19 Tasks Great Teachers Do

19 Tasks Great Teachers Do

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I certainly do my best to always be positive in all my articles and posts.  I find that being positive, hopeful and energetic is motivating and best for all.  However, there is occasionally something which creeps in like a smothering fog that challenges my ongoing optimism.  At this time of the year the media inevitably reports about how great teachers have it with their “excessive” holiday time and “generous” working hours.  For instance, take this quote which comes directly from one of my local newspapers who are commenting upon the fact that our teachers have been forced to take an unpaid day off to balance the district’s books:

People in the private sector consider themselves lucky to have a job.  And teachers whine about tacking on an extra unpaid day to their very generous Christmas vacation.”

They do have jobs.  And they’re well paid.  Is it too much to ask that they suck up one unpaid day and be grateful for what they have?” (Christina Blizzard.  Toronto Sun)

I would hazard a guess that if I researched the newspapers around the globe, I would find something similar in all of them.  I would also be certain to find the story about the teacher who gave up countless hours of their own time organizing food drives for charity buried neatly on the back page!  I am sorry if this comes across as cynical, however, I have seen this cycle too many times now.  Every year around Christmas time, spring break and the summer holidays the media begin their traditional teacher bashing.  So…to get away from the negative and get back onto the positive track…I have created a post which accurately specifies the multitude of tasks teachers perform each day.  This is by no means complete as every educator is different.  Nevertheless, it is designed to bring some balance to an agenda which always attacks our teachers just when they are about to get some rest and relaxation with their loved ones.

19 Tasks Great Teachers Do

1.  Teach their students within their classroom all day.

2. Spend countless hours preparing engaging lessons which will meet the needs of all their individual students.

3. Spend countless hours assessing, revising and evaluating the progress of their students.

4.  Spend countless hours ensuring all their students meet expectations, and create plans to help those who are struggling.

5.  Arrive at work early and stay late.

6.  Lunch?  What lunch?  Teachers give up before school time, after school time and their personal lunch time to run various teams and clubs designed to meet the needs of their students.

7.  Always communicating with parents through face to face discussions, phone calls, notes, etc…

8.  Attend Professional Development consistently to improve practice and model lifelong learning.

9.  Advocate for students on a consistent basis.

10. Give up their own weekend and holiday time so they can accompany their students on trips.

11.  Give up break and lunch time to provide extra help and support to students.

12.  Manage student conduct, and help students develop proper social skills and character traits.

13.  Ever increasing administrative tasks and paperwork.

14.  Providing first aid and bandaging cuts and scrapes on a daily basis.

15.  Providing moral support and a sympathetic ear to students and parents and trying to help whenever they can.

16.  Writing reference and recommendation letters for students.

17.  Unfortunately spending their own money and time better equipping their classrooms as they have to make up for budget shortfalls.

18.  Spending a good portion of the holidays preparing for upcoming terms and/or the new school year.

19.  Spending a good portion of the holidays upgrading skills and knowledge with new courses.

There you have it…19 tasks teacher spend their time on.  The list is by no means complete or exhaustive.  As a school Principal I see it each and every day.  So for all the detractors our there I would ask you to truly attempt to fully understand the teaching profession before passing judgement.  I am not overly optimistic the media will adhere to this advice as they know bashing teachers around the holidays appeals to a certain audience and always brings with it more sales.  However, I think we can reach out to the public in general and promote teaching as the most honorable of professions.  That way the “certain audience” will slowly disappear.  That is my hope and belief anyways…and one of the reasons I keep writing this blog!

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8 comments on “19 Tasks Great Teachers Do
  1. Kathy says:

    Teachers could track hours and document all of that for the taxpayers to see if we had even 5 minutes during the day in which we were not engaged with students, peers, administrators, or parents. It begins walking in the door and doesn’t stop until I turn off my phone at night. But! I have tried to estimate the average hours spent on each activity per week: lesson planning and preparation- 5 to 8 hrs.; clubs & student activities (such as attending concerts, plays, games) – 6 – 10 hrs; tutoring 4 hrs.; paperwork 3 hrs; grading & assessment 6 – 10 hrs.; teaching – 30 hrs.; meetings 1 – 4 hrs.; training – 1 – 4 hrs. Easy week = 56 hrs and no work on Saturday. Tough week = 73 hours. Really tough week = 73 hours plus a 12 hour day Saturday at an all day competition or tournament. I don’t think I’m special or unusual. There are plenty of teachers who work harder than I do.

    • Dean says:

      Thank you for the comment Kathy. I am afraid these are the things people never really choose to see. When I say people…I am referring primarily to the media. Keep up the great work!

  2. Dean, I understand that no one enjoys being criticized and that many in public education often feel unfairly portrayed in and outside the media, especially when reading an article such as the one in the Toronto Sun. It’s clear that Ontario’s cost saving measures are taking a toll on the already antagonistic relationship between teachers, unions, schools, the public—and the students.

    You write in your post “19 Tasks Great Teachers Do” about the importance of being positive in fostering what is “best for all.” I agree with you, but your piece and the comments you cite from the news combine to accomplish just the opposite; they are bookends to a knotty problem mired in lack of understanding and communication and do much to perpetuate antagonism and adversity. Perhaps we can learn from your juxtaposition of these perspectives.

    While I sympathize with teachers given the challenges our schools face, I can also understand the public’s perception and concerns about the participants in the education process. As a parent and taxpayer who put in long hours in a professional job that regularly took me away from my family, teachers’ statements about their jobs and these criticisms often made me wonder about the environment in which teachers worked and how they perceived it. One issue that puzzled me most were these schedule controversies about number of hours worked and days off; I couldn’t understand how they applied to salaried professionals. Every professional I worked with or contracted for services worked whatever hours were required to accomplish the goals of the job. If teachers are salaried professionals, why is there even a public discussion of how much time is spent outside of scheduled classroom time to plan lessons and grade student assignments?

    The NEA regularly produces posters highlighting the sacrifices teachers make, very much like your “19 Tasks.” We see them constantly on Facebook and other social media; a recent one shows a man doing paperwork at his dining room table with the caption, “While you’re home tonight watching TV … a teacher spends his free time creating lesson plans for your kids.”

    The hazard here is that images like this just may not evoke the intended sympathy in the intended audience, since that audience likely includes medical residents working long hours, mothers holding down three jobs working long hours, high school students spending nights stocking grocery store shelves and working long hours, and mid-level office workers also working long hours at home late into the evening, spending her “free time” on a marketing report or the company payroll or trying to finish a website by deadline.

    Teachers aren’t alone in the dedication and effort and time many employees put into their jobs—and I don’t think presenting teachers as the only ones doing so to an audience who knows this is the most productive way to win their hearts and minds. In fact—as the newspaper quotes demonstrate—it tends to irritate the people who pay our salaries.

    When I entered the public education world almost 10 years ago, I was immediately struck by how isolated this world is from what many of its inhabitants refer to as the “real world.” This reclusion discourages and impedes productive interaction, communication, and understanding between school employees and the communities we serve. As a result, I don’t think the NEA and teachers fully appreciate the resentment generated by that post showing a teacher working in his “free time.”

    Dean, you, with the best of intentions, state, “I think we can reach out to the public in general and promote teaching as the most honorable of professions.” I applaud and share your goal, but don’t you see even your words “most honorable of professions” distance us from that “certain audience” you want to reach? On the one hand, we despair over the lack of respect and understanding we receive from families and taxpayers while we push them away with the other by repeatedly pointing out how much more important and nobler our jobs are than theirs.

    You cite the rants of those unhappy with teachers, but this divide between the school world and the “real” world goes both ways. Consider this recent comment from a teacher in my local paper over similar issues, comparing herself to retail employees— “I could probably wipe the floor with them when it comes to intellect.”

    As some readers of my local paper asked, doesn’t this teacher get that some of her students’ parents just might be working in retail? Or that some of the students work in retail? And just might read newspapers?

    We might argue that both comments represent extremes, but think on how we present teachers even within schools. How does the seemingly innocuous phrase “most honorable of professions” fly with the other employees in our school buildings, such as clerical workers, nurses, custodians, and paraprofessionals? How many schools still hold “faculty meetings” and not “staff meetings?” Is this the environment we should have?

    Dean, if we want others “to truly attempt to fully understand the teaching profession before passing judgement,” we ourselves need to work on empathy and fully understand the situations of others before passing judgment on them. I don’t think we do well at that and the reasons are many and not easily resolved.

    However, recognizing that there are obstacles to mutual understanding is the first step and all parties share responsibility for the current situation that takes the focus off what we should be paying attention to, student learning.

    Thank you for your thoughtful column and I look forward to more discussion.

    • Dean says:

      Hi James,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I totally understand the points you are making. I was fully aware while writing this article that it could backfire in a big way and do more harm then good. However, the simple truth is I do believe teaching is the most honorable of professions. It is the one that has given birth to all the rest. Working with children is an immense responsibility and this point is often overlooked and belittled.

      The main point of my article was not to minimalize other professions or careers. Instead it was to educate in terms of what teachers actually do and the import of what they do for the future. As a Principal, when I have meetings they are staff meetings…not faculty meetings. Everyone attends as everyone plays a vital role in our building. However, I believe the role of teacher is what we are all striving to support…because they are instructing and guiding the students. The rest of us…including myself…are there to help the teachers do their jobs. It does not mean we are not important, but we are there for the kids and thus need to support the teachers.

      I also understand what you say about the scheduling issue. My points are not to say that ONLY teachers do this…rather it is to say teachers DO this. How often do you read something in the paper about teachers and their fictitious 5 hour days?? There has to be balance on the other side to get the truth out. The danger of course is that this truth comes out as whining or self-serving.

      Thank you for your comment James as your points are all extremely important and valid. One of the reasons I designed my blog was not only to develop a virtual PLC and grow as an educator, but also to help bring back respect to educators. Something I find is lacking more and more. It is important to note that I do not blame parents for this…they are our best supporters. Rather I find it is media which will cater to a certain appetite. Probably because they know someone like me will jump in and then they will have the fodder to sell more papers. That is probably a bit jaded, but after 20+ years I see it growing all the time.

      Thanks again


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