This post appeared April 23, 2014 on Bill Ferriter’s blog, “The Tempered Radical.” On his blog, he describes himself as follows: “Bill Ferriter has about a dozen titles—Solution Tree author and professional development associate, noted edublogger, senior fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network—but he checks them all at the door each morning when he walks into his sixth- grade classroom” in Raleigh, North Carolina.”
I’m sitting in a dirty McDonald’s restaurant right now. It’s the same dirty McDonald’s restaurant that I’ve spent the better part of the past 15 years sitting in. Stop by and you are almost guaranteed to find me in a booth near the back — next to the filthy bathrooms and just inside the door where the sketchy teens are chain-smoking Marlboro Reds.
I come here after school and on the weekends to crank out writing for part time projects. Sometimes I’m blogging. Sometimes I’m putting together #edtech or #ccss lessons that I’ll use in my classroom AND in professional development workshops that I deliver during those legendary “vacations” that teachers get. Sometimes I’m answering emails sent by school leaders who need a bit of advice on how to move their buildings forward.
Always I’m tired. Finding energy AFTER a full day at school ain’t easy.
I walk into my classroom at 6 AM every morning and spend the first two hours planning, grading and answering email. From 8:00-1:30, I work with 140 of the most engaging eleven year olds you’ve ever met. They are simultaneously beautiful and demanding, though. Meeting needs, answering questions, calming worries, celebrating successes and soothing hurt feelings are all wrapped around delivering the content in my curriculum.
I spend the last two hours of my day in meetings — with parents, with peers, with special educators, with principals, and with professional developers. On good days, I might even get a few more minutes of planning before picking my daughter up from school.
As soon as my wife gets home at 4:30, however, I head to McDonald’s to start my second job. Most nights, I work until 7:30. Most Saturdays and Sundays, I work from 6:30 until noon.
Always, I’m worried about making ends meet because my family literally relies on my part time income to pay our bills.
Living in a state that ranks 46th in the nation for teacher pay — a full $10,000 behind the national average — means I’ve GOT to generate part time revenue in order to financially survive. If the content that I create on nights and weekends doesn’t resonate — if I can’t convince SOMEONE to buy my ideas or my time — we’d be flat broke.
The hacks that harp on the horrors of the public education system would probably revel in this reality, wouldn’t they? They’d argue that the stress of my poor salary has pushed me to be a better teacher. “Competition blah-blah-blah. Pay for performance blah-blah-blah. Cushy teaching jobs blah-blah. Wasting our tax dollars blah-blah.”
And in a way, they’d be right: While a part of me is constantly improving my practice because I know that improving my practice means improving the lives of my students, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m also constantly improving my practice because I’m hoping that someone will see me as an expert and hire me as a consultant so that I can cover next month’s day care bill for my four-year old daughter.
Long story short: Teaching is a grind.
On a good day, the grind feels like a noble sacrifice because I know that my work has made a difference for the kids in my class and the families in my community. On a bad day, the grind feels like professional masochism. I guess that’s the uncomfortable truth for those of us who have chosen a career that has always been undervalued and — more recently — been unappreciated.
The question is how long can I keep on grinding?
Six weeks later, Ferriter posted the following on his blog:
Such a small thing, right? But to me, it meant everything.
The kids thanked me and teased me and joked about my hairline and the fact that I’m apparently older than dirt. Some snuck the cards into my room and left them for me to discover on my desk. Others came in groups of two or three to share creations that they had worked on together.
They worked on their cards during homeroom, during our school wide enrichment block and during their classes. My guess is that they missed a ton of content, distracted by the simple act of celebrating one of their teachers.
I missed a ton of content, too: At the end of the day, I ignored the four thousand email messages sitting in my inbox and smiled my way through a pile of special memories from a group of kids that I care about.