Friday, 4 July 2014

How Teaching Is Different

There are a few aspects of the teaching profession which strike me as being different from all other occupations. (For instance, rocket science.) If you're in those other occupations, you're welcome to argue against me in the comments below. But first, please read my:



This is a thought I had back in April, when I was flying home for Easter. The stewardesses were going through their flight safety procedures, and I thought "hey, that's kind of the reverse of my job". They have to deliver the same set of instructions multiple times in a day - each time to a completely different set of people. Conversely, I have to deliver a different set of instructions multiple times in a week - each time to the same set of people.

Bored now.
I say "different set" because while the bells ring at the same time, and the classroom routines are the same, the lesson itself needs to be different. Even if it's the same topic, I cannot simply repeat what I did the previous day. For that matter, even though it's the same students each day, their level of engagement can fluctuate wildly within 24 hours. Thus, the daily routine is different every day.

I cannot think of a job outside education where this happens. Usually people try to polish a routine to prevent differences. Most repetitive jobs (flight attendant, housekeeper, waiter) don't have you interacting with the same clients. The closest I feel I can get is a radio announcer, who probably has the same audience and the same routine... but even then interaction isn't as immediate, and I think their day/night shifts (while potentially more awkward) aren't as long.


I don't mean you cannot talk to your student's teacher. I mean said teacher's friends cannot get in touch with him/her. What brought this home to me was when I brought my car in to change the snow tires. As always, I drop the car off in the morning, to be picked up at the end of the day. I taught from 8:40 to 11:15am, which was the first opportunity to check my voicemail. (Though I think it was closer to 11:30, after extra help.) The auto place had left a message on my voicemail about 9am. They'd found a minor issue and were wondering whether to proceed on it.

Lunch! Internet's back on!
I phoned back before noon. My mechanic said that, yeah, at this point they'd just gone ahead with it. (This is a good thing. My auto place is awesome, and after several years, have a good sense of what I will and will not approve. Let me know if you need a mechanic in Ottawa.) The point being, they had to wait two and a half hours for a response. And my response was FAST. If I don't know a message is coming, it can be the end of the day before I check email.

More than ever, technology is becoming instantaneous. But unless something is drastic enough such that you need to phone the office and have it routed to my class, you're not reaching me. (A fact that also seems to surprise some people: there is one land line phone in a prep room of ten teachers. If one person is phoning out, no one else can.) Now, I'm sure there are other jobs like this, for instance working somewhere that cell phones have to be shut off. But many in the public must be oblivious - in that they send messages to their teenagers, who usually have the same restrictions.


Well, okay, they CAN be - but frankly, it's easier to be dead. For instance, there was a Thursday evening in May when I wasn't feeling that great. But Friday I had a number of people coming to my school to participate in a lesson study. Ironically, my supply teacher had already been booked - under the study's release code. To call in sick meant: a) rescheduling the lesson study, not to mention revising the lesson; b) rescheduling the substitute to be at school expense OR to being on-calls since it would now be a full day - which I knew for that particular teacher was impossible; c) going in to school ANYWAY in order to leave some work because I hadn't prepared anything in advance. So I went in with half a voice. Whatever.

Where were you yesterday?!
Think that was an unfortunate set of circumstances? Maybe so, but the problem of leaving work behind is a daily issue. Even if you prepare emergency work, keeping it on your desk, it's either: a) generic and unrelated to the topic at hand, which at best makes you lose the rhythm of your unit, and at worst makes students disengage and act out; or b) integrated somehow into the topic, which at best means you don't know which aspects students were having trouble with (though some subs do leave detailed notes), and at worst means you'll have to reteach it again because the instructions you left were too cryptic. Or I suppose it could be c) an evaluation, but that means you now have extra marking.

I've tried mapping this to other professions. It's like if you're a coder - and to be sick, you have to leave detailed instructions on which parts of the code to fix. You'll deal with any new issues in that new (uncommented?) code when you return. Or if you're on wall street - and to be sick, you have to identify which stocks need to be bought and sold that day (in advance!). You'll resolve any financial issues when you feel better. Or if you're a politician - and to be sick, you have to tell a substitute which bills to vote on and how to respond to questions. You'll handle any repercussions the next day. (Including that last minute amendment, changing the entire intent of the bill.)

To be clear, I'm not faulting occasional/substitute teachers! They do their best with what they get. What I AM saying is that returning after a day off IS UNQUESTIONABLY MORE WORK than simply having been there all along. It's a little better if you know you'll be gone in advance, but being sick is rarely predictable. Though given the job environment, it's also pretty unavoidable.

I've also posted Teaching Is An RPG


Like any other profession, teaching has it's good points, and it's bad points. But teaching itself is not like other professions. I've offered up three reasons why - did you interpret them as good things, or not? Were you aware of them? Do you agree with them? Did you think being a student led you to understand about being a teacher? Feel free to comment below. Then again, that last question could be a whole other topic.


  1. I agree with all of these. And I think teachers have to be constantly in sort if a performance mode, ready with our plans A, B, & C, and ready to react and improvise at the drop of a hat. No other job requires that to the same extent that teaching does.

    1. I'll go along with that. I'd say that there are other jobs out there that involve reacting and improvising (interviewers come to mind) but you're right that I don't think it's to the same extent.