252. The Teacher’s Load

Teachers often feel overloaded with jobs. They feel as if they’re forced to be parents to their students, either because parents don’t do their share, or because the job of parenting has gotten too big to be done by parents alone. They feel as if they end up doing lots of jobs that ought to be done by other people. And on top of that, the school curriculum seems to keep getting bigger and bigger, with more added all the time, and very little taken out.
I hear those complaints from teachers. I’ve heard them for years. I think I see their point of view, but I’ve never shared it much. I became a teacher of young children because that’s what I wanted to do. I knew it involved a lot of what’s usually considered parenting; children don’t suddenly stop being children when they enter a school and turn into pupils. I enjoy most of the jobs involved in parenting, and a lot of what I enjoy about teaching could be considered parenting.
Some of the non-teaching parts of the teacher’s job have always bothered me, and I always appreciated it when bus duty, playground duty, lunch duty, and study hall supervision were taken over by volunteers or people paid to do those jobs. As a volunteer, I sometimes give teachers little breaks from those jobs. But not too much; I’ve paid my dues. I believe those jobs should be done by other people, not by teachers. When teachers complain about those jobs, I agree.
A complaint I don’t share is the complaint about the overloaded curriculum. Teachers and others involved in developing curriculum often make good arguments for the inclusion of various priorities in the curriculum, and some teachers feel oppressed by the depth and breadth of the resulting curriculum. These teachers wonder how conflict resolution, sex education, drug awareness programs, and countless other items can all be part of the school day. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and not all of them are spent in school.
I don’t see it that way. I think the time children spend in school, like the time they spend at home, is filled with random opportunities for learning. In school, lessons are more often consciously – even meticulously – planned than they are at home, but the random opportunities are still there. As items are added to the curriculum, it doesn’t have to mean time taken away from other items. I think teaching about conflict resolution can best be done as part of other teaching. History and literature are full of great opportunities to teach children strategies for resolving conflicts.
Arguing that teaching is a manageable job makes me feel a little like a traitor. But I think at least some of the stress teachers feel can be relieved by a change in perspective; see additions to the curriculum simply as tools for improving instruction, not as extra burdens. You’ve got to do it anyway; you might as well try to see it in a way that works.

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