I am lucky to have the opportunity to reflect and share some of my experiences as an elementary school teacher in the United States. The challenge is, where to begin? Therefore, I start the same way I encourage my students to begin a writing piece: ask questions and then select one to answer in the form of a writing piece.
My question: “What is a typical day of teaching in the United States?
Immediately, I recognized this is impossible to answer. I cannot speak on behalf of an entire country or any of my co-workers. And there is no such thing as a typical day of teaching. I am assuming this is true in India and around the world as it is in the United States. So much happens in a school day that an 800-word article could become a novel.
A school day is not limited to the time a teacher is with his/her students. It often begins the moment the teacher wakes up and lasts until he/she falls asleep that evening. Many a times, I find myself waking up and my first thoughts are about school.
“What do I need to do to prepare for the day?”
“Do I have a meeting with a parent?”
During my drive to school, the questions continue or sometimes I rehearse lessons. Part of my morning routine is to stop at a coffee shop, sit down, open my planner, and look over that day’s schedule. Again I find myself asking questions, “Should I give the math quiz in the morning rather than in the afternoon when the students are tired?”
“Should I have students read the chapter in class or for homework?”
Back in the car on my way to work, the approaching school day is still on my mind with more questions:
“Does the previous day’s argument between the two classmates need to be addressed again or should I leave it alone?”
“Will I have time to call the bus company for our field trip?”
When I finally arrive and pick up my students, I am answering their barrage of questions and comments from, “Can I use the bathroom?” to “I forgot my homework.” During the day, the core teaching of the academics is shared with managing time and the students. Upon leaving school, I begin to rehash the events of the day, grade papers, meet with coworkers, and make calls to parents if needed. Often times, during my commute I try to distract myself by listening to the radio, but on some days it is difficult to block school entirely and take a break. I have worked outside of the teaching field and never put so much thought and energy into each day.
I believe the difference between the teaching and the non-teaching jobs is the clientele. What makes a teacher’s day atypical is the clientele who are children and have been on earth for a fraction of the time that we have. It is our job and responsibility to provide them with information and ensure they comprehend new forms of knowledge, while simultaneously instilling upon them values and practices in order to help them become positive and productive members of their community, country, and even world. I want my students to understand the course materials and become critical thinkers and problem solvers. I expect to accomplish these goals with numerous students, each with their own learning styles, personalities, and backgrounds. In many “office jobs” the client is dealt with through emails or quick telephone calls. The teacher’s clients are with them for the entire day, sharing the same space. If a “client” or student is unruly, a teacher cannot hang up on them or delete them. Teachers have to deal with the situation at that moment while managing a roomful of other students and refocusing the class toward the current lesson.
It is important to leave all business and personal issues outside the classroom, which is sometimes difficult to accomplish. Politics, budgets, contracts, pressure for higher standardized test scores, licensing, meetings, the work place environment, coworkers, and of course personal life concerns, should not get in the way of teaching.
Therefore, how can there be a typical day in teaching? Atypical days properly challenge students and teachers and propel them towards success. Every day is new, which makes this profession exciting and invigorating. Instead of saying, “we teach”, I believe as teachers we should take a cue from the medical and law professions, and state we “practice” teaching. Teachers, like doctors and lawyers, are constantly practicing to improve. As a teacher I also need to continuously practice and improve because each class of students offers a new opportunity and welcome challenge on a daily basis.
Therefore, after addressing my initial question, “What is a typical day of teaching in the United States?” I now have a new one, “What strategies are best for creating educational, productive, and enjoyable atypical days for my students?”
The author is an elementary school teacher, in Bridgewater, Vermont, USA. He has previously taught at the Children’s Workshop School, an alternative public school in New York City and has volunteered as an English teacher in Kabul, Afghanistan with the NGO, Afghans4Tomorrow. He can be reached at [email protected]