Recently, as I’ve been waiting for some sort of full/part-time remote work to come along, I have been wondering what I could do with my teaching skills in the gig economy. There is a service called Outschool that lets parents pay to sign their kids up for special interest classes. I’m waiting for the background check process to complete, but with COVID-19 and living in a deplorable state when it comes to an efficient government, it takes a while. There’s also Teachers Pay Teachers, a website of materials created by educators selling them to other educators. I’ve made seven products in the last couple of weeks to put up there and will probably keep trucking along with that. Such is life living in the gig economy, eh? Today, I want to talk about what it is like to be an elementary school teacher (pre-COVID mostly).
Here this week’s playlist:
I was certified to teach in 2009 and got my first classroom in the summer of 2010. I’d worked in AmeriCorps before that as an in-school reading tutor, but that is so different from being the one in charge of a whole classroom. I would say that my Master’s degree didn’t prepare me to be a teacher. It’s just one of those jobs where you could spend a decade in school and still make a ton of mistakes. You learn so much in the field while you are doing the thing. My first assignment was a 1st-grade classroom, Mind you, my last student teaching placement had been in a 6th-grade classroom—two very different groups when it comes to where they are skills-wise. Later, I would teach 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. I have definitely taught 3rd more than any other, six out of my ten years teaching.
I saw a TikTok recently about Type B teachers, and I felt that deep inside. I am not an arty-craftsy person, and cutesy things aren’t important to me. There’s a sort of culture at the elementary around “cute clutter.” Lots of stuff on the wall, lots of colors. Personally, I find all that stuff distracting. My school years start out with some basics up on the walls, and we add as we go, with each new piece serving a purpose. My desk…oh, Jesus, it is always a mess. The mess is mostly confined to the drawers, but sometimes it creeps out onto the top. I am very digitally-oriented, so anytime a form can be filled out on my computer, I love it so much more. I have always kept things organized, tagged, and categorized on every work and home computer I’ve ever owned. I hate paper so much.
The Reading block is the largest chunk of the day. The way I like it is Whole Group Reading and then moving into Guided Reading/Centers. Whole Group is where everyone is on the same text together, and we have some skill each day we are working on. For 3rd grade, it could Character Traits or Cause & Effect, those sorts of things. Guided is where students are ability grouped and rotate around to different centers or tasks.
Some of the groups will come to a back table with me during this rotation, where I’ve selected books and texts that match their instruction level. The skills we work on here are more targeted to what these kids need specifically. The books typically available for these Guided Reading groups are mostly a dull bore to get through. I guess the publishers hire people who don’t like to write because they pick boring settings and fiction plots. Non-fiction can be better. Kids usually love reading about animals and outer space, from what I’ve seen. Spelling is in there somewhere too, and Writing is generally incorporated as a task with the text from Whole Group.
Math is similar-ish. We work on a skill together as a whole class and then do centers/small groups. Social Studies & Science simply didn’t exist as a block for me at any school I taught. The expectation is that it is integrated into what students reading during the Reading Block. I personally love those too subjects, so I tried to incorporate as much of it as possible in everything I did. I will say most teachers I met in the last ten years have zero personal interest in history, civics, or the sciences. Not all, but definitely most. They are products of the same education system they are a part of, a system that exists to create competent labor for corporations. This is why so many states and the federal government are having a problem with sheltering at home as COVID ravages us. “But who will give us labor to exploit if they have to stay home with their kids?” the oligarchs say.
My two favorite parts about teaching are watching children discover things they were passionate about and helping them extend that & getting to know them as people. I would eat lunch with students every day for the last four and a half years, and I’ve always done a Friday Lunch Buddies program, where a student gets picked each day to come eat in the classroom with me at the end of the week. I have so many great memories of eating with my students and laughing and talking, just getting to know each other as people. I’m still the “authority” in the classroom, but I always balance discipline and let kids be kids.
I’ve kept in contact with some of my former students. I have a few that are seniors in high school now that I follow, and we message from time to time. I have some birthdays written down so I can send a text wishing them a happy one. I just sent a text to a student who turned 18 this month; that was a trip. It’s fascinating to watch kids turn into adults and see what parts of them endure and what features change as they learn about the world. I have one student that my wife and I have kept in very close contact with, and she even lived in our house with her brother for a few weeks last year after some domestic issues caused a social worker to become involved.
Even though I’m not currently teaching, I just can’t see myself doing anything outside of education. It’s just so much of who I am, and I am very fulfilled by it. I was applying to some entry-level customer service remote job the other day and came across the question: “Which of our four principles do you connect with the most?” I just couldn’t muster up the ability to care about their corporate-speak nonsense. I wanted to write, “The principle where I get paid regularly until I can move and find a job that I actually want.” I’m sure for someone, that job might be a perfect fit, but I am old enough to know where I fit best.
My state recently had a “special legislative system” to further screw teachers over, even trying to punish the two counties left sticking with remote learning. We’re 3rd in the country for juvenile COVID-19 cases, and based on our population, we certainly should not be. Statistics are showing school faculty & staff in this state have an infection rate 233% higher than adults working outside of schools. I know here is not for me anymore. Since I was five years old, I’ve lived in this state, but it’s so clear that it’s time to leave and never look back. There’s a classroom out there somewhere, on the other side of this virus, waiting for me. I just have to find it.