The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

How Do Teachers Get to Carnegie Hall?

on September 25, 2015

As the old joke goes,“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?“ “Practice, practice, practice.” It is no joke that teachers get to classrooms by hard work, and that once they get there the real work just begins. What too many people don’t understand about teaching is that it is an on-stage/off-stage profession, just as it is for musicians, lawyers, actors, physicians, singers, and the religious clergy. In order to perform competently before an audience, you have to do a lot of work beforehand  and afterward that outsiders never know about.

For teachers the off-stage work every day may include reading and grading student papers, keeping records, contacting parents,  planning lessons, attending faculty meetings,  and, most time-consuming of all, reflecting on their recent teaching and searching out new materials and strategies to meet the  needs of diverse students. Many teachers also take college classes after school to maintain or improve their certification.

The fact that such work may take from two to four hours outside of the school day—and, often, a chunk of the weekend–is less important than the effort and expertise necessary to do it well. Good teachers are never just textbook monitors, who merely assign work and check that it is done; they are researchers of knowledge from many different sources, re-figuring that knowledge and skills into suitable forms for  students, and guiding them through the process.

Another fact is that there are no shortcuts. Although experienced teachers have an easier time with preparing lessons and reflecting on student performance than novices, they are also the ones who reach out to find new teaching strategies and a broader and deeper interpretation of the prescribed curriculum. In addition, they are usually the ones who care enough to mentor their less experienced colleagues.

Often teachers have been mocked for working only ten months while being paid for a full year. What outsiders don’t recognize is that the number of school days posted publically are for students, not teachers.  Before schools open for the year teachers spend several days setting up their classrooms, gathering materials, and meeting as a school staff. And after schools close for the summer, teachers have to strip their classrooms to the bare walls so they can be cleaned and refurbished for the following school year.  In addition, teachers must work some days  during the school year that students have off, filling out report cards, attending school district meetings, and holding parent-teacher conferences.

As for how teachers spend the summer days left to them, there are many variations.  Some teach summer school, some work at part-time jobs, some take it easy, and many make up for all the things they didn’t do around the house and for their families during the school year.  I took further education courses most summers and often saw teacher friends in the same classrooms or walking around campus.  May I be forgiven for the few days I spent each summer lolling at the  community swimming pool and dreaming.

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