by Kirsten Ertman
I am an elementary teacher that has taught at various public and private schools for the last 5 years. I too grew up playing school and pretending to be the authoritative, caring role in a classroom of stuffed animals, dolls, and occasional siblings and friends. Growing up in a family of educators, teaching is in my blood. There is something special about being able to impact the life of a child, and to play a small role in molding them into a person that can maybe one day make a difference in the world. Although this thought drives my day-to-day life as an educator, it can sometimes become hindered by the everyday struggles and pressures that we are faced with.
As a current teacher in the private school setting, I am blessed with the opportunity to bring religion into our daily schedule. The downside to this is that because we are a private school, we do not receive government funding; therefore our families are forced to pay tuition…something that many families in the public school setting can save for when their children go off to college. Although we don’t receive help from the government, we are still required to meet state standards (requirements for what teachers need to cover at each grade level throughout the year) as well as standards implemented with the Common Core Curriculum. The Common Core is a nationwide initiative to help prepare students for higher-level learning, so that our children will be prepped for the skills necessary when they are out in the “real world”. Although this initiative has some excellent motives, it provides a tremendous amount of added preparation and pressure for educators, parents, and even students. Our states and districts all over the country are working to align the state standards with the new Common Core standards. What does this mean right now? This new initiative is going to take some time and a lot of adjusting on all ends. Children coming into school without any type of pre-school education or preparation in the home, may experience frustration and difficulty if they are not meeting these standards. What Kindergartners are expected to learn and know now, are things that I learned how to do almost 20 years ago in 2nd grade! For many schools, exploratory play and discovery in Kindergarten is being substituted with assessment, drilling, and extensive practice. We are seeing an issue with huge developmental and skill related gaps with children. This is just one issue that causes a great amount of frustration on schools and their families.
Today, with all these new initiatives and standard-related requirements, we are finding students coming into the school setting with more and more special needs and behavioral issues. When I was in school, very few students were “labeled” with a specific skill or developmental disabilities. It is hard to say whether the cause of these disabilities is genetic, environmental, or caused by something else unknown. Regardless of the cause, it can be another challenge for teachers. Although I am the type of teacher that welcomes these types of challenges, and understands that it is the differences that makes my students special, it is extremely difficult to do my part if there is lack of support on the home-front. Additionally, it is extremely crucial for guardians to help support the school and disciplinary policies that are implemented by the educators. I have had many encounters with families that although have good intentions, do not feel that they need to adhere to the requirements, or that they deserve special treatment. With attitudes such as these, I am seeing that students are coming into the classroom feeling as though they are always entitled to something. I fear that we are in a society now where children are controlling the home life and then bringing that control into the classroom setting. This is not how I was raised and it is extremely frustrating to see. What should we do about it? Continue to teach our children respect for all things and for all people. Continue to teach virtues of compassion, forgiveness, trust, manners, responsibility, love, etc… We continue to model these ways and expect them in return.
Teachers are often devalued and under appreciated by the world in which we live. If it weren’t for a second income coming from my husband, I would not be able to live in today’s society. With that being said, it is extremely frustrating that nothing has been done to compensate teachers properly. While many people work jobs that require hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; any teacher knows that is not ever a typical day in our field. I am not compensated for the 2 hours before and 3-5 hour after school preparations. Very often am I not compensated for my own money spent on purchases for supplies and equipment necessary to fulfill my job. At a private school, I do not receive retirement; which means I have to budget and work to set extra money aside each month in preparations for my career’s end. The controversial topic of having summers off is completely ridiculous. Although I’m not in my classroom every day during the summer, I am still constantly planning and preparing for the next school year. Myself and many others that go into this profession knowing what we are getting ourselves into before entering, but I feel as though changes need to be made in our country. We need to place more value on education and the work that teachers do. Where would our future doctors, lawyers, and government leaders be without the education received…especially the building blocks and skills instilled in them at the elementary level.
I’m proud to be a teacher, there are and extreme amount of ups and downs, but I go to work each day not for myself, but for 20 some children who rely on me to help prepare them for the future.