Your Life is So Hard- A Teacher Rant

Posted April 6, 2015

“Your life is so hard.”

It’s always said with an accompanying eye roll, sigh, or any other variety of clear indicators of sarcasm.

It’s a statement that every teacher hears at least once during the calendar year, mostly  right before, or several times during, summer vacation.  However, I’ve been hearing it a lot as spring break begins today, and it’s starting to get under my skin.

(Yes, I understand it’s ridiculous that a 30-year-old can still legitimately ask a colleague his/her age or older what they’re doing for spring break, but that in no way belittles the rest of my opinions on the subject).

First of all, yes, the life of a teacher is hard. At times.  Being an adult in any profession has difficult moments. Shoot, trying to be a responsible human being who is moderately healthy, keeps semi-functional relationships, and looks reasonably presentable in public is a hard task most of the time. So, yeah, let’s not start by sarcastically assuming that some vacation time makes a person’s entire life easy.

However, the quickest way to shoot back at the person assuming that my life, and job, is easy always seems to come back to asking them if they want to switch.

Nobody else besides a teacher wants to be a teacher. Some days teachers don’t even want to be teachers. Yet everybody seems to think it’s such a cushy lifestyle.

I even had a 10th grade student say he’d rather be a teacher than a student. If Tom Hanks’ creepy fortune teller from “Big” machine had been in the same room, I would have switched places without a second thought. (A second thought may have made me reconsider). However, when I asked him if he thought it was more time consuming to write one essay or read and grade 21 of them, he said it took longer to write one: “If I was grading them, I would just put a grade based on the mood I was in and then move onto the next one.”

Oh, would you? That’s how you would do it? OK, remember that next time I hand you back a wine-stained essay with a crappy grade on it. “D+ Sorry, I couldn’t read the words, so I assumed it was terrible. You’ll get ’em next time.”

But, if we’re being honest, the main reason nobody wants to switch jobs with me is the pay. It’s also one of the main reasons that this life isn’t “easy.” In NYC, starting teacher salaries range from $45,530 to $51,425 for teachers who have a master’s degree but no teaching experience. Overall, NYC’s median salary for a person with less than a year experience in a given field is $50,687, which is immediately more than almost any new teacher with a masters degree.

In 2012-2013 the average public and elementary school teacher salary in the US, regardless of degrees or experience,  was $56,383, which was a 1.3 percent drop from 1999-2000. That’s also just under $6,000 more than the average person with no prior job experience makes in NYC.

To add to it, a report from NEA Research, which is based on US census data, found that annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. Throughout the nation, the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher. Yet, teachers still spend an average of 55 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising, etc. (A number which is much higher for English teachers whose grading is primarily essays).

All of which is to say that the idea of the cushy 8-4pm job with weekends and summers off that people seem to think is “so easy”  isn’t really an accurate depiction.

And that doesn’t even factor in spending five days a week doing what most adults in my life claim is the most tiring thing in the world: dealing with children.

If parents roll their eyes at the thought of spring break and having to entertain their own children in the house for a full week, then think of what it’s like to spend your full day around hundreds of them all year. They’re hormonal, dramatic, and lack developed common sense to continuously make smart decisions.

They’re also the main reason that teachers put up with everything I just listed above .

Teaching children certainly doesn’t make my life easy, but it undoubtedly makes it worthwhile. There are countless days where I dream about doing something else where I could sleep later, be involved in inspiring creative projects, or make more money, but something a student does will always pull me back in.

Whether it’s claiming that my recommendation letter got them into college (which is never actually the case), watching them research and give thoughtful presentations on important issues like race relations, or witnessing a student finally figure out something they are truly talented at, or passionate about, there are countless wonderful moments that stand out amongst the haze caused by hours of staring at computer screens reading Lord of the Flies essays or staring out at a room full of kids who are one light switch away from a much needed nap.

They can make your day satisfying just as quickly as they can make it a pain in your ass.

So, you can be envious of my vacation time or the fact that I don’t sit in an office until 9PM, but refrain from trying to comment on the amount of effort it takes to teach until you’ve actually tried it. It’s certainly not easy, but the most worthwhile parts of life usually aren’t.