I have been teaching for 14 years now and have been dismayed to see the progressive disintegration of our public image, thanks to the support of a succession of anti-teacher political campaigns that have made my profession a popular target.

Not that I haven’t also been personally attacked by family, friends (hmmm?) and acquaintances on many occasions.  Closest to mind is a two hour drive home my husband and I made at midnight, after a friend of a friend decided it was appropriate to take shots at my profession and at me, as a teacher, over a campfire.  I tried for over two hours to deflect his attacks with humour, then clarification, then gentle defence.  I wound up sitting in the driver’s seat of my truck crying.  My husband said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”  My husband, the Business-Model-Right-of-Right-Conservative.  My husband the now-reformed.  He is the now first to jump to teachers’ defence.  He says, “All you have to do is live with a teacher and you see how hard a job it really is.”

Teaching seems to be the one profession that everybody loves to hate.  So many people operate as armchair experts, feeling that having attended school gives them the entire picture of what being a teacher involves.  Here is the news flash.   They don’t have the first clue.  I always say that there is no better way to get a parent “on-board” than to invite them into my classroom for a day.  The door is always open to volunteers.  There is no better way to gain respect and support.  People have likely been to a dentist and a doctor for their entire lives.  Would they propose to extract a tooth or perform surgery?  Why is the attitude toward teaching so different?

Not only has the teaching profession completely changed since the days of their attendance, it never was all that they saw during school hours.  Teachers’ days began long before the bell, and ended long after.  If teachers left the building early, that only meant (and still means) that they spent their evenings working at home.

I AM a teacher because I have earned two university degrees.  After I started teaching, I earned two specialists degrees by paying for and completing Additional Qualification courses on my own time.  

The classroom is now a veritable maze of IEPs; SNCs; PLCs; TLCP; IPRCs; SERTs; RCTs; EAs; MET documents; “Better Answers”; ALPs; ACE and ACT; SEA equipment; Differentiated Instruction; ABA; ASD, OCD, ODD, LD, DD, ADD, ADHD and all the other acronyms affecting students with special needs who are fully integrated into our regular classrooms (most without support); ESL students (yes they are fully integrated as well, without much, if any support); comprehensive literacy programs; three-part lessons; PM Benchmarks, CASI, character education; equity; BIPSA; SIPSA; long range plans; unit plans; day plans; assessment strategies; and TPAs.  Unless you not only know what each and every one of these mean, but also implement them, work within them or ARE them, you truly don’t know what being a teacher involves.  Every year the expectations for my work load increase.  Even my mother, (a retired teacher of 35 years) says this is a profession she no longer recognizes.

Oh…that’s right…I forgot to mention planning and delivering lessons to students.  That’s the teaching part.  The part, the public knows so well.  That’s the easy part.

Gone are lunchroom supervisors, school yard supervisors, music teachers, science teachers, phys-ed teachers or art teachers.  We are responsible for covering all of the supervision, and all of the planning and delivering of the entire curriculum.

Yes, I do have summers off, and no, I am NOT paid for them.  The “pay” I receive throughout the summer was withheld from my pay throughout the previous year.  The Board hangs on to this money, and pockets the interest on the deferred amount, so that we can better plan our summers financially.  Yes, I have an awesome pension, but close to $500/month is automatically deducted from my pay and invested into the Plan.  This is substantially more investment than most make to their retirements.

Each year I receive from our school council, $100.00 out of fund-raising dollars.  My average classroom expenditure is usually around $500.00 per year, but I have spent as much as $800.00.  This is completely out of pocket.  This is routine and every teacher does it.  Every decoration you see in the room is mine.  The alphabet strip, number strip, little bears holding coloured balloons, Welcome to School sign, birthday chart, hundreds chart, incentive chart and virtually every bulletin board trimmer and display piece and poster was purchased by ME.  If parents receive a special Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day present, crafted by their little one, I likely paid for it.  Every time I cook with the students or do a science experiment, I purchase ingredients.  Every sticker, award, and special activity is paid for by me.  Nearly every storybook and at least half of the take home reading program books are mine.  All of the board games are mine.  Most of the resource books, math manipulatives and language activities are mine.  These are afforded to the classroom, not by public tax dollars, the Ministry, Board or the School, but by my hard-earned money.  Regardless of the gentle requests on behalf of my husband each year to curb my classroom spending, and allow the parents to see the system for what it is without our personal financial supplementation, I would not want to provide the students with the environment that is the reality of our current funding model.  Despite how badly the public treats me, despite the disrespect and lynchings in the newspapers and on T.V., I continue to do the very best job I can.

Of course I do…because I have the summers off.  Right?  No, my friends.  There isn’t a summer long enough to make up for the attacks I have sustained and the crap that I put up with.  I do it because I care about students and I love to teach.  Through teaching, I continue learning for the rest of my life.

Lastly, you may wish to claim that I am just a special teacher who is different from the other lazy duds, and goes the extra mile, but I’m not “different.”  I am an average teacher.  On a daily basis, I witness my colleagues going the extra mile in all the same ways I do.  As in every profession, there are bad apples, but I am proud to say I haven’t encountered very many during the course of my career.

I AM a teacher, and I am PROUD OF IT.   Even though I know fewer and fewer people are thanking us every day, we still remain worthy of their deepest appreciation.

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