Certain teachers stand out in our minds when we reminisce about our school days. And the most memorable teachers are often the ones who can inspire and ignite an appetite for knowledge. But what does it take to inspire a child's interest in learning? For starters, it requires passion. Teaching can be a difficult, thankless job at times, with average teacher salaries falling below the salary level for jobs requiring an equal amount of education. However, there is a great sense of honor and reward that comes from teaching children.
If you're interested in becoming a teacher, this interview with Ann King shares an inside look at life as a teacher. If you're inspired and curious, you can explore middle school teacher salaries by state to see how teacher salaries compare by state. For instance, you could compare Illinois teacher salaries to New York and New Jersey teacher salaries.
PayScale: How would you describe your job, or a typical day, as a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: My contract day starts at 7:45. School is out at 3:01pm, but my contract day doesn't end until 3:15pm. On the way in, I check my mailbox on the way to meetings. One morning a week, I have a meeting with the social studies department. Two mornings a week, I meet with a team of teachers to discuss students and pressing matters. I often have staff meetings, parent meetings, and meetings regarding special education early in the morning. The meetings are usually over by 8:10 or 8:15. Then, before I head to class, I check my email to be sure that I'm not missing anything. I encourage parents to email because it's much more efficient than talking on the phone.
My day is ruled by the bell. You have to try to take your bathroom breaks during passing time (3-4 minutes) because you don't want to leave the classroom unsupervised. At 8:30, the first class bell rings and I usually go stand outside my door to monitor the halls. My first class begins at 8:35 and each class is 55 minutes long. I begin my first class with a "journal write" while I take attendance and deal with students who were absent, etc. Lunch is sometimes spent working at my desk. We only have a half an hour for lunch. I'm always the last one out of the classroom, and try to be the first one back. I try to monitor the halls between classes because that's usually where fights occur.
I teach five classes a day and have a conference period. One hour a day is not enough to plan lessons, contact parents, and grade papers. So, I often do this work outside the contracted time. It's great to have assignments that the students can "trade and grade". Sometimes you have to do "check mark" grades because you just don't have time to read every word.
I've also done extracurricular activities for which I get paid. I directed school plays for four years, and was grossly underpaid. Every year they would cut my stipend, even though my plays got bigger and better, and I made more money for the school. Most districts work the other way - the longer you do it, the more you make. Currently, I am the spirit club adviser. I hold a one hour meeting once a week and plan and run the pep assemblies. I also take a group of students to Washington, DC for five days during spring break. Often, coaches ask for help at sporting events keeping score or running the scoreboard, and I also help chaperone dances after school.
PayScale: How did you decide to become a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: I don't remember this, but my family tells me when I was in grade school and my younger nieces would come over, I would line them up on the couch and play teacher. I've always loved to read and learn. My favorite subjects were always English (it was easy for me) and social studies classes - especially history and geography. When I was in my earlier 20's, I met some women who were teachers. Later, after I had my first child, I got bored with staying home but didn't want to work so I decided to go to college (I had no degree).
At first I thought I would take business courses, but then thought I might as well go after something I might really enjoy and decided to go into teaching. I figured that way my schedule would match my children's. It was a good choice. I was able to spend every summer with my children, as well as holidays and breaks. I've got memories from those times that are priceless.
Since I'm a social studies teacher, it was difficult to find a job at first. There is an excess of social studies teachers, but a shortage of math and special education teachers. I was a substitute teacher for two years before finding my first job.
PayScale: What do you love about being a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: One thing I love about my job is the autonomy I have in the classroom. I have a specified subject to teach, but I can teach it anyway I want. If I'm having a bad day, I can just show a movie. I also love being able to interact with the kids. I have a really good sense of humor and I joke with them and tease them and have fun. I feel like they keep me young. There aren't the politics you have when you work with other adults. I also like to feel like I'm making a difference. When you've reached a child that nobody else can or is willing to, it gives you a wonderful feeling. I also like the respect I get from most people when I tell them I'm a teacher. There's a pride in my profession and an honor.
PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: Challenges? Oh boy. A bad day with 150 hormone-crazed teenagers is a BAD DAY. Some days I'm exhausted. Disciplining kids and keeping your cool when they talk back to you is hard.
As more families are falling apart, more students are coming to school with no support. There are some kids who are raising themselves. They don't get enough attention at home so they want it from you. Or there are kids who only know how to get negative attention. I have to be part teacher, part psychologist, part parent. Then there are the kids whose parents think they can do no wrong. These parents let the kids run the household. I've actually been asked before by a parent what I was doing to make their child misbehave. There are also parents who feel it's my "fault" their student is failing. There are unreasonable parents who expect me to be in constant contact with them. I have 150 students.
It's also a challenge to keep 30 middle school kids at a time interested in history. They don't see the point in learning something "old". It's hard to get them to understand the relevancy of the subject. You have to be part entertainer. Then there are the people in the administration building who feel they need to make up more work for you, to justify their own jobs. Either they've never been in the classroom or it's been so long they've lost touch.
Society also misunderstands. They think teachers have an easy job. They’re done with work at 3pm and have lots of vacation. I'm a teacher 24/7. I take classes at night and during the summer. This summer I'll be studying the Underground Railroad for three weeks. I get paid for my contracted time, 183 days, and that's divided by 12 months. I spend a LOT of hours working outside my contracted time. And, no matter how hard you work, you don't get recognition, promotions, or raises.
PayScale: What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: As far as advice, I would say it's more important to win the respect of your students rather than to become friends with them. How many 13 year old friends do you need? Also, don't take what they say personally. At that age, they think it's cool to complain. Saying that your lesson is dumb or boring is their way of trying to be grown up. Try to remember what it's like to be a kid. Don't have unrealistic expectations for them. I think the worst teachers are the ones who only care about their subject matter, and not the kids. If the students know you love them and care about them, they're more likely to behave for you and do the homework that you assign.
Also, you need to be cautious with your language in the classroom. If you're having a bad day, you might say something negative that could affect a student the rest of his/her life. On the other hand, saying a kind word, smiling, giving a pat on the back might also make a huge difference.
Finally, a little planning goes a long way. If you don't have a well-planned lesson, you'll pay for it in discipline problems. If you try something new in the classroom, it might not go well the first time. Don't give up. Reflect, improve, and try it again the next year.
Finally, enjoy your summers off. Using the Teacher's Bed and Breakfast nNetwork is a great way to sleep cheap while traveling. I just used it for spring break trip to Florida this year, and it was wonderful. Or, you can share a vacation rental with a bunch of teachers or friends. My favorite place to stay is a San Juan Island Washington vacation rental called the Bellevue Farm house.
PayScale: What's the most interesting thing that's happened to you as a Middle School Teacher?
Ann: With this job, every day is different and an adventure. Sometimes you're breaking up fights, sometimes comforting a crying child, sometimes trying to maintain your cool while a child goes off on you, or even an unbalanced parent. Once I called a parent at 8:30 at night to advise them their student wasn't doing well. I offered to stay after school and work with that student on my own time, and I got yelled at for calling so late and insulted repeatedly. There are fire drills, lock-downs, and earthquake drills - not to mention real earthquakes where you're supposed to provide leadership and direction even when you're scared yourself!
There are kids who come to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol or dressed like hookers. These are 13 year olds. They're in such a hurry to grow up. But when students secretly pass around a piece of paper at the end of the year and they all sign it and tell you that you're their favorite teacher and they'll miss you and they love you, that's amazing. When they see you years later and get excited and want to hug you, that is amazing. Then it's all worth it.
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