My 60-Minute Teaching Career

By Jeffrey Page

To listen to some presidential candidates and their radio lapdogs tell it, the country is going straight to hell because taxes are too high, services are too available, morals are too loose, gasoline is too expensive and, oh yeah, the teachers have teamed up with Barack Obama to bring America down.

Teachers have it easy, the absurdist right says. Their pensions are killing us (suggesting they got those pensions not through collective bargaining but by out-and-out theft). And the ultimate slander: Teachers are lazy. I can tell you this is false based on my one-hour as head of a class of young primary grade kids.

A friend who is a veteran teacher had asked a scientist she knows to talk with her early-grade students about asteroids, comets, planets and the solar system. She told the kids to write essays about their meeting with him.

Now she wondered if I would spend an hour with a small group of children, look at their writing and make some suggestions. I had done this for her once before when I covered transportation for The Record in Hackensack, but that time she was in the room and in charge.

This time, she’d be outside at the school garden with some of her other pupils. I would be in charge in her classroom.

What could be less complicated than tending to six kids? So, on to asteroids. I asked them to write about the most important thing they’d learned from their scientist.

I wasn’t prepared for a bunch of young people all speaking at once. But as soon as one said something it was as though someone threw a switch and they all chimed in – on various topics of interest. They weren’t listening to one another. The noise grew.

“One at a time,” I said, but they never heard me. They just kept going. Don’t get me wrong. They were sweet kids, with a lot on their minds. Except for the one kid over on my left who just stared out the window. He put his hand to his face. I wondered if he was all right.

“Problem?” I asked.

“Just thinking,” he said casually and I noticed that he wrote little but seemed to have the correct answers most of the time when I asked a question. Now my question was, “What is an asteroid?” I wasn’t testing them. I just hadn’t considered the universe lately.

One of the girls wrote about their guest from science and I suggested she include his name. “Good idea,” she said and was about to say something else when one of her friends informed me, “She’ll write his name now.”

A boy said he wanted to write about an asteroid belt. “An asteroid belt?” I asked. He assured me I would understand just as soon as he wrote his paper. He spoke loudly and dominated our study area. I found myself paying more attention to him than to the others. He found his own banter most amusing. No doubt, a bright kid.

Just as I was wondering how a professional teacher would restore some order and calm, one of the girls leapt out of her seat, ran across the room and returned with a bell. “Ring this,” she said. “It will be quiet.”

I rang it. It had a nice shrilly sound. Instantly the room was quiet. The calm lasted for a minute or two, and then the kid interested in asteroid belts said something that cracked everyone up. And again the question rose in my consciousness: What do I do now?

I didn’t have to think for long. The hour had flown by even if each minute seemed to drag along at tortoise speed due to my ignorance about what to do next.

They flew outside to join their teacher at the garden. I wish I knew where she gets her energy — I was exhausted. Before they yammer about the easy life of teachers, I think critics of teachers ought to spend a day maintaining order while teaching kids how to read.

They were a great bunch of uninhibited kids even if I never got that promised explanation of an asteroid belt. I was tempted to ask my friend how she does it hour after hour, day after day, but remembered the response from a professional magician when I asked “How’d you do that?” after one of his tricks.

“Very well,” he said, and my friend would be justified in saying the same thing.

Any teachers – or their informed critics – reading this? How easy is teaching?

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One Response to “My 60-Minute Teaching Career”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    OOOH, so u asked! my daughter and two nephews plus a young cousin and an older retired cousin and several other family members and friends are teachers or retirees. I’ll speak for my daughter who has more than 150 ninth and tenth graders over the course of her day. She arrives at school early and leaves let just to keep up with the paper work, making copies (at her own expense), and also tutoring ESL kids after school. Teachers work VERY HARD and they don’t wok 9 to 2 p.m. and get too many holidays. I love your suggestion that people should walk in a teacher’s shoes. Also, teachers have one master’s degree and the equivalent of second in continuing ed credits. They deserve respect and their EARNED income and pensions! Amen.

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