I’ve never worked as hard as a teacher as I’m working these days, not even a million years ago when I was new to this. I blame college employment practices and hourly limits on part timers. I used to be able to make ends meet on 12 contact hours a week which was as much as one could work at the college where I’ve taught for over 2 decades. Now I’m up to 19 hours in three programs, all in different locations. By summer, in order to cover the hit from the cancellation of the class where I earn the most, I’ll be in the classroom 24 hours/week. Do not even think about the prep time this will involve as it will make your head spin.
But I didn’t pop in just to complain about my woeful lot in life. I have a point and it’s this: the way colleges employ teachers these days makes it difficult to impossible for us to do our best by our students. I don’t think I am the only part timer who is stressed out, exhausted, frequently ill, forgetful, and unfocused. I never stop feeling guilty about what I should be doing for my students or the inevitable flipside: what I should be doing for my family. I spend a lot of time struggling with the feeling like I’m always letting someone down. I know I don’t need to be a perfect teacher, but I also need to do the best I can. I don’t need to be a perfect mother or wife, but letting these responsibilities go isn’t really an option, either.
I just read this short but excellent piece from the TESOL IEP newsletter and I realize that what I’m struggling with, apart from genuine physical and mental exhaustion, is a deep sense of shame and failure at losing a position I’ve held for years. Then there’s anger about losing the accompanying pay and benefits without so much as a thank you for years of hard work. But this shame thing? It’s doing exactly no one any good at all.
A teacher who doesn’t try to hide from, push back on, or outrun being exposed for his or her imperfections, mistakes, and failures has the ability to be both playful and professional in the classroom. Shame robs us of these abilities.–Stephen Robert Dunham
So there it is. As I complete my 25th year of teaching, even though I’m having to run faster than ever before and being “rewarded” for my hard work with the loss of hard won health benefits and decent pay, I’m going to continue being the best teacher I can be. I’m going to try and let go of the guilt, the shame, and (I truly hope) the anger I’ve been feeling toward those whose casual decisions have really messed with my life, and just focus on doing this teaching thing the best way I know how. And that may just mean a few more picnics with my family and a bit more dancing and a few more cocktails in and around all the prep and grading. Who wants to join me?