A Day in the Life of a Middle School English Teacher
**Warning: This post contains some hard truths and surprisingly pleasant facts about teaching**
My pre-intern is ending his time working in my classroom, and I have asked him this question: "Are you sure you still want to be an English teacher?" I asked him this question with a hint of sarcasm, but also one of seriousness. The Michigan Education Association published an article about "The Disappearing Educator" that I think all teachers and those involved in education should read. Where are we going? The answer is leaving teaching and not choosing to become a teacher in the first place. We have all heard the statistic in education about teachers leaving before they reach five years. I would argue that teachers are in jeopardy well beyond five years. Put us on the endangered species list.
Throughout the seven years I have taught, I have come to realize that there are moments of joy and sorrow in education, and the delicate balance is learning to cope in the moments where this job sucks. Still, if I am honest with you, I have to admit that I am not sure how long I will be teaching. There are many downsides to teaching that will eventually pull the educators like me (type a, perfectionist, self-critical, etc) out of their decorated classrooms. I wanted to walk through an average day of teaching and what that would involve-both good and bad- for those considering going into the field of teaching. A common denominator when I am in working with pre-service teachers is that they don't realize what the day-to-day schedule looks like. Often, even in field placements, they will leave halfway through the day.
Daily Agenda 5:30am-9pm
5:30am: Wake up, hit snooze a few times, and get out of bed. Let the dog out and make breakfast. Finish editing the four last essays I gave up on before I pack my school bag with papers I had left out on the counter. Get ready to go to work. (shower, getting dressed, etc.)
6:45am: Leave house for work. I am fortunate to only live 15-20 minutes away from my building. My dear friend at school lives an hour away. She insists on the drive because of the school that we work in; I agree. I love my building, and the people I work with on my team and in my hallway. I am surrounded by people that are focused on improving their strategies in the classroom and are open to trying new things. This professional learning community means the world to me.
7:05am: Arrive at work. Prep my agenda board if I did not do it the night before. Turn on my computer and log-in. Load document camera and turn on projector screen that has welcome screen loaded into Google Slides for students. Try to find a positive quotation to put up on the board for students. Check to make sure my materials are ready-this includes paper, pencils, etc. Take that first sip of coffee.
7:25: Students released into the building. They are coming. I try to make sure I am standing by my door to welcome each student. I like to say their names each day as they enter and a greeting. This is my way of saying "I see you." I want them to see me too.
7:33: First bell rings. Go time! I start each class the same way, introduce the agenda and daily focus, try to check in with each set of students throughout the given hour. My favorite teaching training through Adaptive Schools talks about purpose. I like to start each hour with my purpose for learning that day. I am deathly afraid of the question, "what did you learn at school today?" from a parent and their student replies with "nothing." Trust me, we don't do "nothing." This is business. We do on average three activities that I have prepped each day: I DO, WE DO, YOU DO. I like the balance of this scaffolding, especially for my struggling readers and writers. A typical lesson breakdown looks like this:
Lesson Breakdown for BOTH General and Advanced Classes:
1. Welcome and Call to Purpose
2. Activity #1: I DO. We did notes this day in class. General English focused on how to fill out a source collection page for their research projects. Advanced focused on the difference between in-text citations and an MLA works cited page.
3. Activity #2: WE DO. In both preps, we do a practice activity related to content. They get to see me walk through the material, and then they get to work with each at their tables regarding the lesson. I like to get them up and moving during this time as well.
4. Activity #3: YOU DO. Time to practice independently! Chromebooks came out at the end of this lesson and students were off on finding their research articles in General and starting to map out their sub-headings in Advanced. I was under the pressure cooker to get this activity done before Spring Break because then I lose my technology to state testing when we return.
7:33-10:42: First three classes. Here are some highlights:
Student A shares a creative writing warm up prompt in class. In front of other students. This makes my heart happy because this student is painfully shy.
Student B raises his hand to give an answer. He never raises his hand. Heart happy moment #2.
7 Students try to leave to go to the bathroom during Hour 2.
5 Students have not put their name on their paper during paper pass back. However, they claim this from the no-name bin. (A colleague of mine has made her no-name bin a shredder...I do enjoy this tactic)
I start Hour 3 by reminding Student C, D, E, and F to get their writing portfolios from the shelf before class.
Student G asks if they explained their evidence well enough in their already written body paragraph #2 (Tiny teacher triumph moment...hello, independent writer).
I get to run through my lesson from first hour again in third hour again and fix mistakes. I love when this happens because I have already done a trial period of the lesson. Preps for each class are a big deal in teaching.
I dismiss students the same way each hour. They wait for dismissal from me, and then I make sure to tell them to have a good day.
10:42-11:10: Lunch time. I will often hear that people call this breakfast time. It is lunch. If I do not have my microwave soup and use the restroom here, it is curtains for the rest of the day. I will often run and make copies during this time if something didn't go well, or if I need to leave earlier that day after school so I am ready for the next day.
11:14-12:13: Subbing on my plan. Yes, this is a huge issue. The sub shortage issue in my district causes teachers to give up their "plan time" and break during the day. Many districts have done away with this time for teachers. Period. Let us all take a moment to mourn being able to breathe during the day. If I do not have to sub on my plan, I get a plan! This means I have 58 minutes to do those items listed above in lunchtime during this time period, and more. I don't like grading at school, but smaller formative assessments are a must to do during this time because I am always trying to limit the amount of paperwork I take home on a regular basis.
12:13-2:20: Last two classes. I have 150 sixth grade students that I am charged with teaching. My last two classes of the day are often filled with ups and downs. Here are some highlights:
5 Students are tardy. They are coming from gym class on the other side of the building. My tardy policy is if I see you in the hallway and you are making an effort, we are good to go. If that door closes...a tardy pass is needed to enter. My 5 were yelling, "Mrs. Hampton, I'm coming, I'm coming!"
Student A and B are often reluctant in my Hour 5. They don't get much sleep at home, but are both amazing creative writers. I use this amazing creative power to my advantage.
Student C is present today! I have not seen him in 3 days. Cue interrogation about where he has been and what I can do to help facilitate getting him to school if needed.
Student D almost lost her mind. She is obviously having a bad day with her head down on her desk, and my friendly prompt of "is everything okay?" awakened the Kraken. Cue giving her a time out to take a break. We have a good chat when she comes back from getting a drink of water.
Student E, F, and G work really well together in a small writing group. I overhear them giving quality peer review edits to each other.
Student H, I, and J stay behind at the end of the day to help me clean up. I always hold students to the expectation to clean up at the end of the day, but these ones stayed to pick up lost pencils, plug in chromebooks, and ask how my weekend was grading their papers. They are appreciated.
2:25: After-school activities. I often will hold my after school poetry club, Spilling Ink, or work with students in tutoring (especially during essay writing time). Sometimes I will have parents come in for meetings, or we will have building after school meetings. This time varies. It is normal for me not to leave my building until 4:00pm. I call these the "lost hours." They are lost because they move quickly and seemingly add on extra time to the day that you don't consider in the life of a teacher. Many non-teachers will ask me, "don't you get out at 2:20? I would love that." I look back at them the way Batman glares at his enemies. I should probably work on being more understanding.
4:00-6:00: Arrive home. Relax for a time period. Play with my husky-lab. Check in with my husband, and we make dinner. These are some of my favorite moments of the day.
6:00-9:00: Prep for the next day's teaching plans, answer emails, and grade papers. I have a rule of cutting off work at 9 so I can get some rest for the next day. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn't. It gets complicated as a student needs feedback or when situations arise that need to be handled. (Also, when you working on an awesome blog/passion project that will cause you to become distracted as well.) This is the area that needs the most revision in my opinion. This doesn't happen every day, but it is typical for me to use this chunk of time for these activities for school.
Some Pleasant Facts
Everyday I have moments of joy. Whether it is an interaction with a student, or a joke a kid told in class. I have moments each day that make me smile and my heart happy. Working with kids has always been the reason that I do this, however, sometimes I get distracted by the marathon that is the field of teaching's pace.
I really love teaching writing. Nothing gets me like making a writing frame or revising a lesson so students can understand. I love reading their writing and helping them to create their writing. It gets daunting after essay #63, but the basic gist is that I love the craft of the subject that I chose in the first place years ago. This is my purpose. How lucky am I to have found my purpose?
I teach because of tough kids. There is nothing like a moment with a kid that can't stand being at school or who has a hard time with reading or writing yells out at the end of the hour, "class is over already?" This supplies enough fuel to keep going for weeks. Even if spring break is weeks away.
Some Hard Truths
I have a red crate that measures 16"H x 18"W x 15"D. It is on wheels and will often come home with me on the weekend. I hate this crate more than anything, but a giant tote bag does not cut it anymore. It will more than likely be filled with papers to review or grade that need to be put through my paper cycle. While I have gotten better at grading items in class and reducing paperwork, the hard truth is that as an ENGLISH teacher, we have papers. Mountains of them. We chose this, but nobody told us we chose this when we were taking those preliminary teacher tests. English teachers have more work than other teachers. This is not meant to cause pity, this is meant to spark conversation. This conversation will vary depending on grade level and number of students taught each year.
The above is a typical day. You will do the math, but it is 12 hours. I may not be with students every minute, but each of those seconds are devoted to planning a lesson, working with a team member, or going above and beyond for the kids in my building. 12 hours is real. I will hit 60 hours without actually jumping into that big red crate that is above on the weekend. My goal each year is to try to get it down to 50 hours a week. I love Angela Watson's podcast and support she gives to teachers that want to work 50 hours a week. I still haven't figured it out yet, but I am trying.
Learn to say no. Last year, I was the English Department Chair, Mentor Teacher for new teachers, District Cultural Responsiveness Facilitator, Interdisciplinary Team Leader, Poetry Club Advisor...and oh, yea a regular ol' sixth grade teacher with 150 kids. All at once. I had lost my mind and had lost the ability to say no. I was flattered with the opportunity to lead. I had to learn the hard way when my husband asked if I could take the day off the next day to rest, and I replied with "I think I can take off a day a week from Friday." This was a much needed wake up call.
Writing Mindset Reflection: Would YOU be a middle school English teacher? What do you do to maintain a growth mindset in a tough job?