Sunday, September 28, 2014

Other Duties As Assigned

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It's common to see the phrase "other duties as assigned" listed at the end of a job description.  Many employers use it so they can assign extra tasks that are outside of the traditional duties of a given position, as there is no way one can list every single undertaking that's required to fulfill. Moreover, this clause is used in order to be able to add additional duties as the need arises.

Teaching is no different.  However, when those other duties begin to dominate our schedule and take us away from our essential duties, they can cause us to be stretched out too thin and therefore, become a serious challenge or burden.

So, when asked, "what do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?" - the ever-growing other duties came to mind.

Standardized testing, lack of parent involvement and support, overcrowded classrooms, gangs and violence, teacher disrespect by both students and the public at large- those are all often cited as some of the greatest challenges in education today.  However, I believe that the most challenging issue in education today is the politicization of education and with politicization comes "other duties" that can potentially cause us to steer away from our first priority.

Our primary duty as a teacher is and always has been to educate - lesson planning, testing, grading and so forth. While we all expect to wear many other hats, now that education is at the front and center of every political campaign, the decision process has moved from the educational institutions to political leaders at every level.  Moreover, decision makers are usually not educators and (in my view) don't have a clue what it takes to educate a young person. With all this politics comes not only standardized testing but also a lot of public relations.  Schools are expected to have more visibility than in yesteryear.  Technology nights,  curriculum nights, multiple open houses and so on.  We have so much to do to prove we are doing our job inside the classroom (not just producing good test scores) that our time in planning and preparation is stretched thin.  We all know that planning and grading are time-consuming tasks that are necessary, but we really need to think about that extra PR that in my opinion, is more for the stakeholders outside of education than for our students and their parents.  I think we are too concerned with what sounds good and looks good than with what is good. Add to all that the additional fundraising because of budget cuts to education and many teachers are putting in some really long hours for very little pay (especially in NC).

As a parent, I love having good communication with my kids' teachers. However, I can't help but admit that those "other duties" come with an increasing amount of exhaustion.  I recently attended curriculum nights at my children's schools and could tell that behind the friendly smiles, their teachers just couldn't wait to be done and finally go home after a long day.  It made me hope that it wasn't that obvious for me whenever we had our open houses and curriculum nights.  One of my former colleagues told me that she entered the teaching profession because she loved kids and felt that teaching was a family-friendly career.  She ended up leaving it because she was spending more time and energy helping other people's kids, leaving her with little quality time for her own.   Every case is different and I don't feel that way myself, but I do feel that there are many things we are asked to do nowadays to prove ourselves to politicians and other stakeholders leaving our focus and energies a bit divided.

Despite all this politicization,  I try to remain positive because it doesn't look like anything will change (as far as politics that is).  There will be new governors elected, new standards adopted, principals and superintendents will come and go, but I hope that every teacher, myself included, will not lose hope in our kids. Regardless of how hard we work and how unappreciated we may feel our cause is a noble one and those young people deserve our very best.

While the list of other duties may continue to  increase, the real action is in the classroom and that's where our hearts need to be.


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