5:30-6:00AM Turn off your cell phone alarm repeatedly, get up only when NPR starts to play on your clock-radio. Brush your teeth, get dressed, pack your lunch, and walk your dog all in the next hour.
7:10AM Leave the house…
7:15AM You get to school. The sky is grey and it is misting, but you are happy. From your car, you lug a pink crate composed of 2 reams of paper, your lunch and a mug of tea while carrying your book bag. Try not to spill on yourself as you wonder if this counts as your workout for the week. It does.
Realize you are the first teacher at school. The empty hallways greet you in their morning calm. You love this. This makes the morning grogginess worth it. The custodian crosses your mind- How do they feel about their work hours?
In your classroom, you make printouts then head to the copy room. Make small talk, do mental math to make varying sets of copies, all while running the day’s lessons through your mind: when to pass out the handouts, is it better to have groups of fours or twos. Sometimes pedagogy is made up of classroom management strategies.
8:00AM Prep your boards with dates, homework, intros to the lessons. You have exactly 15 minutes. Take your scheduled pee break (yes, this is reality for teachers).
8:15AM Medieval History. Welcome students in. They are just as groggy as you were an hour ago. So endearing in their hoodies, or newly straightened hair, or—sometimes—new clothes, inching into the room and blinking their eyes open. You are reminded that no matter what, they are someone’s babies. You love them too.
Half of them are late. You teach and coach. Your first period is a breeze today.
9:17AM Medieval History. Give the context to the lesson, remind Dee to stay quiet and respectful (for what feels like the tenth time before she is sent out), scan the room for students chewing gum, make eye contact while speaking, and check if Dan has his foot behind you to secretly trip you as you give directions.
Finish up your lecture while keeping an eye on Dee who is still waiting outside for you to check in with her and talking to students wandering the hall. You are frustrated but sad because you know her actions stem from parenting at home, which stems from who-knows-what kind of history from her mother.
Sign off on students’ work, answer questions, motivate students to do their work. Stand by John who reads below grade level and is unmotivated. He wrote at the beginning of school, “I motivate myself.” And obviously it’s not working.
You are frustrated but getting loud or aggressive does not work with your students, who are well-trained at mirroring it back or diffusing it with disruptive jokes. You remember the two silent students who are grade levels behind that you did not get to check in with today. But time is up. You are wiped out. Your body feels it. Make last announcements and dismiss the class.
10:14AM Medieval History. Welcome students in. You sit down, trying to see how students will react to your silence and “disappearance.” You are checking how well they have internalized your entrance procedures.
You teach the lesson for the third time. Teach and coach. Get interrupted multiple times by a phone call, an administrator, and a counselor looking for different students. Keep Al on track although he’s intent on staring out the door at the locker search for marijuana that the administration has embarked on. Mary and Tim are still talking to each other and not getting much done even after multiple reminders. You take a deep breath.
Lisa makes a peace sign and kisses the air while the class stares. You make a face, mimic her and the class gets to joke as you dismiss them. “Oh and do your homework!”
11:11AM “Free period” or “prep.” Get your student helpers set up with grading work. You realize your breakfast was just two sips of tea so you eat as you grade papers.
Tidy up your room and converse with your assistant principal about the students you saw earlier who may have stashed marijuana in their lockers this morning. Your co-workers joke in your room and one delivers a soy latte. SCORE.
12:04PM Lunch. Students come in for help, a quiet space to work, or they are there to joke with you. “My special children,” you call them. Realize you did not fully prep your 8th grade lesson and take care of that. Meanwhile, questions keep flying your way—the colored pencils? The sentence-starter sheet? Where do you live? Hey, I’m going to bully you. They all need and want attention. You try.
12:44PM Book Club is for silent reading, luckily your 8th graders make this possible (usually after a ruckus entry full of horseplay and gossip.) Two or three of them will stand by the door with you to heckle you with joke and questions like “You’re so beautiful.” “Did your tattoos hurt?” “Do you know Mey from AYPAL? Are you friends?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” They are ridiculously friendly and you wonder about boundaries. Yet you’ve successfully never given out your age nor dating status because “it shouldn’t affect how you treat me,” you say.
Review your 8th grade lessons while making sure your students are reading and if possible try to “read” your book. Answer the phone, write passes for students getting extra coaching, and check the hallway for students skipping, being sent out of class, or just being disruptive. Keep your eye on the time!
1:04PM U.S. History. Fumble through your lesson because you feel it’s a little lacking, but you’re not sure what is missing. A student calls out, “I’m bored.” Get distracted because this disheartens you. Pick back up mid-sentence. They are calling out too much today. Frustration. Frustration.
Supervise students’ partner reading and answer their questions. Get more frustrated as you see students are not grasping the reading as much as you hoped. Admit to a student you are irritated as you check if all the pairs are “re-teaching” each other what they just read.
End class with admitting you are irritated because you take your work personally and this is the second time you’re teaching this moment of history. And this wasn’t as good as you had hoped. You tell students you needed them to teach and support each other. Grasping for words, you notice the Assata Shakur quote in the back of your room, “We must love and support each other.” You read this to them and remind them that the class is about this too. You dismiss them to their next class with that sentiment. At least you feel proud about this part of the lesson.
2:01PM U.S. History. Welcome in your last group, who have been through 6 periods. Today, most of them have run 8 or more laps at P.E., they have screamed and yelled during lunch, and have read and wrote and created. They drag their feet as they enter and you can relate.
Start the same lesson again, simultaneously thinking of changes you can make this time around. Lead your students through an example and get excited when talking about the Fugitive Slave Law and its similarity to immigration policy today. Hope they understand the point you made about Arizona and Alabama.
The lesson goes a little better. You get to explain to students hard at work that John Brown was a white man who was an abolitionist! And that senators beat each other up in Congress, in relation to tensions over slavery! Crazy country!
Students are excited and you notice one of your Vietnamese students translating the readings into Vietnamese for her partner who has been in the country for less than a year. Your heart is warmed.
3:00PM You should be able to leave the building now, but students wander in: “I lost my project.” “What are you supposed to do with the writing section?” “Can you proof-read this?” “Can you show me my grades?”
Later, exhausted, you sit for a minute next to a student waiting for her phone in the office. Joke with her and then wish her a good afternoon. “Be a good… woman!” she tells you. Chuckle as you walk away realizing that she said that because you told her class about how “girl” and “boy” was used to disrespect men and women of color.
You never allow yourself to stay past 4pm. Besides, your room is rowdy because the after-school program uses it for their tutoring.
4:00PM You’ve escaped! Use the next few hours to walk your dog, cook/heat dinner, shower. If you have the energy, talk to a friend on the phone or look at your email. If you are lucky or foolish enough, decide to have dinner with a friend on a weeknight.
7:00PM You really want to do something mindless like look at girly fashion blogs or puppies… But you have planning to do.
Ok, who am I kidding? You waste an hour staring at facebook and tumblr.
8-10:00PM Try to limit yourself to 2 hours of planning. Stare at the pile of grading you brought home and wonder why you even try.
11:00PM Ignore the pile of books you haven’t touched in weeks. No judgment. Get ready for bed now because it took you longer than you wanted to prep for the next day. Journal for yourself and nod off. Imagine people- people you like, people you love, those you miss, those who were here last and those you wish could be here. Maybe if you weren’t so busy… so tired…
Get up and realize you can edit a poem or email something related to your grassroots group.
Go to bed too late.
Repeat at 5:30AM.
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Note- It even overwhelms me to look at what I wrote, and this account does not even include very much about the more directly intellectual part of our work (like the planning and grading). A teacher’s day is long and full of mental and emotional multi-tasking. It is physically exhausting as I never sit down while teaching.
However, I want to make clear that I do not write this in some attempt to publicize the glamour of a teacher’s supposed martyrdom, nor to pity myself, and not even to complain. I am only comfortable writing and publicizing this now because I’m ready to teach for a few more years. Maybe this means two years, maybe it means ten. I write this because when you wonder why I am cloistered during my weekends or unavailable, you get it. I want you to know why, when you ask me about teaching, I have no straight answer. It is because my job and how I feel about it is as complex as the typical day I just outlined. I write this because if and when this country/community truly discusses what education means, we cannot forget about valuing the personnel doing the work.