Don’t get me wrong – I love the actual teaching part of teaching. The kids are lively and funny and I laugh like a loon every single day at something someone does or says. Anyone who says teenagers are hard to handle hasn’t taken into account their wonderful senses of humour.
The people I work with are great, too. A few days ago I came into work early and had a long conversation with Alice about last night’s episode of Australian Survivor. She’s a twenty-something Maths teacher who sits near me in The Danger Zone (our little section of a very large staff room). Brock, who sits diagonally opposite to me, has opened up a Milk Bar on his desk, which, when he opens it, has lollies that he gives away to give everyone a boost. I’m a fan of the Sherbies and the green snakes. Liz, who sits next to me, is another podcast person and we share hot tips about the ones we’re listening to. She gives me the heads up on really interesting books that she finds, too.
BUT – it’s not a total pleasure-palace here.
Yard duty on the oval in either the depth of winter or the heat of summer is no fun. No shade, no shelter from the elements and having to keep an eye out for footballs, soccer balls and balls in general. We don’t even have the fun of nabbing smokers since they cut the Smokers’ Tree down. Getting the after-school-on-Friday yard duty at the front of the school is also terrible. The kids hang around in clumps and talk, instead of zipping off home to start the weekend. WHY?!?
Though, on the other hand – It was my birthday last week. Every year, when it’s my birthday I give lollies out to my classes. On the last period of the day, I climbed the stairs to my year 7 English class. They threw me a surprise party. They filled the room with balloons, brought some lollies of their own and put this GORGEOUS fluorescent tutu skirt on my head as a hat. I wore it for the entire lesson. In the last 5 minutes, we played Silent Balloon Tennis. (It wasn’t silent…) Then, when the bell went we popped all the balloons. It was wonderful.
Granted, that day was pretty good – but there are some things that drive me crazy about this job.
The marking. Honestly, English teachers may have far more fun and have more interesting things to talk about in the classroom than Maths teachers, but we pay for it in the marking. I share space in The Danger Zone with a few Maths teachers. They come back with a pile of tests – a few ticks and crosses and they’re done. If only essays could be marked like that… I’m considered a fast marker and it still takes around 3 hours to mark a typical class of 28 essays. Multiply that by 5 classes, which is the full-time teaching load and that’s… (reaching for her calculator because it’s numbers)… roughly 15 hours marking essays per term. Then there are grammar tests, wide reading assignments, Letters to the Editor etc.
Teaching English is great – assessing it is a little dull.
Though… every Friday we have ‘Handcream Friday” in our staff room. Brock goes around with a couple of tubes and we can choose the fragrance and we all go off to class with beautiful-smelling hands. It’s a little luxury we look forward to all week. I brought back this tube of Horse Oil hand cream from North Korea to add to the collection. Not many people wanted to try it, especially the vegetarians and vegans. To my surprise, it’s actually not too bad.
At the moment our staffroom is full of really great people, but there have been times in the past when people have been sitting near me who really annoyed me. Anyone in an office can identify, I’m sure. They’re either stupid, or selfish, or incredibly egotistical. And you have to put up with them in your general vicinity every day, sometimes for YEARS.
However, in this job you can make your own entertainment. When I had to stand on a street corner during the latest Cross Country to direct kids along the way they had to go, I wore my North Korean soldier’s hat and my number from the Pyongyang marathon. That was a lot of fun. I had kids saluting me as they ran past, with kids from China and South Korea doing double-takes when they saw me. I’m not a sporty person, but these days are ok.
But does anyone really find Meetings enjoyable? Especially when they’re held just because the time has been set aside for them and there’s really nothing of ground-breaking importance to discuss. If I’ve taken the train to work on a meeting day, it makes the difference between catching a direct train to my station, where I’m home in 45 minutes, to catching a train that stops at Mordialloc, where I have to get off and wait for another train to come through, which adds anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes to my trip. Meetings. Not a fan.
Though it’s not all gloom and doom. As a teacher, you get to escape the school sometimes. I’ve been on many trips to the Theatre, Art gallery, beaches on the peninsula, the Werribee Sewage farm, the Zoo, walks along the Yarra river etc. Also lots of incursions, where Authors, artists, motivational speakers and dance/drama/martial arts/ sports groups visit the school and our classes attend. We have a thing called ‘Medieval Day’, where the year 8 History classes come to school in fancy dress and they spend all day going to specialist classes where they learn about medieval weaponry, crafts, education, sports and they finish with a huge feast in the Hall. Every year I hope that my Year 8 class has English on that day, so I’m rostered on to supervise. It’s so interesting!
The commute isn’t so hot, though in all fairness I have to say that I brought this one upon myself when I geoarbitraged 2 years ago. I used to live 2 minutes from work. Now it’s more like an hour’s commute each way. That’s a LOT of time taken out of your day. I did it for the money and it was totally worth it, but on those dark winter’s mornings at 5:20AM, I think wistfully back to the days when I’d get up at 7:30.
On balance, I’m one of the fortunate ones who, once I get to work, I enjoy it. It’s varied enough to be interesting and I’m surrounded by people I like and who seem to like me. I have a curriculum I have to teach, but once that classroom door closes behind me I can teach it without being micromanaged.
So what had me coming home last week and going through my financials, hoping against hope that another couple of hundred thousand dollars had miraculously landed into my accounts overnight?
Stuff like this, that’s what.
Things like a brilliant new idea for marking essays, which, when I tried it last week, moved my marking time to 70 minutes for just 7 essays. It’s more intricate, which will be good for the kids, but the technology on the spreadsheet isn’t working properly. It was rushed out, probably because it’s someone’s pet project higher up and they wanted the bragging rights. It’ll make them look good, but in the meantime, it’s added so much stress and extra (unnecessary) work for the rest of us. At the moment it’s only being used in year 8, but the admin has plans to roll it out over the whole school in the future. Yikes!
I had to ask myself: do I really want to spend extra hours upon hours of my life doing this?
As it happens, I still have to put my head down and barrel along for the next couple of years. I’ve reached lean FI, but I want my retirement to include lots of travel, which, when you’re coming from an isolated country such as Australia, is expensive. I need to work longer to include some extra padding in my portfolio to pay for those plane flights.
But if they keep on loading us up with unnecessary bureaucracy and ‘busy-work’, I may not be answerable for the consequences… (Fiji and Bali instead of Europe and the UK??)
As I said before, I’m lucky in that I like most parts of my job. However, I’ve realised that I don’t want to be doing it into my 60’s.
But I’m interested to hear from others. I’ve been a teacher my whole life so I know very little about other careers. What parts of your job are the spurs that drive YOU onwards to FIRE?
The universality of teaching! As a just retired American History/economics high school teacher, I can relate to just about every feeling and circumstance you relate. I used to say there are two simple rules to effective teaching: love what you teach,; love those whom you teach even more. It was magical to close the classroom door and work with students. Even when they gave me grief, I knew it was more about their lives and teen situation than about me, and soon we would be back to exchanging quips, learning and laughing at the idiocracy that dominates the world they were to inherit.
Unfortunately, the bureaucracy also undid me. As you pointed out, all of the new “efficiencies” and “21st century learning techniques” was one step forward, two steps back. Admin told us to render “concierge service” as they “re-imagined” education. I came to see there were two types, teachers (who are in the trenches and are there for the kids, and “educators” who are there for the theory and get upset because they kids don’t comply with the latest model. I grew tired of the two-front war (not to mention parents in my private school world who began more and more sentences with “Now I don’t believe in exceptions to the rules…BUT, in the case of my child…”
I started working into all my reports at least one sentence generated from http://www.sciencegeek.net/lingo.html (you’ll love it!) and actually got praised.
So, now I’m out and writing textbooks. I sorely miss the kids, I miss being around inspired people who could sit around and share stories of inanity, bolster each other’s spirits, or even have a 15 minute intellectual discussion plumbing the depths of a short story completely unrelated to the real world. The grading and reports, not so much.
Sorry to post so much, but your piece is universal, and we are kindred spirits having plied our wares on either side of the globe.
Or, in eduspeak, “We enhanced group-based functionalities within the new paradigm, reinventing dynamic risk-takers within professional learning communities.”
I think I’m going to steal your last sentence for my stupid PDP at the end of the year. Writing textbooks, eh? A couple of people at work do that. One – a French and English teacher – just had a French textbook published. She said, “When I was little and dreaming of being an author, this wasn’t quite what I envisaged!” ________________________________
I’ve got a three textbook series coming out beginning in March, though no one achieves FI writing textbooks. Also, when I tell people I write, they imagine I’m some Hemingway-esque person because I’m a middle aged guy in Spain, but then when I say textbooks, all the enthusiasm goes out of their face and they feign an “Oh?! That’s…um…nice.”
Yes, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about textbooks. 😛
Don’t disparage textbook writing – I bought a new VW Golf with my first year of royalties!
It must be time for an upgrade… better get cracking on the next one! 🙂
That was a lifetime ago. Plus, I designed your PDP!! LOL!!
No you didn’t. We now have one from the Government that we have to do. It’s the biggest waste of time and resources ever. ________________________________
I should be so lucky with mine! I’ll settle for enough to buy a moped…or kids scooter!
Not wanting to rain on your parade or anything, but I hope you’re factoring the increasing energy cost of energy (i.e. increasing air fares) into your future overseas trips.
That’s part of the reason why I haven’t retired yet. Old Lady Frogdancer must have her holidays… ________________________________
That commute would be what would kill me. I’m pretty much allergic to long drives and that’s what’s got me absolutely rooted to my house above everything else.
It’s hard to walk away from the amount I sold my house for… It’s worth it – even on those dark winter mornings. ________________________________
I have heard of a lot of teachers feeling burnout. No matter the profession I believe things can start to feel like just work after many years. Most teachers are so awesome and should be taken care of better then they do!
I’m lucky in that the kids where I teach are great. They’re predominately from aspirational, middle-class families and there are few behaviour problems. They’re a pleasure to teach. It’s just the other stuff…
Also a teacher ?, and my classes this year are enough to drive anyone to drink. So many behavioural issues, so many staff meltdowns, so many work friends leaving… It’s an incredibly stressful place, it is an excellent reminder to save save save.
And reminding myself of that when I really just want a takeaway or something to reward myself for surviving another week… well let’s just say that my savings don’t always win, especially in the last two weeks of term.
Holidays in one week. Time to fill the freezer, declutter some more and get outside every day. And get super organised so that I am all sorted for term 4.
Oh God, you poor thing!
One of my classes, (a year 9 English), is a little… shall we say ‘unrewarding’? I can’t imagine all 5 classes being hell on wheels. It must be exhausting.
A thing I found that helps with getting takeaway is that I’ve now got a drawer in my freezer that I try and keep stocked with balls of raw pizza dough. When I get that “I can’t be stuffed cooking” feeling, it’s very easy to whip out pizza dough, defrost it and then throw some toppings on it. It cooks in around 10 minutes and there’s the ‘Fakeaway’ meal done.
It’s saved me a fortune in takeout meals! (It’s even better if I get one of the boys to put the pizzas together, while I sample some Shiraz on the couch!)
my Dad was a teaching and loved it but retired at 60 (instead of 65).
Died when he was 72 – so he had 12 years of freedom as opposed to just 7.
If teaching is your calling – follow it – but based on the school kids I see in our neighbourhood, you need to be either very gifted or very thick skinned to be a teacher or just suffer from high stress levels!
The kids at my school are a dream. I was talking about this on yard duty yesterday with a young teacher. He said, “I remember coming here from my other school and on the first day hearing someone complain that 4 kids hadn’t done their holiday homework. I thought, ‘Wow, but that means that 24 kids DID!!!'”
That’s the sort of school I teach at. The school that’s right at the end of my street isn’t quite like that, which is why I choose the 50 min commute to school each morning as opposed to a gentle stroll yo work. I have a feeling life is much better for me this way!