Dear gentleman I overheard talking about “those lazy teachers”:
I sat still while you talked to those around you about “lazy teachers.” I bit my tongue as the room swam before my eyes. I actually experienced seeing red when I heard you follow it up with the old gem, “It must be nice to only work nine months out of the year.” Good grief, how is this conversation still happening?
I was tempted to turn and talk to you, but I didn’t trust myself to speak. Here is what I wanted to say but I knew I couldn’t get it out without sounding like a crazy person, which I now think maybe I am.
It’s time for once and for all to address the idea that teachers are lazy. I want to suggest that perhaps the word you are looking for, kind sir, isn’t lazy, but rather crazy. You were so close.
Because clearly teachers are crazy to…
…come into work weeks before they are actually being paid. You see, teachers are only paid to work nine months out of the year. That’s right, no summer pay unless you opt to stretch your checks out. So that lot full of teachers working the last few weeks of August? They are working for free. They must be nuts.
…get a second job so that they can keep teaching. The reality of teacher pay means many glance at their paychecks, and unless there is a spouse with an awesome income, try to find whatever part-time gig they can outside of the school day that will still allow them to teach. Many teachers moonlight as waitresses, store clerks, tutors, in-home salespeople. Yup, many teachers have to work in the summer and during the school year outside of the school day to support their families. But they do it so they can do what they love. They are crazy.
…to take phone calls and emails from parents at home at night. If kids (or parents) don’t understand the homework, or are having family issues, or parents simply only have time to make contact at night, whatever the reason, teachers are committed to being there. That means being there whenever needed, even if it is not convenient. See, the crazy part is kids and families have unpredictable needs, because they are human. And in order to do the work, teachers must be there whenever they are needed. They are the nuts checking their email at 10 p.m. before they go to bed so they know what to expect when little Johnny hits the classroom running in the morning.
…to work with students day in and day out who come from diverse backgrounds and home situations. To try to meet the needs of 30 kids a day, and even more if they are teaching middle or high school. To strive to find what makes a kid tick, to try to engage their learners, to show their students that they matter in the world, to help each and every child find their place when no two are alike. They must be insane if they think they can pull this off. But they walk in each day and they try because they never know which kid will be the one they will make a difference for.
…to feel like so many things are more important than money. The smile of a child who finally gets it. A student who finds solace in the classroom when their world at home is falling apart. A heart-wrenching speech given by the school superintendent reminding teachers why they do what they do that calls them to action. A letter from a parent thanking them for helping their child grow. They must be off their rockers to say these things are worth more than cash.
Clearly, the word lazy does not fit teachers at all. I’ve seen those people pushing desks around a classroom setting up shop, taking extra classes at night so they can best teach their students, working through lunch to tutor a child. That is so not lazy. But crazy? It really just works.
And here’s the thing: It is actually the crazy people who can make a difference in this world. They live outside the box. They attempt the impossible. They know some secrets. And one of those secrets is that they can make magic. Yup, they might be crazy, but this is what makes them magic makers. Here’s proof:
A magic maker can take a $100 classroom budget and make it into a year of learning for 30 kids.
A magic maker can give her heart to a group of students knowing that she only gets to keep them for a year — year in and year out.
A magic maker can take a child who cannot read and turn him into a reader.
A magic maker can come up with a way to make math actually seem fun.
A magic maker can take a random group of children and make them into a family.
A magic maker can take the ordinary and help students see the extraordinary.
A magic maker can love and learn and laugh in the midst of a world that thinks their crazy is actually lazy. A world that doesn’t seem to want to take the time to learn the difference.
But don’t worry, despite what the world says, the teachers have got this. Their eyes are on a prize you just don’t understand, sir. It’s this: Each and every kid matters. This is the heart of what keeps them going, even when the world tells them that they as teachers don’t matter. Teachers have seen the truth in the eyes and souls of their students. And they are crazy about their kids. So they will continue to work for a better world for you, despite you getting that one little word wrong. You’re welcome, my friend.