The following post was written by Ashley Austrew, as told to her by Pamela*, a teacher from Texas, in response to Donald Trump, Jr.’s assertion that women who can’t handle harassment at work “should maybe go teach kindergarten.” (*A pseudonym to respect her request of anonymity.)
When you think about tough careers, being a kindergarten teacher isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. To an outsider, teaching seems like little more than guaranteed summers off and a chance to play with kids all day. The truth is, it takes grit to be a teacher, and most people couldn’t even imagine what goes on behind the scenes.
On an average day as a kindergarten teacher, I get to school before 7 a.m.
School doesn’t start until 7:45, but I have to prepare for my day. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t happen, because I get sidetracked by things like a call from the office, letting me know Timmy is throwing a fit because he wants to stay with his mom, and I have to go calm him down. Or, I get an email from Sally’s mom that says she’s worried her daughter isn’t eating breakfast, and can I please meet her bus and escort her through the breakfast line today and watch her eat.
Most days, I’m struggling to catch up on what I need to do. I have students help me pass out the assignments I was supposed to put on the desks before class, when I was busy helping Timmy and Sally. I collect the kids’ take-home folders and try to find the form I sent home to be signed by mom and dad the night before, but I can’t because two kids start fighting over a pencil, each claiming it’s theirs and the other person stole it. They won’t relent until I give them each a brand new, identical pencil.
We get two 15-minute recess periods, which are really more like ten minutes once you get everyone ready to go. Lunch is 30 minutes, and it’s spent walking kids through the line and talking to parents who’ve popped in for a visit. I have one 45-minute conference and planning period each day. These are my only opportunities to use the bathroom during my entire work day.
On top of the day-to-day stuff, I’m expected to teach every kid in my class how to read 75 words by the end of the year.
Some kids come in knowing how to read, but others have never even seen a letter. It’s my job to get struggling students’ skills up to grade level while simultaneously challenging the others. Report cards are only done twice a year, but there are 1500 boxes to complete per kid. The first two weeks of school, I also have to test each child individually and orally on five different phonics tests, a math test, and assess their reading level. The students aren’t self-sufficient enough to wait while others are being tested, so they interrupt constantly.
Parents of kindergarteners are extremely anxious, even with the weekly newsletters and monthly calendars I provide. I get at least five parent emails a day, and I have to respond within 24 hours. Sometimes, prospective parents take tours in the middle of the day, and they want questions answered, even while I’m in the middle of a lesson. I’ll have my students play the Quiet Game while we chat, but they inevitably get out of control.
When my day finally comes to an end, I have to know how each child is getting home.
If they ride the bus, I have to know which one. If they get picked up by a parent, I have to know which parent and what they look like. Sometimes a kid will come to school and say they’re going home with so-and-so, but they don’t have a note so I’m mandated to send them home their usual way, and their parents get mad.
If I suspect a child is being abused, I have to call CPS or my teaching license could be revoked. The reports are anonymous, but parents still suspect you and come to school angry.
As a teacher, I’m expected to be everything to each of my students and to each of their parents. If they struggle, I am blamed. If something goes wrong, it’s my fault. If there’s a problem, I am the only person whose job it is to fix it. I try be the best educator and role model I can to each of my students, despite constant interruptions, distractions, and the constraints of my job. I may not spend the day negotiating billion dollar deals, but there are plenty of people in the world who couldn’t do what I do.