Disclaimer: I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my 7 years as a teacher, and this post is a reflection of that. I in no way am implying that teaching is the most difficult of professions, nor am I saying it is the hardest. Every job has its challenges. However, having been a teacher for all of my working life, I can only speak on behalf of this fraternity.
By and large, I think teachers are a very misunderstood lot of people. On the surface, a job as a teacher seems to offer many perks. A good salary, long holidays, short days, good bonuses and so on and so forth. Every time I tell someone I am a teacher, I more often than not hear the phrase “Shiok ah, the holidays?” I also get questions about what I do with all my time when school ends at 2 or 3 pm. This particular post is triggered by a student who asked me why I am so busy that I could not reply her when she sent me a WhatsApp message at 9 pm, asking me a question. Or perhaps, it is a response to ALL such messages I have received over the years.
So here is a day in the life of a teacher (based on my past few years), not so that people can appreciate our difficulties, but just so that there is SOME awareness.
7.00am: By most people’s estimate, this is a god forsaken time of the day. The sun doesn’t shine, the birds don’t sing, you get the gist. However, I have already been awake for more than an hour. It doesn’t matter if I am a morning person, or whether I feel like killing everyone in sight. I need to put myself together and head down to the parade square to take attendance for my form class in a few minutes. I just need to make sure I have combed my hair, and don’t look deranged. We have very realistic expectations around here.
7.25am: Half the buggers are not here yet. I close my eyes for a second, praying that they will all be there when I open my eyes. I open my eyes. Yeay! Full house! Oh wait no, that’s the class beside mine. Drats. Now it is going to be more obvious that I am a terrible teacher whose students never heed her call for punctuality.
7.30am: The national anthem has just ended. I always have this nagging suspicion I got bersatu and bersaru confused again. No time to ponder over that. I start walking down the row. The dude with the birds nest hairstyle still hasn’t cut his hair. I glare at him and try to telepathically convey my displeasure. He is oblivious and greets me with a proud grin, like he has achieved world peace with his weird hair. I expand some precious energy persuading him of the advantages of getting a hair cut, namely that he would not have to deal with wildlife breeding in his head. Not sure if I got through to him. He has glazed expression when I am done. Perhaps he is not a morning person too. I feel you buddy.
7.45 am: Heading for my first lesson. I suffer through an awkward Gooooooooooooooooood Moooooooooooooooorning, where we all know the morning isn’t good, but have to pretend it is anyway. I start the lesson with the most dreaded task of collecting homework assignments. I wonder in my head what the magic number of the day will be i.e. the number of students who do not submit their work. If I am accurate, maybe I will take 4D. Juuuust kidding. I am a responsible civil servant. I do not gamble.
10.00 am: I have finished about 4 periods of lessons and am starving. It is the students’ recess. I refuse to undertake the treacherous task of heading down to the canteen and risk having to answer questions such as “Teacher have you marked the test?”, “Teacher how many marks did I get?” I rummage through the cupboards and gobble down some junk food.
1.00pm: Lessons for the day have ended. I stumble into the staff room, while feeling like someone took a chainsaw and went at my throat.
1.30 pm: I start preparing for lessons for tomorrow. With 4 classes, all from different levels/streams, this is an endeavor that easily takes up about 2 hours of my time.
3.30 pm: I have a meeting. I have been told it will only take half an hour. I grab a cup of coffee, and head for the meeting, feeling optimistic.
5.30 pm: We are still on agenda item 1. I have lost all sense of time and place. I can only focus on one thing. To introduce copious amounts of caffeine into my blood stream so that I don’t concuss. I am afraid to doze off, because I might dream. Of the piles of marking waiting for me.
5.45 pm: I head back to my table to finish up some admin work. I take a budget form and stare at it mystified. I don’t know what to do. I keep it aside, planning to return to it tomorrow. For some reason, I can’t get over the strong sense of deja vu that is creeping up on me.
6.00 pm: I start marking. Only problem is, I cant decide which of my 39423 stacks of assignments to start with. I pick one at random.
6.30 pm: I cant think no more. I fiddle around with my red pen. I twirl it…and oops. It is in the dustbin. I feel rather sad at the thought of the tragically short lifespan of the pen. I reassure myself that it’s sacrifice has not been in vain. I pack up to head back home.
Not to rest, but so that more work can be done. In fact, the evenings are sometimes the worst, for that is when we have an uninterrupted stretch of time to focus on marking or preparing for lessons. Weekends are no better I have spent entire weekends doing nothing but marking, because it is impossible to do so on weekdays, where we have to deal with CCAs, and committee work, and all of the other administrative tasks.
In addition to this, the much talked about holidays. At the end of the day, I am so uncomfortable with this period of time being called holidays even, because when you consider that a typical work day for teachers stretches from 9 to 12 hours, and spills over to weekends, these 2 to 3 weeks are simply off in lieu that we have earned over the term. While it is true that we get 2 to 3 weeks of protected time per holiday, much of this time in June is spent on extra lessons, marking and preparing for the semester ahead. I know of teachers who are back in school so frequently for CCA camps and the likes, that it feels like they never had a break to begin with.
Over the years, I have had students demand for my personal time. I have students who insist that I MUST stay back after school to see them for extra sessions, or reply to their text messages at night or on weekends. I have had a student who said I am a civil SERVANT and hence need to live up to my role.
Despite this, teachers remain teachers for one reason. They believe that they can affect change. They believe that they can somehow impact the lives of the students. This doesn’t come easy however, and while we don’t need recognition, we need people, be it students, or parents, or non-teachers to remember that we have a life too. We have families who want to spend time with us. Many young teachers have children who crave for their attention.
Most importantly, we need some time for ourselves, just so we can breathe.