I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants in my life, but I’ve never worked at one. My wife was a waitress in college, so when we go out to eat and I complain about something, she’s usually able to offer me an explanation.
The table next to ours received their food first because they ordered soup and sandwiches and we ordered pizza.
That family was seated ahead of ours because a table for four opened up, but there isn’t yet room for our party of six.
The restaurant may appear sparsely populated, but our food could be taking a long time because there’s a backlog of take-out orders.
Until you do a job, you can’t appreciate all that goes into it. It’s this fact of life that accounts for many of the misconceptions parents have about teaching. So here are 10 things parents might not know.
We Have Less Control Over Things Than You Think We Do
The state adopts standards that we have to teach. The Board of Education approves programs that we’re required to use. The district’s administrators are under pressure to improve test scores, and that filters down to us. We may be “there for the kids,” but we’re also employees. So while we may want to teach your child other things and in other ways, we usually have less discretion than you suspect. When you complain about our math program, you put us in a difficult position. We might very well agree with you, but saying so would be unprofessional.
We Do It All Ourselves
Teachers don’t have office assistants. We type all of our own newsletters and emails. Because we have many other urgent things to do, we likely typed that newsletter in ten minutes, while being interrupted three times, and then quickly read it over once before hitting print and running out of the room to pick up our students from some other class. Those typos aren’t because we’re idiots. They are the predictable result of never having enough time to do all aspects of our jobs at the level we’d like to.
We Forget Stuff
There are a LOT of things that happen during the day. We may read an email from you right before the office interrupts with an announcement and a girl picks a scab and comes running for a Band-Aid. The contents of your email can quickly become forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of our days. We don’t recall everything that happens. If we send an email home explaining that Tommy had a rough day, don’t be surprised if we’re unable to recall the six things Tommy specifically did that led to the email. All we remember is he was disruptive.
We’re Really Busy
We don’t have office jobs. We have a computer, but there’s a very good chance we won’t sit in front of it the entire day. If you email at 10 a.m. asking us to tell Timmy to ride the bus home after school and you don’t get a response back, you should call the office. We either didn’t check our email or we read it and forgot (see We Forget Stuff above).
We’re More Annoyed Than You About Buying School Supplies
We don’t like asking you to provide notebooks, pencils, folders, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all the other things on those beginning-of-the-year supply lists. But our schools aren’t buying them for us, and we already spend plenty of our own money on things we shouldn’t have to. If you don’t want to buy the stuff on the list, that’s fine. But don’t complain to us about it.
We Don’t Really Want to Take Your Kids’ Toys
We know it’s unrealistic to expect you to double-check your kids’ backpacks every morning and that most toys arrive in our classrooms without your knowledge. But please understand that when we take your sons’ toys we’re doing it because they’re distracting, and if we allow one there will ten more tomorrow. So please, if your child takes a toy to school and it’s taken away from him, don’t bail him out by coming to school and asking for the toy back. Let him learn his lesson, at least for a week.
We Might Not Want Your Help
Schools like to talk about how they want more parent involvement, and some parents generously offer to help in classrooms. Sometimes, it’s greatly appreciated. But other times, it’s more work for us. We’re used to doing things ourselves. We’re not very good at delegating. And if we know you’re coming every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., we have to find something for you to do. We’ve also had parents who caused more problems than they solved. They joked around and distracted students, made too much noise when they were in the room, and modeled bad behavior. We don’t want to correct your behavior in front of the class, but we also don’t want our students disrupted. Sometimes, we don’t want to take the risk, so we don’t ask for your help.
If We Meet With You Before or After School, We’re Working for Free (and We Might Resent It)
If we need to talk to our doctors, we must do so on their time. If we call a business after it’s closed, we have to wait until tomorrow to get service. Even professionals like realtors or financial advisors who will meet with us after hours are doing so with the expectation of a pay-off in the future. If we meet with you before school, we’re probably thinking about all the things we need to do before students arrive. If we’re meeting with you after school, we’re tired and want to go home. We’ll be professional, but we’re no more happy about it than you would be if your boss asked you to stay and work for free.
There’s Not Much I Can Do To Punish Your Kid
Some of you want us to handle all things school-related, but there’s little we can do when your child regularly misbehaves. Our principals may think we’re ineffective if we send your kid to the office too often. Taking away recess is counterproductive and punishes us just as much as your child. Other more creative consequences may be met with criticism from you, despite your pledge to stay out of school matters. If your child isn’t doing her job at school, you’re in the best position to punish your kid because you can take away the things she really likes. You’ll send a stronger message by taking away her iPad, making her go to bed thirty minutes early, or not allowing her to attend a sleepover on Saturday than we will by giving her a lunch detention. If we’re telling you about your kid’s poor behavior, it’s because we want you to do something.
If we tell you that your kid was disrespectful to his classmates, we’re really telling you that your kid was a jerk. If we describe your child as “difficult to motivate,” we’re calling him lazy. If we say Jill had a difficult day, we mean she was a major pain in the keister. Whatever we tell you, assume it was twice as bad as it sounds.
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“The reason teachers are so tired at the end of the school day is that they have been working. If I worked as hard as many teachers do, I’d be as tired too. But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 0‘clock when the students leave? “Yea, yea, yea!” Why are they so full of energy? Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher does all the work. The person who does all the work is the only one doing any learning!”
Doing less benefits me. It also benefits my students.
I’m in a better mood at work because I’m less stressed. My better mood means I’m more patient with students. Being well-rested means I’m less likely to make bad decisions and more likely to be calm, use humor, and build positive relationships with students and colleagues. It makes for a more pleasant environment for everybody.
My well-being directly impacts my students.
While doing less work benefits me, which in turn benefits my students, it also makes me a more effective teacher. That’s because when you do less, your students must do more, which means they’re more likely to learn. The person who does the work is the only one doing any learning.
Reduce Behavior Problems
But that’s now how anyone in the real world works. When I wrote my book Happy Teacher, no one gave me a stack of articles and books to read. No one provided links to the best web sites on happiness. I had to find them. I had to decide which ones best served my purposes. I had to select what information to use. I decided how much and what parts of each book to read. I had to evaluate the sources. This is the work students should be doing. When we do it for them, we miss powerful opportunities to teach authentic skills.
This year, for a unit on Native Americans, I did less work. Students did more. They collaborated to create a Google Slides presentation about three Native American groups that lived in Michigan. I provided the guidelines and different colored index cards to record notes. I modeled some of the skills outlined above. Then I set out every resource I had in my closet and let kids have at it. I allowed them to search online for videos. My role was limited to offering guidance, getting kids unstuck, and teaching lessons on evaluating the resources for how well they helped students meet the guidelines.
Some groups did well, others didn’t. They may not have all learned everything they were supposed to about Native Americans of Michigan, but they did all learn about working in a group, managing their time, evaluating resources, the importance of design in their presentations, and many other lessons that are more applicable to the real world that what kinds of houses the Chippewa built (wigwams, if you’re curious). And besides, they don’t all learn what they’re supposed to learn when I do all the work, either.
Enlist Their Help
So as I start thinking about next year, I’ll be looking for more areas where I can pull back and ask my students to step forward. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.
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Stop Punishing Yourself
Those Students Need Recess the Most
Everyone Deserves a Break
It Doesn’t Work
The Lone Exception
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Why You Should Not Use Whole Class Punishments
Why You Should Use Whole Class Punishments
I have the students working together to earn their recess each day. It’s quite simple to earn recess. All they have to do is end the day without two checks on the board. However, if they get two checks in one day, they lose recess and write the rules during that time to refocus on what they as a team need to be doing to be successful.
It never fails that someone will say that they weren’t doing anything wrong, and therefore, it’s not fair they lost their recess…I tell them it’s similar to when I used to play soccer. In some games I may be playing great and even score a goal. But if we aren’t playing well as a team and our defense lets up three goals, we still lose. I still lose the game despite my good performance.
- This class is a team, and we will succeed or fail as a team.
- Behavior is everyone’s business. If you see someone doing something they shouldn’t, get them to stop because that behavior is going to harm all of us.
- This classroom will reflect the real world.