The rookie science teacher looks at me with the same “Am I understanding this job correctly or am I crazy?” look I’ve often seen in the eyes of new teachers.
“No, you understand,” I say. “You’ve been thrown into a situation that requires an enormous amount of work and a good amount of ability, and it’s sink or swim. You might naturally expect the system to help you, or at least acknowledge the position you’ve been put in. It won’t.”
Teachers have come under considerable scrutiny in recent decades, and everybody claims to have the silver-bullet reform that will fix education. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, charter schools, raising the qualifications to become a teacher, limiting or abolishing tenure, and countless other measures have been taken up by Congress and state legislatures since I took my first teaching position in 1989.
Yet there is little public discussion about the education system’s central problem: Teachers don’t have enough time to do our jobs properly. Teachers unions understand this and fight to protect our ability to do our jobs.
Here’s one reason for teachers’ “time poverty”: Unlike other white-collar professionals, we face an enormous burden of clerical and low-level work.
In what other industry would four highly educated professionals wait in line for 20 minutes to use the one functional copier? Where else would a highly trained counselor spend 30 minutes making sure teenagers throw their juice cartons in the trash during lunchtime?