Through long days and short, a teacher’s gift is everlasting
My kids are always calling me Mom. Mom, can you help me find my library book? Mom, my tooth came out! Oops, I swallowed it, what do I do now, Mom? Mom this, Mom that. You might ask what on earth else I'd like my children to call me, but the thing is, as their teacher, I prefer "Ms. Wong."
Although this slip of the tongue always makes us laugh, the truth is that at the tail end of our longest days together, sometimes I do feel like their mother -- or, at the very least, a sheepdog trying to herd them onto something that resembles the right path. I don't hesitate to stick my head out the window at a red light and bark, "Where's your helmet?!" as one of them careens down the sidewalk on a wobbly skateboard hours after school is out. Because this, too, is what we do; the school day might end with a 2:15 bell, but caring never does.
Recent findings that teachers are working 15-hour days, however, got me thinking -- and sweating. I might care 'round the clock -- but I don't live in my classroom, nor does my home resemble one. My palms got a little sweaty as I read and re-read the article. Staring up at my ceiling that sleepless night, I traced my steps through a typical day: I rise a little before 6 a.m. to get to work by a quarter to 7. Most days I leave work by 4 p.m., but there's an odd day here and there where I stay until 6 p.m., or an odder day when I find myself at work by 6:15 a.m. Still, even when factoring in some weekend hours and the paperwork I grudgingly bring home on occasion, I cannot be counted among those who report 15-hour workdays. I spend time with my family, read books before bed and have even been spotted faking a cardio workout via Wii tennis. Generally speaking, I have enough time to teach and enjoy the parts of life that occur outside the classroom. Where in my work, I panicked, am I falling short?
If you're a teacher, a student or a parent, you know that one of the most salient signs of spring is not the blooming primavera (as I would like it to be), but the sense of trepidation that comes sandwiched between the covers of the Hawaii State Assessment. If there is ever a time when putting in 15 hours a day does not seem entirely crazy, it's now.
It's not the learning that has us in a tizzy -- grouse as they will about school, this flock loves learning. Nothing lights them up brighter than when they can say, for example, "I can use fractions, decimals and percents to tell the probability of events!" Every time a student says "I can," they know they have mastered a benchmark of a notoriously high state standard. So it's not the learning; rather, it's the shadow cast by the tool used to measure it.
Standards are fabulous; the higher the better -- who would not teach a child to reach for the stars? If only high standards did not equate to astronomically high stakes -- the kind that do not always allow children to learn at their own pace, learn what they love and teach each other some of the most important lessons in life. These areas of life, too, contain standards, some we must never become too bogged down to teach: how to treat one another, how to listen, how to share. How, as we reach, teach and learn, to live.
Fifteen-point-fivers, I've come to call these ultra-dedicated teachers; maybe I'll become one, maybe I won't. It all depends on the trends of education, No Child Left Behind and personal priorities. But I will always keep in mind a fellow educator who typically answered the innocuous question, "What do you do?" not with "I'm a teacher," but with a bold and somewhat defiant, "I live well!"
Wouldn't it be awesome if we could teach our children what they needed to know so they could grow up answering the very same?
Christy Wong, a teacher at Ali'iolani Elementary School, strives every day to teach her fifth-graders that there is more to school than tests, and more to life than school.