Did you ever think about becoming a teacher? Were you inspired by Michelle Pfeifer in Dangerous Minds or Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers and thought you too could make a difference in the lives of kids who others had given up on? Or maybe you thought it looked like fun to be like Jack Black in School of Rock and be the funny, crazy, teacher who does all kinds of hands on projects with students. Or perhaps it just sounds awesome to have a couple months off in the summer. Well friends, I lived the life of a teacher for 8 years, and 5 years ago I made the decision to quit teaching and enter the business world. During this time, I’ve observed a lot of differences between teaching in a classroom vs. working in an office. With all of the recent discussion of how schools should proceed with educating our children during a pandemic, I thought that for my latest article on Lex, Buds, & Pick ‘n Roll, that I would share these differences with you.
Difference #1: Going to the Bathroom
After years of “holding it” for hours at a time until my planning period, I’m pretty sure I developed the bladder of a camel. And for those instances when you just had to go, good luck finding someone who can come watch your kids for 30 seconds while you sprint down the hallway. On the first day in my office job, I found it strange that people would just get up from their desk whenever they wanted. “You mean people can just go to the bathroom, WHENEVER THEY WANT! I don’t have to try to call a co-worker to come watch my desk while I’m gone?” It literally took me months to get used to the strangeness of coming and going from my desk anytime I needed to.
Difference #2: Lunch Breaks
If you are a teacher, you know about the requirement of a “duty-free lunch.” It’s the one time of the day where you can’t be required to do any teaching, supervising, counseling, or monitoring of any kind. It is glorious. And it lasts about 15 minutes. While teachers may get a “25-minute” lunch, 5-10 of those include walking the kids to and from the cafeteria, getting them in an orderly line, making sure everyone cleaned up their mess, etc. Forget about going out for lunch or even having food delivered, because heaven forbid the delivery guy is late and you then have to try to eat your Chinese food while teaching about the Platt Amendment. My first lunch break in an office job, included me scarfing down my food like I was used to doing, and just kind of looking around for the next 45 minutes like, “what am I supposed to do now?”
Difference #3: Calling in Sick
With my job, and most likely for yours, the process of calling in sick isn’t fairly complicated. You wake up with a cold, text your boss that you aren’t feeling well and won’t be in today, and then go back to bed. Easy peasy. Teacher’s don’t quite have it that simple. If you’re a teacher and you wake up with a cold, you contact your principal to let them know, but it doesn’t end there. Because you have to enter a substitute request form online. Oh, and you have to do that at least 2 hours in advance of the school day starting if you want to actually get a sub. So you had better anticipate that cold coming by 4:30 in the morning. Then you have to make lesson plans for the entire day, and make them very specific and easy to understand for someone who has never been in your classroom. Not to mention all the little details you want to let them know to make sure the day goes smoothly, like “don’t let William sit next to Bart, they will cause trouble”, or “Ann needs a little extra time with her assignments.” Oh, and what’s that? You forgot to make copies before you left yesterday? Well, you better hope someone can make them for you. Otherwise you will be dragging yourself to school in your pajamas to get them ready (I have actually done this). To put it simply, calling in sick requires the choreography of a gold-medal gymnast. And don’t even think about being sick 2 days in a row.
Difference #4: Sitting
One year of teaching I decided to wear brand new dress shoes for the first day of school. This was a critical mistake. Teachers don’t get to sit down. Ever. Because the second you sit down, Joe is going to shoot a spit-wad across the room and you’re not going to be able to see who did it. After 8 hours of being on my feet in the classroom, and another 2 hours of standing for basketball practice (because most teachers help with some extra-curricular activity) my feet felt like I had been in a Chinese prison. Now that I have an office job, I have to set a reminder on my calendar to get up and walk around for 15 minutes twice a day (Yes, I really do this). And I did eventually find out that extra 45 minutes of my lunch hour could be spent taking a leisurely stroll outside.
Difference #5: Work Hours
One of the great things about teaching (to those who have never been one) are the work hours. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It must be so nice to finish your work day at 3:00.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Yes, the kids leave the room at 3, and then you start grading papers, planning and preparing for the next day, reading emails, calling parents, scheduling conferences, or attending yet ANOTHER faculty meeting or Professional Development. Then you go home and grade more papers, and respond to more parent emails, and figure out why Suzy didn’t get the lesson today, or why Billy has missed 3 days in a row. It never ends. With an office job, you shift ends at 5 and you go home. For most people, this means anything that didn’t get done can wait until the next day. You don’t worry about it when you get home. It will get finished tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, maybe I’ll stop for coffee on my way in or pick up a good breakfast. Being a minute late isn’t going to raise any eyebrows. Whereas the teacher doesn’t have time for that because they have to get to school 30 minutes before their shift for car duty, or cafeteria duty, or some other form of duty. (Next time you drop your kids off in the car line, and you see their teacher standing there in single digit weather, bring them a cup of hot chocolate. They will appreciate it more than anything you could ever do for them).
While I was more than happy to get rid of the extra-long hours, the short lunches, and the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with being a teacher, there are definitely things about it that I miss. Like that awesome moment when you see a kid finally get something they had been struggling to understand, or when you were finally able to break down a wall and build rapport with that one student who nobody else was able to reach. Or best of all, when a former student would come to your classroom years later just to say hello, or tell you they appreciate all you did for them. No office job will ever compete with that feeling. And, yes, summer break is pretty awesome.
But as we enter this unprecedent 2020-2021 school year, my thoughts are with all of my former co-workers, who I know have been spending all summer worrying about how the heck you replicate the power of in-person teaching through a tiny computer screen on Zoom. I know you all will figure it out though. Because you are teachers, and that’s just what you do.