The writer has taught English in private schools in the District, Maryland and Massachusetts.
I was a teacher for 30 years, except for one five-year hiatus. This year I left the profession. The short explanation is that I was burned out. I arrived at school at 7:45 every morning, I rarely left before 5:30 p.m. and I was often there later. As a new school year gets rolling, I offer two lists. Keep in mind that these are drawn from my experience in private schools, which are regarded as an ideal place to teach because of their small class sizes.
●Teach five classes or so.
●Create assessments such as quizzes, tests and other assignments.
●Take long vacations.
●Teach five classes or so — which is like doing five performances every day in which you stand up in front of 15 people and entertain them for an hour. Or it’s like being a pitcher in a game. You are always part of the play.
●Prepare lessons. Research. Reread a chapter of, say, “The Scarlet Letter” and an article about Puritan culture, prepare discussion questions, plan an activity, figure out how to pace the class. To keep students’ interest, you need to shift gears.
●Create assessments. Write up the assignment, create a rubric, draft detailed instructions. Quizzes should be fair to everyone but also test whether students have done the work. A good five-question multiple-choice quiz can take 45 minutes to an hour to create.
●Grade assessments. One essay for a class of 15 means reading some 60 pages of student-written work, writing and editing comments, and making a judgment about each grade, all while wondering: Is this fair? Did the student improve? Did he or she really read the book? Will the parents complain? Am I expecting too much? Am I expecting too little? Some teachers read papers three times.
●E-mail with colleagues. Answer an e-mail asking why you gave two quizzes in a week. Send an e-mail expressing concern about a student’s sudden, dramatic weight loss.
●E-mail with parents. This often involves calculating updated course averages, because parents want to know what they want to know when they want to know it. Sometimes it means untangling a misunderstanding. No, your son’s iPad use was not appropriate for class. He was not taking notes. He was playing a game. I did not take it away from him for no reason. Don’t take things personally. Sometimes you get to write a thank-you for a parent’s kind words about how you’ve helped his or her child.
●Stay up to date on your material. Read secondary sources on the books you’re teaching, read about teaching techniques and so on.
●Respond to a student crying in the bathroom. Hunt down the student’s counselor.
●Write a college recommendation. Go back through your grade books and papers. Check the school’s Web site to see if the student was the captain of the soccer team. Send an e-mail to find out more about her role in the choral group. Make it unique.
●Chaperone a dance.
●Chaperone a camping trip. And like it.
●Attend a game.
●Attend the school play.
●Attend the school concert.
●Attend faculty meetings.
●Perform at back-to-school night. Prepare what you’ll say to parents; write, print and photocopy handouts. Get your clothes dry-cleaned, if you can afford it. Shine your shoes.
●Learn a new grading input program (about once every two years).
●Learn a new program for posting homework, which will inevitably be counterintuitive to operate and have numerous glitches that you have to figure out how to deal with.
●Calculate grades and drop the lowest quiz. Make sure it’s accurate.
●Write comments for each student. Sixty students, at a third of a page each, comes to 20 pages of tactful evaluation. Reread these for unintended messages. Include something that shows you really know the child. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
●Write exams. Come up with 12 pages of questions that are not too hard and not too easy, plus an essay question that will help them show what they know without freaking them out.
●Grade exams. (Ugh.) This is usually done during vacations.
●Be compassionate, rigorous, interesting, funny, smart, innovative, experienced and patient.
●And don’t be defensive about it, but fend off a stream of snarky remarks about your summer vacation.