Hey, Non-Teachers, I Need You to Know, Teachers are Never “Off the Clock”!

In a recent series of interviews, Amy Nystrand, Program Director of the Educators’ Cooperative asked members, “What is one thing you wish non-teachers knew about teaching and teachers?” and without prompting, the overwhelming answer was that the work is never done.  Physically, emotionally, and intellectually we carry this profession with us everywhere we go, all of the time.  


Ada Collins, Tusculum Elementary Math Coach: 

I don’t think they realize that when it’s 3 o’clock, it doesn’t mean that we’re done. I personally can’t stay up past 9 o’clock because I’ve poured my heart and soul into teaching, or being at school everyday, or being in grade-level meetings every day.  I mean it takes so much out of you.  This is not just a 9 – 5 job.  I think one time my friends and I were talking about fall break, and they’re like, “Oh, you’re so lucky to get a week off.”  And I’m like, okay, yes, but first, you realize how much we need this break, and two there’s probably a good chance that I’m going to do something related to school during that break.  It’s not completely out of my mind and out of my sight.  That’s always gonna be there.  So I guess for non-teachers to know that we work harder than the hours that we are paid for on paper.

Alyssa Niemiec, 7th Grade Math Teacher at Meigs Middle School: 

I think just understanding, maybe, how the work never stops. I have people that are like, oh, aren’t you getting paid for that, or you shouldn’t have to work, they’re not paying you enough, you should just stop at 3. And it’s like, yes I understand your logic and your scenario and what you’re bringing up, but I care so much about what I do, that it is so insignificant that I would rather keep working and do what needs to be done, because that is more important to me than what gets put in my bank account each week.  

I think your main focus in this whole career is just the kids and the students, and the time or the effort that it’s taking to do what you need to do. I’m not like oh, it’s 3:15, I’m off the clock.  Yes, I would want this job to be more appreciated and valued than the way that it currently is now, but again, I think the people that are in this career, they’re doing it for these kids and they’re doing it to help and improve, and that’s honestly, that’s the main part and the main joy, and you can’t turn it off, not even in the summer.

I think for a lot of people it’s hard for them to understand that, and again I try not to talk about it too much too because I don’t want people to think I’m such a saint for the job that I do and need to be worshiped and proclaimed.

Katie Douglas, Assistant Head of School and Pre-K Teacher at Episcopal School of Nashville:

Teaching is not a job, it’s a passion, it’s not a job.  You can’t say that you get summers off, because you don’t, or that you get holidays off, because you don’t.  Honestly, I think good teachers never stop working in their brain. Your body might be at the beach, or doing something, but somewhere in your brain you’re mulling over how to do something better, or how to change something to be more efficient, or how to reach that one kid you haven’t reached yet.

Mike Mitchell, Art Director of Mt. Pleasant Schools: 

I wish they knew that this whole myth of there being these 2 months off in the summer, and your day goes 8 – 3, and this idea that there’s this kind of punch clock and you’re done. I wish people were really aware of that.  I wish everyone could be at a Title 1 school for however long, some people it would take like 10 minutes and they’d be like, oh man, I’m gonna write my congressperson and we’re gonna fix this today, and some people it might take 10 days, but I think 6 out of 10 people would really see how under resourced teachers are. 

And the other idea that when you’re a teacher, like how much it just stays in your brain, and you’re always working on it, even if you’re at the beach, the summer, I swear, I do not know a teacher who spends a week in Florida in the summers that does not bring either something physically, emotionally, or just content based back with them, and you could change Florida for anywhere anybody goes, like they’re always looking for something, they’re always looking for that edge, for something else to reach another kid in a different way.  I wish that people understood that though that is really fun, it sometimes would be nice to actually be able to turn that off and have some time for myself.

I think that sometimes people will hear teachers talking and they’ll hear teachers joking, and it’s almost like gallows humor, right, like they don’t understand the code, and that’s not their fault, but I think they’ll be like, oh I heard these teachers say they just can’t wait for summer to be rid of these kids. Man nobody thinks that, no teachers are doing that, that’s always code for, man this is getting to me, I don’t have the stuff I need, and I’m reaching the spot where I’m really stressed, the funny way to say that is like, man I’m ready to get out of here, but it’s not really that, because three days later all those teachers you know are like, man I can’t wait to see those kids again, I miss my kids already.  I wish that people would be able to understand how that just doesn’t go away, that you don’t think, well it’s June whatever and I’m not gonna think about kid blank and their problem they have because they’re in a really stressful environment at home, like man I’m really feeling good, I don’t have to think about them until August 1st. It’s not likeI’m taking the summer off of worrying about that little kid in the world. From the fun stuff, to the serious stuff, to the really heartbreaking stuff, it just doesn’t ever stop, it’s so emotionally intense and rich.

I think really good teachers make it look so easy and effortless, classrooms like they should be on Pinterest.  They don’t see when you get home and you break down because they held it together so those kids would not see any of it because that’s not what you’re supposed to do as a professional, you’re supposed to shield those kids, so I think they just see the pinterest-y part, they don’t see the paycheck that isn’t enough to do a lot of the things that they would like it to do, to pay for the masters program they’re doing on the side, and the fact that they are trying to save up to buy a house instead of renting a house, and actually have built some wealth, they don’t see all of that stuff, they just see that they go there and their kid has fun.

I would like for them to see just how much of a year-round sport it really is, there’s no off season and those two months, those two months are well-earned, because you’re not getting paid, but you’re also still working.

The Educators’ Cooperative is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. Created for teachers by teachers in 2016, EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages. EdCo aims to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the essential agency, autonomy, and common ground all teachers share. EdCo is based in Nashville, Tennessee with a reach far beyond that physical location and potential for replication in communities throughout the nation. When educators collaborate, the future of education is greater than the sum of its parts.   

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