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Teaching Opinion

‘That’s Not MY Job!’

By Starr Sackstein — May 30, 2019 3 min read
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Schools are delicate ecosystems made up of people ... human people, and because of this basic fact, we have to work together to ensure all students get what they need to be successful.

And sometimes that means doing work that isn’t a part of our everyday experiences and job descriptions because we know it is in the best interest of kids.

When I worked in a small 6-12 school in N.Y.C., it was all hands on deck. We taught our five classes, we participated in committees, we covered each other’s classes when we couldn’t get subs, and we worked together to ensure smooth transitions throughout the days and weeks for all of the students in our building.

Although there were days we may have thought it in our heads, we never uttered the words, “That’s not my job!” We all kind of took the, “One day I may need the same kind of help” approach, and grumbled quietly, but still did what we were asked to do.

One year, when one of my colleagues fell seriously ill unexpectedly, one of his classes needed to be permanently covered until his return. My schedule was light that year because I was working as an instructional coach in addition to my role as a teacher. It took years for my principal to be able to offer me the role and it was something I enjoyed and looked forward to every day.

But my school couldn’t get a permanent replacement, and his other classes were being taught by specialists. This class was Rosetta Stone, and I didn’t need to know how to speak Spanish, I just needed to make sure that the program was running and that the students weren’t breaking the technology.

It was NOT ideal.

In fact, it was the one period a day that I grew to dread. The students hated it, and motivating them to get onto a computer to learn a language was not easy. Plus, I had to give up the free period that was made so that I could work with my colleagues on their instructional practices. It was another year that I had to make a sacrifice for the betterment of the whole.

And I knew that he would do it for me if the roles were reversed.

I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t happy about it, but it needed to be done. The school couldn’t afford to bring someone else in, and I was underscheduled. It would have been hard to explain.

Most of the time when teachers are asked to go above and beyond, we were compensated for our help, maybe not always for money, but in other ways like comp time or simple flexibility when we needed it. Years before this, when my son was in kindergarten, his school day ended at 3:35, and if I left school 10 minutes early, I was able to get there in time without having to pay for after care. When I spoke with my principal, she allowed me to leave early since I was coming to school over an hour early each day and meeting with students in the mornings instead of the afternoons. I never forgot.

Let’s face it, most of us are parents, and when you have children, you will need a favor at some point from your building leaders and/or colleagues. Whether it is because you get a call from the nurse saying your child is throwing up and you need to get there ASAP or you are throwing up and you need to leave ASAP.

We have ALL been there, maybe with different circumstances, but we have needed flexibility and favors from our colleagues and administrators.

If we are going to be able to provide the best learning experiences for children and for our community, we must work together, sometimes picking up where others leave off and not only because we are getting paid to do it or we aren’t tenured yet, but because it is the right thing to do.

Few people go into education for the money, maybe for stability, but not for the money, and because of our intention to make the world better by working with kids, we have to understand that sometimes that will require us to do things that we didn’t expect to do.

Now I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t be compensated for their time and expertise, I’m just saying that we need to be reasonable on both sides.

We certainly don’t want teachers to burn out, and overworking them is never a good idea, but there needs to be a way to strike a balance where everyone feels they are being treated equitably, or it just isn’t a good fit. I’m fairly sure, though, that things like this happen in every school district, especially if substitutes aren’t always available.

How can we help our schools run smoothly without taking advantage of the kindness of professionals? Please share

*picture made using pablo.com

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.