Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A recent article in Teacher Magazine, Teaching Secrets: Managing October Exhaustion, has lead to some controversial blog posts. I decided I might as well join the fracas :)
In the article, the author advocates teachers taking a day off in October to beat the early school year exhaustion. Critics have complained that other professionals often do not have this luxury, and that being exhausted this early on must be an indicator of a bigger problem in education.
I will admit that October has that settling in feeling for me as a teacher. Finally, I have the kids and their schedules down. I feel like the routine is set, and the learning can begin. We've been working since Day One, no doubt, but until the first few weeks are under our belts, everything still feels odd and out of sorts.
Teachers are harried, always. Someone always wants something. No matter how seemingly simple the task, there will be little hands waving in the air, "Help me!" There are always papers to correct, grades to record, copies to make, parent phone calls to make, planning to do, another meeting to attend, another professional book you planned to read. It is never ending.
In my district, teachers get 3 personal days each year. In addition we get 11 sick days. Those personal days are intended for what sick days don't cover. Maybe you need to go sign some important legal documents, or you managed to swing tickets to a late Sunday Packers game in Green Bay and can't make it back on Monday morning. Whatever the reason, those 3 days are yours, to savor however you choose during the year.
Personally, I usually save mine, thinking something exciting might come up later in the school year. I'm always hoping for something exciting. But usually, it doesn't happen and more times than not, my personal days roll over into sick days, adding to my accumulated total.
This Friday is a day off school for students, a professional development day for staff. I am taking a personal day. The in-service day will consist of watching a streaming presentation on poverty and how that impacts students and their learning. Granted this is a topic that applies to students in my school, but we have already heard speakers on this topic in the past few years at other inservices. The afternoon will consist of 'department work" which usually translates into much needed time for collaboration and/or planning on your own. I decided my day would be better spent with my granddaughter at home. A perfect use of a personal day....
I don't begrudge anyone their 'personal days' off whenever they feel the need to use them. However, I do think saying you are already exhausted by October, with over 3/4 of the school year left to go, says something about you and your job.
Is this a personal criticism of the article's author? Not necessarily... maybe more a criticism of teaching and burnout in general. Teaching is a tough job, no doubt. It seems each year we are expected to do more and more, with no additional appreciation or compensation.
But are we any different than any other profession? We get summers and holidays off, unlike many other professions - I always think of doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and others, whose jobs never stop. Those professions all are stressful and undervalued as well. I wonder what personal days they get to take?
I think the attacking different professions, saying ours is tougher than others, makes us look petty. We all chose our career paths, knowing where that path would lead us. Whining about the responsibilites and our stress, makes us look as if we chose our path for the wrong reasons.
If you think teaching is too stressful, consider looking for another job. But let's leave the whining about our stress at the door and just do our job in the meantime.


john in nc said...

To be fair, the Teacher Magazine article by Elena Aguilar was aimed at new and novice teachers who can be expected to be esp. overwhelmed in the early months of their first year. Elena coaches new teachers as part of her job in the Oakland CA school system, where the needs of kids are very high indeed. Her article also makes the case that frazzled teachers often don't have the energy to work to improve what she describes (in her system) as the "absurd" conditions under which they work. A day of rest is only one of her suggestions for re-energizing.

cossondra said...

Thanks for the comments John. No where in the article does it say it is aimed at new/novice teachers. Regardless, I don't disagree in the theory that teachers deserve a day off. My point was that when we whine about our jobs,the general public continues to view us as non-professionals. I too wish an 8 hour day would complete my tasks. However, when I became a teacher, I knew it was not an 8-3 job. I knew that despite what the contract said, I was not an hourly employee and would have to work 'overtime' to get my job done.

I grew up with a father who worked in management at a factory. He was a salaried employee. I don't ever recall him going to work and leaving at the 'contractual' times. I do remember many middle of the night emergency phone calls, countless late night cold dinners, and even more weekends where he was called in to work.

Maybe it is not fair that teachers have to work so much to get the job done. But many other professions do the same.

With all the teacher and public education bashing in the news lately, the last thing we need for our image is someone saying by the second month of school, we are already burned out for the year.

I admire Elena and the work she does. I agree with many of her points made. I just am not sure this was the best approach to airing those grievances.

john in nc said...

Hey Cossondra -- just getting back to this. We've been friends and colleagues for a long time, in case anyone wonders whether this is a friendly debate. It is! The piece by Elena was tagged as a "Teaching Secrets" article... those are aimed at novices. In fact, you've written several! But it's true that it's not made clear beyond the tag. That aside, I've been intrigued by the responses from so many teachers along the lines of "it may be ok to take a mental health day but let's not talk about it in public." And also that while it may be true that teachers, at least in some high needs situations, are being driven to career abandonment or early retirement by high-stakes stress, it's unbecoming to whine. Teachers certainly understand the teaching life far better than I do, but every teacher has not walked a mile in every other teacher's shoes.

Anyhow, it stirred up some useful conversation, and perhaps a few overwhelmed newbies read Elena's article in secret and felt a fever coming on.