Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I’ll tell ya…

I retired from a 35-year career in education five years ago.  Thirty-five years in the classroom, the prinicpal’s chair and the district office?  Hell!  I thought I knew all about it.  

Today, however, I was called upon to conduct a 90-minute “Art Docent” lesson for my wife’s third grade class. It seems the regular docent volunteer was hired to teach in a classroom. (Good for her.)

I took thirty minutes the day I received the docent directional binder and thirty minutes yesterday to review the lesson and then another thirty more this morning. I visited the school yesterday to inventory necessary supplies (they were all there) and showed up about an hour early to prepare a few necessities.

The class of 29 second and third graders proved to be wonderful. For the first thirty minutes, we viewed and talked about six winter or summer themed masterworks that were printed up on hardboard. The objective involved having the learner identify warm and cool colors and interpret how they were used in the pieces displayed.

Eager and insightful to the last lad, it was difficult to cram the discussion into the allotted 35 minutes. Returning from recess – the ten minute period in which I laid out materials – I explained to the students the outcome they might expect, modeled some of the activities in which the kids would be engaged, checked for understanding through questioning, clarified, and along with the teacher and a couple of other adults, monitored the kids’ work.

The forty-five minute work period stretched to fifty and then fifty-five minutes. When time was up, students paraded past me with their finished “masterpieces.” We posted them on the board reviewing our discussion of warm and cool colors.

Soon the bell rung, the kids left and I sighed in relief and weariness. The activity lasted a little over an hour and a half and was quite successful, but I felt liked I’d been drug through a keyhole. I was done. I slipped into the driver’s seat of my Nissan Frontier and just sat there letting the bucketed upholstery caress my aching lower back. Ahhhhh…

The intensity of keeping a bunch of good kids engaged for ninety minutes will knock the pins out from under the most accomplished CEO, business leader, administrator, member of military brass, cop, doc, or postal worker. And yet our teachers do this for six-and-a-half hours. Daily. Five days a week. And outside of that six-and-a-half hours? They plan, correct, evaluate, answer phone calls and, if they're like my wife, probably enjoy a glass of wine over a stack of papers in a room illuminated by a single light bulb at 11:00 PM. 

Next time someone bitches about teachers being slackers sucking at the public teat, ask them to – NO: demand that they actively volunteer for just half a morning. If they respond that their taxes pay for all that needs to be done and that they shouldn’t have to supplement their contribution with their time – time being money and all – they will have exposed themselves as individuals unwilling to examine the weakness in the foundation of their opinion. Caution! This circumstance may precipitate one of those STFU moments you might later regret.

When they do volunteer, however, their tune will surely change. They’ll experience just how hard, how intense and how critical classroom work truly is. They’ll become advocates. And along the way, ALL of our kids will do better.

I’ll be back next month.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. You hit the nail on the head. Now. play the piano, teach kids to sing, clap and count rhythms, put some emotion into their songs, learn to play classical guitar and teach 40 guitarist and 40 pianists per class. Then, I answer my emails, grade papers, call parents, fill out bureaucratic forms, organize a multitude of fundraisers, write letters of recommendation for college applications, distribute tickets for concerts, make posters, hold auditions for next year, and that what just TODAY. But, I wouldn't do it, if I didn't LOVE what I do.

  2. Agreed! I have never worked harder ( and been paid less) than when I taught for adults with disabilities, was a preschool teacher or when i was a substitute. But, when I was prepared it was very rewarding!

  3. I have a one and a half hour "workshop", I'm giving next Wednesday and have already spent at least two or three hours getting prepared for it and am sure when I am finished with it I will leave just as exhausted as you were after your lesson. CEO's who earn 100 times as much the regular classroom teacher should be ashamed to earn so much when teachers earn so little in comparison.

    1. And of the two, who is engaged in the more important work?

  4. And your experience was with a classroom of "good kids" in a nice neighborhood. Multiply the time, effort and fatigue by 100 when trying the same thing with hungry, scared kids who speak a dozen languages (amongst them - not each!)

  5. Very well-said and completely agree. Add to that: hovering parents, entitled children (in some areas) and diminished budgets. Teachers are heroes.

  6. You just made me lol! I can imagine you sitting in your car after an hour with a bunch of 8 year olds that just loved having you there! Hahaha my feet are up because they ache, and my papers are staring at me. However, sitting here I laugh about my day! How many other professionals, besides teachers, see the things I see? Most days I can't even explain it because not many people would get it or believe it! Each day is new, curious, and filled with surprises! It is definitely worth the sore feet!