I work hard with one goal in mind: To provide the best possible education to the students in my classroom and to inspire them to become lifelong learners.

I get up early, work at home some nights and weekends, show up early at school if I need to, and stay late if I need to, particularly if a student has reached out to me for help.

When you visit my school or my classroom, it takes time out of my life – time that I need to prepare for the day’s lessons, or my free time, to which I am entitled and which I need so I can clear my head. It takes time because I have to make everything as perfect as possible. That means doing some things that do not impact academic performance, but which you think are important. That big stack of papers on my desk? Gone – I shoved it in a closet. The hand print near the door from three weeks ago? Gone – I scrubbed it with Windex. I hate to admit this, but once, when I heard you were coming, I sent an unruly student elsewhere on campus to perform a worthless task rather than run the risk of an outburst while you are visiting.

I don’t want you in my classroom. I don’t need you in my classroom. Your visits are disruptive and have no value because they rarely result in any substantive changes to anything. In fact, they can even make things worse.  You said after one teacher visit last October that you wanted students to be reading at grade level by April. But you didn’t give us any tools of any value, all you did was wish. When we read about this goal my colleagues and I had a chuckle so I guess I should thank you for making us laugh.

Please – stay away.

I don’t laugh as much as I used to. I used to come to work excited to be doing something that most people think is a noble profession. I still believe it is, but I no longer have the same intensity; the same fire. That has been smothered by the incessant bureaucratic requirements of my job. The constant testing, reporting, and analyzing is wearing me out. I used to wonder why teachers left the profession after an average of 5 1/2 years – they must be bad teachers, I thought. Now I realize it can happen to anyone.

The reality is that it takes me only about two weeks at the beginning of each semester to figure out which kids need extra help and which ones don’t. I’m smart that way, and nearly all of my colleagues know this about their students, too. But instead of allowing me the freedom to apply extra teaching time where it is needed, that extra time is spent reporting to you what I already know. And it wouldn’t be so bad if anything came of all the reporting and monitoring, but it doesn’t.

Want to help me? Get out of my way and let me do what you hired me to do: Let me teach.

Want to help me? Stop lowering my morale by rewarding yourselves with more money when I don’t believe you deserve it. I don’t like the idea of merit pay for my colleagues and me because there are so many intangibles to good academic performance. But you? You are making the big bucks for achieving vague goals or no goals at all. You are supposed to take the heat – you’re supposed to watch my back – yet not once in all the years I have been teaching in this district have I ever heard you take responsibility for anything. I will not follow someone or support them if they can’t do that.

And just so you know… Your high salaries and raises? That’s my money, too. That’s the money you should have for me when it’s time for the union to negotiate our new contract. That’s how I look at it.

About the money… I did not get into teaching to get rich. No one does. We’re here because we start out with passion. Part of your job description is to make sure that I bring the same intensity to work after five years that I had on my first day when I had butterflies in my stomach. In order to be effective in that part of your job, you’re going to have to change. That will be hard, I know, but it’s necessary to improving academic performance. You see, the longer I do this work, the better I get. But when you approach every semester or every challenge by doing things the same way you were doing them ten years ago, you make my job harder. What you need to do – and what is hard to do, I know – is to think less about yourself and more about me. I need to have you become a servant leader (you can look up the concept).

A few days ago, a father took his 23-year-old son out to dinner. They have a good relationship – his son regularly says, “I love you, dad” – but there’s always the part where the dad starts in with the preaching and instructions and his son starts to tune out. The dad can’t help himself.

At this dinner, however, the dad made a determined effort to keep his mouth shut. “I opened it only to provide words of encouragement or to ask a question.” When he did that, an amazing thing happened: His son talked and talked, telling his dad a lot of his dad didn’t know but had been wondering about.

At the end of the evening, the son said that they should make the Wednesday night dinners a regular thing.

The success of my performance is a lot like that dinner. When you meddle, it becomes noise. If you could just leave me alone, if you could cut way back on the administrative things that take time away from teaching, I believe you’d see improved academic performance.

Yes, I am a teacher, but I am also a nurse, a psychologist, a nanny, a surrogate parent, and sometimes I am a marriage counselor. I don’t make nearly as much money as you, but I work hard or harder and this much I know: If we fail in the goal of improving academic performance, the parents of my students and the general public is going to think that it’s my fault. I’m the one whose head is likely to roll or who will be reassigned so you can tell your constituency that you have “taken appropriate steps to get back on course” or some other phony phrasing that has been overused over the years.  You won’t suffer – I will. And more to the point, you may even get a raise and a promotion.

I love my work, I truly do. I’m making a difference in the world and many of my friends and family can’t say that. I don’t want to stop teaching, but I know that there is a distinct possibility that one day I will wake up and dread my job, not because of the kids or the parents but because of you.

The sad thing is that you’ll think it’s because of me.

Steve Smith

 

 

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