Teaching is valuable, crucial, fascinating work. Except, you know, when it isn’t. Most of my day is spent hanging out with amazing young people and, I hope, making a difference in their lives. However, other parts of my day are just pointless. Here are some ways teachers waste time every day.
1. Hunting down students to get their missing assignments
Why, why do I care more about your grade than you do?!
2. Writing the learning standard on the board
You know who reads it? An administrator doing an observation. Nobody else. Just them. (Or in Houston I.S.D.’s case, one of a fleet of district babysitters.)
In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a kid ask about the standard on the board.
3. Responding to parent emails that a student could (and should) have asked
“I see that [my seventh grader] got an 80 on his test. Can we discuss what he missed and what he should work on?”
“Kayla told me she would like to switch seats. Can you move her to her friends’ table?”
“What is going to be on Thursday’s test?”
I need an email filter for this.
4. Doing constant IT troubleshooting for a class set of laptops for which we received no training, no additional compensation, and no additional IT support personnel at our school
Title is self-explanatory.
5. Creating separate lesson plans for students because of “parental rights”
6. Taking attendance
Listen, I know why attendance records matter. I’m just saying, technologically speaking it’s 2023—is a teacher manually entering attendance for sometimes up to 40 kids at the beginning of every class really the best we can do?
7. Jumping through hoops when we need an administrator’s help with a student
I once had an administrator who said to “not even bother coming into [his office]” if we didn’t have a list of 10 interventions we’d exhausted first.
Sir, this is a school, not the Supreme Court.
8. Filling grading quotas
Like most teachers, I have to put in a certain number of grades per week. Some of those are big, meaningful assignments. Some are smaller, but no less important, tasks that ask students to reflect on their learning or check their understanding. And some are filler so I don’t get in trouble for not having enough grades. With these minimums, it’s impossible not to give the occasional meaningless busywork that boosts the number of grades I’ve posted without really improving the kids’ learning or understanding.
9. Doing nearly anything with data
Entering it into a database. Analyzing it. Disaggregating it. Color-coding it. No.
Excel can do all of this. It always could. Our time would be much better spent talking about the implications of what Excel already did than trying to be Excel.
10. Enforcing the dress code
The justification is always “If we sweat the small stuff, we won’t have to worry about the big stuff,” but that’s never been my experience. I just don’t care if a student in fifth period has fake nails. Could the nails potentially be dangerous? Maybe. But the back row of my class is passing around a jar of Nutella and eating it with their fingers, and I feel like that’s way more of a health hazard. I. Just. Do. Not. Care.
I love my job. I plan to teach at my current school at my current grade level until I eventually collapse in the hallway and nobody notices until rigor mortis starts to set in. But I’ll admit, I get a little frustrated when I miss lunch—again—to do a reading-fluency probe that will give me information I already know, or when I get knocked down on an observation for rephrasing the standard on the board into language that’s comprehensible to my students.
Maybe someday the whole teaching process will be streamlined, and I can focus my attention on things that are really important. Until then, I’ll keep ignoring Jose’s flip-flops, leave the same standard on the board for three weeks, and plug in each kid’s average three times as a “participation grade” when I realize I haven’t entered enough marks in my grade book for the week. I don’t think it’s causing my kids too much suffering.