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Teachers Provide Plenty of Reasons to Avoid the Profession

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches high school English

The rewards of teaching are many. In a past column, I presented some of the reasons people become teachers. Idealism, a wish to help young people and a genuine passion for an academic subject ranked high on the list.

But there also are plenty of reasons not to teach. The list of aggravations and difficulties teachers must deal with nearly every day, in and out of the classroom, is a long one.

Comparatively low pay probably would come to most people’s minds when asked to guess teaching’s biggest drawbacks. But when I informally surveyed my colleagues, only a few mentioned it.

Still, low pay topped the list made by Chris Corliss, a fifth-year teacher. Corliss took a $15,000-per-year pay cut when he left a successful advertising career to return to teaching.

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“That makes it hard,” Corliss said. “There are things I’ve had to do without. I have to work all through the summer at another job because we don’t get paid in the summer.”

Class size is another common complaint. What do teachers mean by an overcrowded classroom? One answer: “I’ve got 44 in one (class) and 45 in another,” history teach Ken Sprague said. He would rather have 25 or 30 per class. “That would be pretty good.”

(The worst case of crowding I’ve encountered this semester is a colleague in the physical education department who has an aerobics class of more than 70 students.)

Sprague also thinks his job has gotten tougher because of “a lack of discipline right now among the kids.”

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“The kids are not disciplining themselves to achieve; a lot of kids are just trying to get by.”

One specific hardship caused by overcrowded classes is that teachers need more time to grade students’ work. That’s a frequent (if not daily) obstacle for many teachers, including Tony Murphy, a physics teacher.

Murphy’s tests are time-intensive. “I’m spending about 20 minutes grading a paper,” he said. “Every third weekend I might spend the whole weekend doing nothing more than grading the papers.”

Some teachers resort to multiple-choice formats that can be graded electronically, but Murphy says he thinks his time is well spent. “I need to find out where the kids are making their mistakes,” he said.

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With more than enough to do in the classroom, teachers are often additionally burdened with other responsibilities.

Health teacher Johanna Chase, for example, complains about “teachers taking on administrative duties because the administration is too strapped (for time).”

“If committees need to be formed, I consider that to be administrative, not teacher-oriented,” she said. “Health and safety issues, discipline issues, and any policy issue should not be done by teachers, but by administrators.”

Added psychology teacher Ronne Fonfa: “What makes the teacher’s job so hard is that there are so many additional things that are put on the teacher’s plate, but nothing is ever taken off it.”

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Domestic troubles also make a teacher’s job harder, even though the source of the trouble is usually not in the classroom at all.

“The generally high level of dysfunction that I see in most of my students makes it hard to teach,” Corliss said.

“They’re coming from such dysfunctional homes that I have to become a surrogate parent to socialize them,” he added. “Teaching not just academics, but also socialization, is difficult.”

The time spent and aggravation endured at the hands of the bureaucracy are frequent sources of irritation for teachers.

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Carrie Rodionoff, a physical education teacher, is battling “a tremendous scheduling snafu for the fourth year in a row,” she said. She blames it on “a lack of communication between the administration, the department, and the teachers involved.”

Just having the title of “teacher” can carry a burden (in addition to pride and importance, of course). It means having to be better balanced and better behaved than people in many other jobs. After all, hundreds of eyes are watching you every day.

“Teaching, like being a policeman or soldier, is a position of public trust,” history teacher Patrick Cady said. “People expect an incredibly high standard of performance; you really can’t be angry on a given day, for example, and transfer that to a child in a classroom.”

Finally, a drawback to teaching mentioned by many of my colleagues is one I think we share with working people everywhere: so much to do, so little time!

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“There are so many things you want to do for the kids and you don’t have enough hours in the day,” Rodionoff said. “You think about it constantly.”

“There just aren’t enough hours in a day for all the ideas I have and all the things I want to put together for students and all the books to read,” English teacher Carol Jago said.

“I could work 24 hours a day very happily, except that my body gives out.”

But to close on a positive note: None of these teachers is heading for the exits. For all of them, the pluses of teaching still outweigh the minuses.

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