If your answer is “yes” than you need to update your meds.
I am a bit worn out. I spent the last two days in a High School classroom bringing the wonders of rodent anatomy and evolution to a group of eager students. Well, three groups of eager students. I try to spend at least a few days in a local K-12 school every semester, both to lend a hand and to keep in touch with what goes on in such places. And, not that I needed reminding, but quite a bit goes on.
Being a K-12 teacher in an American public school is like being a sailor on a leaky naval vessel under fire from a superior enemy closing in fast and you have been assigned by the Captain six jobs to be done ASAP, and half of them involve finding a bucket of steam, and the other half are life or death matters. I’m not talking about my teaching. As a guest, I just show up and do the classroom thing with the students. No, I’m talking about what the teachers are doing other than teaching. Every few months the typical school board or administration comes up with some neat idea to improve education without actually reducing class size or providing more resources, but that does involve making the teachers fill out more forms and go to more meetings and so on and so forth. All of this happens at the beginning of the year and the teachers, just getting their new courses under way, just don’t have time for that, yet they make time. There are constant interruptions in the classrooms. I spent a total of about 9 hours teaching in classrooms this week and was inturrupted by the public address system no fewer than 12 times, with the last interruption being a full five minute announcement that took up the last five minutes of the last hour of the last day. Which is when I would have normally said some important stuff, don’t ya think? As a person who has taught far more than the average professor in colleges and universities, I’m always astounded at how much interruption and distraction is tolerated in the K-12 classroom. The classroom needs to be restored to a higher status than it currently has, in my opinion.
One thing I noticed that I think is pretty typical. In this particular department, and this is probably an exemplar of similar things elsewhere, there is a shortage of microscopes. (In some other school, some other place and time, there is a shortage of some other thing.) Therefore, quite a bit of time was spent moving microscopes back and forth across a rather large building for use in different classes, and quite a bit of time and mental energy was spent trying to figure out how to arrange access to a limited amount of this equipment. Microscopes are expensive, but teaching scopes are not that expensive and tend to last for many years. An investment in more scopes (which I’m actually sure will happen in this particualr case) will serve everyone very well, but the sad irony is that at no point will it ever be officially acknowledged that purchasing 12 microscopes will save hundreds of hours of teacher time distributed over the next few years. Because nobody really cares about teacher time. The teachers themselves seem to have given up on being treated fairly. And, there is no wonder that one of the variables that determines state-wide educational quality is whether or not your state has unionized teachers.
I’m very grateful that I get the chance to help out in this way now and then in local schools. I get to bring something that otherwise might not be available in a particular classroom, I get to interact with mostly great kids, and I get to give a teacher or two a couple hours of time so they can get some more prep done or spend more time with grading or planning or helping students or going to the bathroom or breathing or whatever. If you have a chance you should do something for your local teachers as well. All schools have volunteer programs, as far as I know.
Oh, and it turns out that this is a school that does the Pledge of Allegiance every Monday. They don’t take up class time, but rather a bit of the student’s “news break” time. And, in total, the student’s news break was impinged on by various outside demands somewhat more than my teaching time. The only thing sacred in the average school is the right to interrupt, it would seem!