Thursday, September 01, 2005

Unique pressures message needs repeating and repeating..

I know of no other job with the kinds of pressures that face typical classroom teachers. Teachers are in charge of, and responsible for, the activities of twenty to thirty-five young people in one room, all at the same time, nearly all day long.

A school superintendent may make tough decisions affecting education in noticeable ways. The superintendent also leads more than twenty to thirty people. Not since he or she escaped the classroom, however, has a superintendent been in charge of twenty or more young people in one room, all at the same time, for nearly the entire day.

A school principal, like the superintendent, also deals with many people by phone and in person during a day. But never twenty to thirty-five pupils all in the same room for nearly the entire day, every day, for one hundred eighty days, every year.

Corporate presidents, CEO’s, and editors are in charge of more people. So are many managers. They make important decisions. Business pressures are great. Executives and managers, however, also do not have twenty to thirty-five kids in one room at the same time, nearly all day long, looking to them for each minute’s activity and daily learning. Clerks and sales people have pressures, but they deal with one or two people at a time, never more than twenty in one room all day, every day.

Professional athletes receive millions each season for playing games, and no one seems to mind that they don’t work more than six months a year. Society is only beginning to say that they are overpaid. Since they entertain millions, most fans still think they are worth the money. Yet their games last an hour or two, and though thousands of fans may be on site, the players are not held responsible for the continuous activities of even twenty of them together in one room for an entire day.

Doctors make life and death decisions. So do U.S. Presidents and whoever is in charge of U.S. Presidents. Important decisions affecting people are made by all kinds of individuals "in charge." Factory workers, farmers, programmers, reporters, and lawyers -- every job has pressures I know nothing about.

I am in no way arguing comparative levels of importance or deserved respect or salaries. Maybe David Letterman deserves millions for his few hours per week on the air. Perhaps Meg Ryan deserves ten million dollars for each six-week period or so she puts into a movie. Britney Spears, arguably, deserves her take from a one-night concert. It’s not a good time to mention CEO salaries, but some of them, too, may be deserved.

None of those jobs, however, includes being in continual charge of the continuous activities and educational progress of twenty to thirty-five children all in the same room at the same time for nearly the entire day. I am arguing neither the intensity nor the importance of other pressures or jobs. Once more, I am merely suggesting the uniqueness of the pressures facing classroom teachers.

You parents have been supervising your kids for the summer just ending. You were responsible for the activities of your one, two, five, or nine children. Some of you went to work and let them be free runners for eleven weeks or so. Others organized your children’s activities: summer school, summer camp, day camp, "sitters," etc. Many of you, no doubt, had your children under direct supervision for much of each day.

None of you parents, however, had twenty to thirty-five children under continuous supervision in one room at the same time five days a week, every week, this past summer. Nor do you expect to have your children tested for adequate progress over your own summer instruction. There will be no mandatory tests to determine your kids' learning in areas such as sexual knowledge, the effects of drugs and alcohol, ethics, honesty, manners and politeness, religion, love, and family values. Those are areas of learning that many people believe are parents’ major responsibilities for teaching. But no one will suggest they be tested, nor that results of tests should determine whether or not they be allowed to continue their next grade level in school. And certainly they will not be tested to determine whether or not their family summertime educational progress in those family oriented educational areas was adequate or needs to be taken over by the state.

So you parents are now ready to send your kids back to school, no matter how you have prepared them for the new term. You are eager to get them back into rooms with twenty to thirty-five others to be supervised and taught for nearly the entire day by one person at a time. The pressures of supervising your own beloved children for a short summer have you thankful for the fall term.

Then, as this school year begins, bow low in honor of teachers. They willingly return to the pressures of working with your happy and your sad children, with your unwilling, your eager, your capable, your lazy, your hostile, and your cooperative children, your rude, polite, noisy, quiet, bright, creative, dull, emotional, assertive, and your passive children -- all in one room, all at the same time, for nearly all day of each day of every school year.

My point is simple: There are no pressures quite like that.

© Dana Wall 2005

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Send this to every newspaper, magazine, TV channel, radio station, religious mailing you can think of.
This is good, and I know good.

Royce Barnum

9/03/2005 9:01 PM  
Anonymous retired superintendent said...

Right on. I must confess for myself, and probably every other administrator who left the classroom, that it was not just more money, nor a desire to make decisions at a wider level than the classroom, that had us leave teaching. The pressures you describe drove us to look for alternative jobs in education!

9/26/2005 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10/21/2005 9:35 PM  
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