Truths from a City School Teacher

Being an educator is a really rewarding profession. One I was proud to be a part of for just shy of 10 years. Also, one I consider going back to in some capacity. But the idea of being a classroom teacher again is proving to be a big road block. I can only speak from my experience and I taught general education in Elementary School. Mostly third grade, every subject. I absolutely LOVED working with kids, especially in underserved communities. It brought me immense joy. But it was HARD. I don’t care what grade you teach. It is hard. The job description barely breaches the endless list of responsibilities and to dos that are constantly covering your desk. Your child is spending the majority of their day with me. I want to do everything possible to create a trusting and positive relationship so school is a safe and fun place to foster your child’s individual growth, guide them into being lil citizens of the good ol US of A. It’s a lot.

I graduated with a Master’s in Early Childhood Edu (and an Art minor 🤙🏽) from THE Ohio State University. I started volunteering with KidCorp when I was a sophomore and quickly fell in love with working with children in underserved, urban areas of Columbus. It inspired me to switch my major from Art (which I figured I could do with all of the free time being a teacher affords…LMFAO) to Education. And so it began. Since graduating OSU, I’ve taught in Jackson, MS, Atlanta, GA, and Columbus OH. All in the city school systems. And all capital cities, fun 🤗 All basically the same district requirements.

My first job in Jackson, MS set the bar high with behavior issues. OSU’s master’s program was one of the best in the country at the time, it probably still is… 😜 It taught me to treat children with value and care, be intentional. But Jackson challenged me on an individual level so much that I developed a thicker skin, I learned how to bridge what I learned in school with what was appropriate for the culture and climate of the school in which I was teaching. I could use strategies I learned in college, but I definitely had to adapt them to the environment in which I was teaching. The South is different than the Midwest, lots of factors come into play. I found out real quick that I needed to find my teacher voice and be stern with the kids. My loveliest assistant from Jackson Mrs. Vivian Burse taught me that. She was patient and kind and understanding with me. S/O to you Mrs. Burse, you’re Xmas mix CD is still the best holiday playlist I have!

But anyway, the lack of funding and support in general for the city school district in Jackson was unfortunate to say the least. Teachers had/have to be very innovative with supplies. We were so short on paper that we had to submit our copies at the beginning of the week to be approved and then copied. I almost never followed the lesson plans that were submitted the week prior because LOLLL. Seriously. In addition to the plans turned in, I did a daily lesson plan every evening for the next day because things inevitably change and lessons take waaaaaay longer than the allotted time frame. And honestly, it’s just the way I worked. I was taught to be very reflective in my teaching. You have to be flexible with lesson planning. Plus, I liked writing out my plan too. Like a dinosaur. So lesson planning for all subjects- all differentiated (leveled), graded work, graded and analyzed test scores, creating interventions, creating excel work, tracking reading scores, testing reading levels 27 million times a year, and so much more I can’t even remember…endless lists of acronyms… RIMP, SLO, TRC (all student progress tracking “tools”). 🤯🤯🤯 And now rinse and repeat for math. Visualize it, please.

After 3 years in Jackson we moved to Atlanta, GA and I was so very blessed to work at an APS school in downtown ATL. It was a wonderful school with a fantastic administrator which means the WORLD in education. But still. It was a heavy amount of work. Tending to the needs of so many students is insanely challenging. Think of how different we are as people, even from those in our own family. Everyone learns different. Third graders have to pass their state reading test to be promoted to fourth grade. Unfortunately, with the amount of kids coming into the classroom well below third grade reading level, you spend a lot of the year playing catch up. I always remember thinking how much more effective I could be as an educator if I had a smaller class size. But it is what it is. I learned to do my best. I am probably one of the few teachers who learned to put the work down. For life, my life. Quality time with family and friends was and is too important to me. I learned I would have an EVERLASTING to do list in this entire career. It was just sooooo much to keep track of, especially for a scatter brain like myself (day of the scrambler here 🙌🏼). I can imagine you’re beginning to see how the amount of work in which a teacher is required to do is NOT reflected in the pay scale. Pssssh. No shit I get my summers off. Yep, I’ll take spring break too. Can you imagine caring for and all that entails, counseling, teaching, grading assignments + tests in EVERY subject and tracking your child’s progress in all that EVERY DAY? Now imagine doing that times 30. Even if you don’t teach every subject you still have the same amount of work because you have more than 30 students, you just have less planning. The crazy thing is people actually think this is possible. I’m sorry, not only possible, expected.

All this and I haven’t even told you about the enormous amount of distractions thrown into a general instruction day…

So obviously- Behavior. Behavior was a HUGE issue in all the schools in which I’ve worked. I should add that I sought this out. I enjoy the mentoring aspect of teaching and character development. I became super close to some of the students that gave me the biggest challenges. Think I even got through to some of the lil buggers. 🥰 It was one of the greatest bonds between my Dad and I, that idealistic, saving the world attitude. But just imagine things like- getting milk poured on your head during breakfast duty while breaking up a fight, talking down a student who is flipping desks because he/she was triggered. Fun stuff like that.

Next, the lack of appropriate resources is a problem. Working in city schools really highlighted the lack of equal opportunity urban, underserved areas are faced with. The world today is a world of technology, fast learning, moving. And I have 4 old ass computers in my room that I’m lucky to get 50% at best out of on a good day. Keep cutting funding for public education…

For an example of a school day, I’ll use a third grade classroom. I’ve taught third grade in 3 different schools over the years. In this school in particular, the year I’m referencing, I had 31 students on a daily basis, well on my roster. Aside from the few 20 minute periods of time some kids would be pulled out of the classroom and worked with on certain things (Speech, reading intervention, etc). My expectations were the same as every teacher’s expectations: carry out the planned 5 lesson plans for 5 subjects. Making sure to include interventions, excel work, commonly know as “Tier” work, meaning you basically plan/teach 3 levels to every lesson. School begins at 8:00 a.m. but most of your class is sitting in the hallway lined up by your door at 7:45 a.m. waiting to be let in. So you let them in early and put out morning work to warm up the minds and let the kids get settled while you address morning issues.

So the bell rings and reading/literacy block starts…But a lot of your kids aren’t here yet. And 2 (or 7) are having a hard morning and didn’t get breakfast. One got in a fight in the hallway and had to go to the office, you are now being updated about the incident but actually thinking about where in the hell your coffee disappeared to again. 3 kids want help with morning work, 3 more want to tell you why they couldn’t do their homework. This is all before school even really starts. The white board isn’t working so you have to plan B, which is fine because “You living in a world that come with plan B, cuz plan A never relay a guarantee..” (Thanks Kendrick 🙏🏽). But really flexibility and adaptability are key in this profession. So you keep rolling.

Teaching and learning have evolved. In a great way. You may cringe to hear it, but I support Common Core, for the most part. I guess I should say, I support education reform and CCSS (Common Core State Standards) are part of that reform. I know it sucks that it’s tricky and challenging and different. You weren’t taught that way and you don’t know how to do it. As a parent who the hell has time to research how to help your child with their homework? But we need to be smarter as a country. Yes, the math is hard, but with the ever-growing and quickly evolving technical world, the math is going to be harder. It’s never going to regress. For our children to be properly prepared for THEIR future, they need to be held to higher standards. CCSS provides the higher standards. But of course those higher standards pose LOTS of problems, one prime being the lack of equal resources available in schools. Certain areas or school are MUCH more well equipped to meet those higher standards than others. You can’t just say here meet these standards and kids perform. This means innovatively planning lots of differentiated activities with technology (that doesn’t work) and centers engaging and honing all learning styles with NEW learning strategies and with less support services and required resources.

I’m very much in support of catering to individual needs of the student, but it is highly unrealistic with one teacher and 30 students. It can be attempted. It does help to have a great system in place and that comes with experience and patience. But still, it’s pretty impossible. And honestly, I was good at the teaching part. I can connect with kids, their empathy, develop a trusting relationship, and educate. What I’m really not good at is ALL THE DOCUMENTATION. Especially when it is for no purpose other than looks or useless tracking for the district (I don’t think all tracking is useless, data analysis is extremely important to be successful in this profession). I was taught to focus on the process of learning and engage with the students. Not spend half my instruction time doing all the acronyms required to be turned into the district. Imagine how much my students could grow if teachers spent that time actually authentically engages with the student and their work.

Then there are those days when it’s tricky not to get caught up in the home lives of the students. It’s difficult to expect some students to be present and ready to learn with some of the outrageous living conditions. This is what reminds me every day that the playing field isn’t level. Certain areas have less opportunity. I’ve been very enlightened and humbled by my experiences with my students. Some of them have dealt with so much at such a young age. some are stronger at 9 than I am at 33. The feeling that you may be helping in someway is insurmountable, but then also the feeling of not being able to help so much more is crushing. I’ll never forget when I gave one of my classes the writing prompt, “I wish my teacher knew…” for morning work. They were required to write something they wish I knew about them or their home life, anything really. One girl’s response- “I wish my teacher knew I was scared because I heard gun shots last night and my mom wasn’t home.” Wow. If that doesn’t provide you with perspective I’m not sure what will.

I don’t think I covered everything but I’m sure you’re over it by now. Conclusion- give your kid’s teacher a damn break. Their job is hard. Most try VERY hard to do their best. And they are already thinking of how they can do better. And they’re wildly underpaid for the amount of work that is required. And they have a life outside school. Oh and yes, your kid lies sometimes. Shocking I know. It doesn’t make them a bad child. C’mon now.

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Just a girl from Ohio traveling around trying to LIVE and document this emotional rollercoaster of a life. The twists and turns have taken me everywhere from Jackson, MS to now Las Vegas, NV. I married a pilot so moving around has become habitual for us. It’s really enlightened me on how adaptaive I can be. I consider it one of my strong suits now. My mantra: “Nothing is permanent but impermanence.” Very Buddhist. I really enjoy taking photos and writing about the uniqueness of each city that we travel to or live. I’m the mother to a smart and sassy toddler diva and the wife of a real gem of a husband. I adore everything about them. We’ve created quite a lil story. Good and bad. We try to focus on the good :)

4 thoughts on “Truths from a City School Teacher

  1. Well said. I had a romanticized version of what teaching was, and had also given the “What do you want your teacher to know” assignment. Fortunately, nothing as bad as what you described. IDK how anyone with a child your own can teach b/c you are literally neglecting your own to make sure your students are taught and cared for (in endless ways). What really wore me out was having to be the cheerleader for motivation. I would give 30 minutes of homework, and 75% class would have excuses why it wasn’t done. I even had an accountability chart and they had to write WHY they didn’t do it. Most of the answers were “I was tired.” Oh, so your parent let you stay up until midnight playing on your computer? Great. Why should I care more about your child’s welfare than you do? And the endless meetings. Just when you think you have time to catch-up on your work, you get called to a meeting. I can’t believe you lasted 10 years in that profession, Carly. I was never good at multi-tasking, and that’s a good part of what teaching is. I never learned how to work smarter, not harder. I retired early b/c a teacher I knew (age 67) left school one evening and they found her dead in her car at the fist traffic light. Natural causes. The stress will kill you. So, instead of waiting, I “stepped out” of the profession and the district. My income is 1/2 of what I made (pensions) but I am calm, relaxed, and happy. I now dedicate my energy to my twins…football games, band performances, and trips to Utah. I’m home to prepare dinner every night. I make their breakfast every morning and pack their lunches. Guess you could say I’m a “housewife.” Nothing beats family time! I can now visit with old friends I never had time for before. All this instead of working all those extra hours with no overtime pay. My daughter’s illness was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to go on leave, and really assess my situation. I got chest pains just thinking about going back to work! But I had a choice. I had enough years to retire from the district, so that’s what I did. I am living my best life.

  2. The meetings!!! Omg I forgot to even talk about those!!! I feel you though ♥️ I feel very fortunate to get to stay home with my lil Lyla right now ♥️♥️♥️ and focus on more creative work 🙌🏼 Thanks for your thoughts 😘

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