bad it has gotten. I hope some meaningful changes happen. I hope this job can get back to a place where I love it. I hope if you have read this blog post you didn’t hate it, and if you happen to be one of my students or a parent of one of my students, know I am doing everything I can for my students and everything I can to stay positive.