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Teaching is Work

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Gingerbread house

Winter break has been awesome so far.

Highlights:

  • Hadassah (my eldest) and I made a postmodern gingerbread house (pictured above).
  • In an act of the-only-person-in-the-family-without-the-flu heroism, I made off-brand frozen pizza for Christmas dinner.

Need I say more?

I’ve also taken some time to write, which is good, because I’m working on a new ebook called Never Finished.

(Pre-order it now while the price is only a five-spot.)

My top teaching-related lesson of break so far: teaching is work

I am nearly positive that, in Hell, there’s a book filled with quotes that sound wise but are actually horrifically not so.

One of those quotes has got to be this one; this is one of the most poisonous bits of non-wisdom in circulation today:

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

I am one of a million or so teachers who live as proof against that: we love teaching, yet it’s work, baby.

Waking up to that alarm on Monday, January 5, is going to be work. Doing the same thing January 6 and every day afterward will be more of the same.

Grading papers? Work.

Responding to emails? Work.

Calling parents? Work.

Planning lessons? Work.

Reading teaching literature? Why yes, Johnny, you’ve got it–it’s work!

I’m not trying to prove a point here; my bones and my brain prove the point when I come home after a day of teaching.

Sub-lesson 1: The fact that teaching is work isn’t something we need to justify

I used to dive headlong into arguments when someone would make the “summers off must be nice” comments. (Nods to father-in-law.) I’d do stuff like the comparing-my-hourly-wage-to-that-of-a-babysitter thing.

But I don’t ever do any kind of arguing in response to those comments now because just as it would be absurd to argue that construction workers don’t earn their living, it’s absurd to say that great teachers don’t.

I’m not saying all teachers work hard, just as my uncle in the concrete construction business won’t say that all cement guys work hard. Generalizations don’t work with individuals, let alone large groups.

am saying that the vast majority of teachers do work hard.

And that needs to go without saying.

Sub-lesson 2: Workaholism is not smart

As a newbie teacher in Baltimore, I used to literally pride myself on being the first guy in the parking lot every morning and the last guy to leave at night.

Some people pride themselves on how well their lawns look; I prided myself on not knowing how my lawn looked because I never saw it in daylight.

Please hear this: I was incredibly lame.

Teaching is an excellent way to put bread on the table. I can think of no paid work I’d rather do, especially since I moonlight as a writer for teachers and get paid a bit to do that, too. But becoming a master teacher isn’t possible if you give yourself unlimited hours within which to master it for one simple reason: allowing yourself unlimited time to do the work of teaching makes you much slower at figuring out what the most important work of teaching is.

The solution? Set strict works hours for yourself. Mine are 7:00am to 5:20pm — and I don’t take work home.

(Ahem. Except for this article, I guess.)

Final takeaway: in 2015, I want to get better and saner as a teacher

Teaching is like swimming Lake Michigan. It’s awesome and it’s fresh, and sometimes it’s even warm(ish). But there’s also this deadly undertow that constantly pulls you into deadly places like Complacency and Burnout.

In 2015, I want to get better at being a teacher who day in and day out gets better. I want to write more about that here on the blog.

I also want to do the work of teaching with greater efficiency. So many of you have said that one of your greatest struggles in the job is time. I feel that. The time:workload ratio in this job is insane; I want to fight that.

Enough winter break lessons from me…

What have you been learning? What are you hoping to dominate in 2015?

Share in the comments section below.

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11 Responses to Teaching is Work

  1. Kaz McKelvey December 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in my pursuit of sanity on a daily basis in my teaching world. I hope to be a more efficient teacher this year too…and get a life outside of work. I try to live by the mantra “keep it simple and connect with the kids” but I’m finding it harder and harder this year and find myself fantasizing daily about other careers like being a Starbucks barista or better yet a lottery winner. Why do I do that? When I get away from all the chaos I see how much I love teaching and feel in my heart like many of us do that “I was born to teach.” I can’t wait to read your next book and refresh my love of teaching and get some perspective and straight forward direction. Another goal for sure is to visit your blog more frequently!!

    • davestuartjr December 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

      Oh Kaz — if only you know how perfect this comment is. I’ve spent hours today laboring over the book, and the work has been, like it always is, a series of peaks and valleys. And then I get your comment, and the book I’ve been writing all day, the book it’s shaping into, is exactly for you.

      So good to read this; thank you so much for taking the time to write, Kaz.

  2. jarhartz December 29, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    It makes me sad that “work” has gotten such a bad rap. I actually like working hard when it is interesting. And, as long as I have the energy that’s all good, actually great. The trouble is energy isn’t always there and time is limited. The limited nature of time worries me… what about the rest of life! So as much as I love teaching, and will as long as I can, there are those important parts of life outside of that world that need some tending to. Breaks help, but the day to day needs a little maintenance as well. Looking forward to that book!

    • davestuartjr December 30, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      I feel you on the energy and time issues — and those parts of life outside the teaching world are critical! In my mind, I owe my students to become the best teacher I can be, YET they will have many teachers in life while my wife will have one husband (I hope) and my children one dad.

      I’m looking forward to releasing the book, jarhartz — I think many of us need to find that balance.

  3. Thomas Johnston December 30, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    Dave – I love reading your blog posts. This one resonated with me because I love the work of teaching. I also tend toward workaholism. I don’t think I can’t stop by 5:20 each day but I like the idea of a set limit. I think my new year’s resolution will be to establish limits. Maybe 6:00 pm.
    Also – I would like to pre order the book but, to be honest, I’m skiddish about putting my credit card number on a site unless I see “https” in the URL. I didn’t see the “s” in yours.

    • davestuartjr December 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      Thomas, you’ll appreciate the section in the book on workaholism and setting time limits; I go into greater depth there about what you’re talking about.

      That is odd that my URL isn’t showing https — I do have an SSL certificate for teachingthecore.com. However, try this — just copy and paste https://gum.co/teacher into your browser’s address bar; I think whenever you click on that link through Teaching the Core, it’s giving you a pop-up window, right? So just copy and paste into your browser. Let me know if that works, and that you for your interest!

  4. Elizabeth Furlong December 31, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    I am definetly a worker bee. I have moved from many years as a first grade teacher to a 5/6th grade teacher and have struggled this year with figuring out what kind of teacher I am. I love what I do, but find the negative comments from parents are the hardest to deal with. I have to remind myself every day why I teach and who I am as an educator. Your blog is inspiring and uplifting. I feel so many times that you could double as my therapist. Thanks.

    • davestuartjr December 31, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      Elizabeth, thank you so much for your kind, generous feedback — and also, hang in there. 1st grade to 5/6 is a mega jump! And nothing shakes me up like negative comments from adults; it is hard because I expect people to be nice, and they aren’t always that way.

      Keep reading and keep in touch, Elizabeth. I run on comments like yours 🙂

      • Elizabeth Furlong January 2, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

        Thanks for writing back to me. I took one of your classes this past summer in Louisville at The Flaget Center and you completely inspired me. Now that I have been in this new position for a few months, I feel as if I should take the class again because now I have knowledge of what is expected of me. I really love the independence of the students being the age they are and using all the interactive technology (they all have their own ipad). I wish I could find a way to focus only on teaching and being the best I can be and not on the negative comments from parents. Happy New Year!

  5. Ica R. January 2, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Thanks so much for your post. As I’m sitting here in my classroom on the last weekday before winter break ends, feeling depressed about the 100+ essays I have to grade, this encourages me. I have 3-year-old twins, who make it extremely challenging to be able to get any work done at home. Maybe the answer is really working on efficiency while I’m at school and allowing home time to be for family. I get frustrated because I feel like not many people realize how difficult and time consuming this job can be, even though a lot of it is inspiring and fun. Just like you said, it’s WORK, and it’s hard when it seems like other people don’t respect that or are even aware of that.

  6. rachelwasserman2013 January 5, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Like all the other commentors, I enormously appreciated this post. I’ve been a high school teacher for about 20 years, and for 19 of them I was a total workaholic. In at 6:30 and on campus actively working until 5 or 5:30. My lunchtimes were usually spent tutoring students. I lost count of the times the custodians came to tell me they were about to lock up. This doesn’t even count the occasions I came in on the weekends! And like you, Dave, this was totally, ridiculously overkill.

    After a major health crisis this summer I was forced to reevaluate and readjust my self-imposed work schedule. I looked around at my colleagues — the ones who seemed happiest and most successful in both their classrooms and personal lives. And I discovered that they came in on time and often left after “only” an hour or two after school — they were putting in far less time than I. Yet their classrooms were usually focused, their students were pretty much on-task and seemed happy, and their state assessment scores were comparable to mine. So I decided to follow their example by working smarter, not harder or longer.

    The hardest part of this is two-fold. First, getting away from the mind-set that more hours on campus equates to being a better teacher. On many campuses there is an informal competition to be seen as the teacher who puts in the most hours — and it took me 19 years to realize that this didn’t always translate into being the best teacher I can be. A total lack of balance between my personal needs and my work habits turned me into a disgruntled misanthrope.

    The second difficult task is cutting through all the garbage that administration and state bureaucracies constantly throw at us, and focusing in on what our kids really need to know to do well on state assessments and in life. As a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, I wanted my classroom to be the model that administrators show off to visitors — which means a constantly changing directory of posted expectations, standards, etc. None of which matter a darn to my students. Keeping up with all that (we have a 25 page packet of evaluation rubrics which our administrators grade us on, twice a year!) was overshadowing what should be my primary focus — identifying what my kids need to know and communicating that to my students in engaging and innovative ways.

    I would urge my high school colleagues to first master their curricula — really learn the subjects they’re teaching. Take the time to learn the standards your students must meet — and craft your lessons appropriately. Attend worthwhile PD trainings that focus on classroom-ready techniques, and find the professional publications (most especially Dave’s blog!) that really support what you’re trying to do. And then go home and ENJOY your own life!

    Thank you, once again, Dave, for being our voice!

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