567. “Can You Take a Call?”

Once, a bunch of us teachers were having lunch and conversations in the teachers’ room. Some conversations were about teaching, some about the rest of life. As we were eating and talking, the school secretary’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “Hannah, can you take a call?”
Hannah, a third grade teacher, gave an answer that was not at all typical. She said, “No. I’m having lunch.” The rest of us were silent for a few seconds. We hadn’t been ready for such an answer. Teachers can ALWAYS take calls. That wasn’t exactly a rule, and it wasn’t in our job descriptions, but at least in that school, there was a silent understanding that teachers HAD to take calls. The people making the calls had IMPORTANT things to do, and were taking time out of their busy schedules to contact mere teachers, who only had to TEACH, and were even having some free time to EAT!
The few seconds of silence among the lunching teachers were followed by uproarious applause. Someone had gone against a tradition that had been based on a view of teachers as people who don’t really deserve to have breaks. Teachers were supposed to be TEACHING, not relaxing over lunch. In fact, in some schools, even teaching is not an acceptable excuse for refusing to take a phone call.
Just about everybody is busy. Whether they’re managing things at home or trying to earn a living away from home, they’re usually doing things that, in one way or another, have to get done. People in general tend not to realize what’s involved in each other’s work. Stereotypes develop. But there are doctors who don’t make much money, lovable lawyers, honest politicians, and caring administrators. And I know many teachers who don’t have much free time. Stereotypes are inaccurate and unfair.
And stereotypes get in the way of communication in every line of work. They can make it so that real
concerns are not addressed, and real needs aren’t met. Teachers tend to care about the children they teach, and to try to organize the time they have so that children’s needs are met. Not necessarily every teacher; I don’t mean to sell you another stereotype. But lots of teachers.
When the phone rings in my home nowadays, and I’m home, I answer it. I talk and listen, whether it’s someone with important things to talk about or someone who just wants to just chat. Now that I’m retired, I actually do have lots of free time. But full-time teachers need to be really assertive about their lack of and need for time. The work they do is important, and so is the little bit of time they spend relaxing during the school day. And even though some people may have trouble finding time to call the school, maybe sometimes they’ll just have to try again at a better time. Maybe teachers’ needs for time to work and time to rest count for something.

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