March 29, 2010

Finally Appreciating Something I Never Really Valued

When I was younger (still in K-12) I used to always marvel at the amount of vacation time teachers and other school staff got.

"They get the same amount of time that we get off, and they don't even have homework! Lucky!"

When I started teaching in Madrid and found out that I had eleven days off for Semana Santa (Easter/Spring Break) I was like, "Whaaaa? That's a long time! Awesome!"

Little that I know that grading homework and papers and tests was indeed homework, and the amount of vacation time teachers get is essentially the only way to stop them from becoming killing-spree psychopaths after a full year of dealing with "our future."

Until you start to teach, you have no idea what teaching is like. I don't mean to sound snooty and elitist, but honestly, teaching - especially teaching young children - is something you can't understand externally. You have to have done it to really know what it's about, much like parenting, I imagine. Although I probably can't really imagine because I've never been a parent (except in my dream last night, which was weird to say the least, but that's another story for another day).

I've been teaching on and off for the past three years, but mostly rather informally. One-on-one in-company business English lessons, groups of three adolescents, twice-a-week lessons with ten three-year-olds. It was challenging, at times difficult, and often exhausting, but it was nothing like teaching full time in a school with full-sized twenty-five child classes.

Don't get me wrong, I love the kids at my school, especially the wee ones. But the very thing that makes them so cute - their age - makes the job all the more exhausting and physically draining. I wake up at 6:45, try to shower, get dressed, have a decent breakfast, and take a look at my email (we can't access gmail at the school) before running out of the house at 8:00. By 8:50 I'm at school, and I scrambling to finish preparing my lessons for 9:00. Then from 9:00pm to 4:00pm - with the exception of one morning break and one hour for lunch - I am constantly teaching.

And not just handing out worksheets and supervising, or writing stuff on the board and watching the kids copy. I work primarily with ages one to five, and all - and I mean all - of our activities are active: singing songs, dancing, playing games, reading stories, going outside. And when you're the ringleader of all this madness, it can get pretty exhausting.

In addition to essentially being a English-teaching clown all day, I also get to teach exam prep classes for second and fourth graders four times a week, which is where my awesome homework of grading and correcting assignments comes in.

I used to be one of those people that could never fall asleep in public - the eight-hour transatlantic plane trips I took twice a year were agonizingly long to be awake for the whole time. But now I'm that tired girl who falls asleep on the twenty-minute bus ride back into the city. Few are the days when I don't jolt awake and wipe a little drool off my face when the bus pulls into the station.

My point is, I'm sorry for every time I said teachers must have it easy with three months in the summer, and winter and spring break vacations, I'm sorry for ever thinking that teachers never had any homework, and I'm sorry for under-valuing the sheer amount of time and effort it take just to be a teacher, let alone a good teacher.

Now I know how truly deserving teachers are of their time off, and now, almost two months after being surprised about having so much vacation for Easter, I realize how much I needed this vacation, and how, if I didn't have it, I would probably be throwing children out of windows in a week or so.

Thank god I still have eight days left, or I don't know what I would do!

For all you other teachers out there...
What did you most appreciate about your Spring Break this year?
And if you haven't had it yet, what amazing vacation do you have planned?


bbijel said...

Oh man, that sounds like hell. you and marina should bond over the stresses of teaching. I remember thinking all of my teachers were nutcases because half of them had breakdowns and would start crying or totally lose their tempers in class at some point in the year, but I gotta say I would probably do the same. hang in there!

Julia said...

Well said, sistah! Teaching is a hard profession that requires dedication, patience, and enough sanity to last an entire year. As far as my blissful spring break, Julia, I have 3 actual days off of school and 2 days for the weekend. Grand total: 5 days. Yippee Skippie. I am however, making the most of it and visiting my mom and sister in NC. Enjoy your 8 wonderful days!

Erin said...

I feel you sistah! Thankfully, I teach high school so when I've just had it I can tell them to do bookwork or worksheets and if I'm really lucky they comply and I can get a few moments of brain downtime during the day! Hang in there!

xoxoKrysten said...

I originally wanted to be a teacher but have since switched majors. However, I have HUGE respect for teachers. It is a HARD job and usually without very little thanks. I've been out of high school for 8 years now and about a year ago I went back to visit some of my favorite teachers so I could let them know that I appreciate how amazing they were. One of them, my very favorite, even cried!

EVA said...

Yes! I feel your pain! I am an early childhood educator and have been working with infants and toddlers for four years or so. It is exhausting, and my body is worse for wear because of it. I feel now like I need a break to try something else for awhile. As much as I do love working with young children, it takes such a toll that sometimes you need to take a step back and recharge.

Kelly Jean said...

Yes! I'm in my second year of teaching, and I definitely connect with everything you are saying. It's a very difficult job, because every day we are up in front of a crowd performing. We can't have days where we go in and feel like sitting down, because kids needs us to always be energetic, organized, put-together, all-knowing, and available to help them. It takes a lot of power and energy to do that every day!

I DID let myself relax over Spring Break though, but did some grading here and there. If I'd worked on it all break I would have gone crazy.

Anyhoo, I know how you feel and I'm right there with ya!