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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Getting Schooled
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Tuesday, April 7,2015

Getting Schooled

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
I’ve been watching ‘Girls’ on HBO lately. I know, even I’m surprised. Not only are some of today’s twentysomethings´ issues outside of my wheelhouse, some scenes are downright uncomfortable for my fortysomething eyes and ears. But Lena Dunham, the show’s creator and star, is also quite gifted at illuminating universal themes that transcend generations. I became interested this season because Dunham’s character, Hannah, was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Then, Hannah decided to quit the writing program and move back to New York City. I love New York. Now Hannah has a job as an interim high school teacher. Perfect - I’m still listening. Her portrayal of the classroom is spot on. She teaches an advanced literature class and does a fine job of inserting just enough literature jargon to keep me interested, and equally appropriate portrayals of the classroom setting to foster my gratitude for a realistic illustration of a "day in the life" of a teacher. That is until... the teachers´ lounge.

First of all, the cliche image of bored teachers sitting around on velvet couches, smoking, gossiping and drinking coffee is ludicrous. Well, maybe a little gossip. And definitely coffee. But in my twenty one years of teaching, I’ve never seen a designated relaxation room where teachers just hang out waiting for their next class. More accurately, teachers gather in work rooms which look more like office cubicles surrounded by two or three (usually broken) copy machines. There are exactly 25 minutes in the afternoon when the room doubles as a lunch room. Each day at 12:05 a bell rings, and teachers who have time that day (no meetings, parent conferences, clubs to sponsor, extra help sessions to host) gather for lunch. In my school, most of us who stop for lunch are seasoned veterans who have those frantic first few years of teaching under our belts and can actually afford 25 minutes off. And, truth be told, we vets have also been exposed to the bell schedule for so long that our bodies, as if by some Pavlovian response, must stop to eat, use the bathroom, and refill our water bottles at exactly 12:05 each day, or something snaps.

So seeing Dunham’s idea of a teachers´ lounge on television made me wonder if that is that how the general public imagines my work day. Granted, a television show is meant to entertain and the image fits the script for Dunham’s character. But it made me realize that this may be how most people still view teachers. I remember walking by the smoke-filled teachers´ lounge when I was in high school and hearing the rumors about which teachers were doing what. I also had my share of lame teachers, any one of whom could have stood in for Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Anyone.....Anyone...). But this is not even close to the world of education today. Every teacher I know burns the candle at both ends to meet continuously increasing expectations. I understand that summers off might play into the stereotype of teaching as a “cake” job, but anyone who knows a teacher well can attest that there is no lounging going on from August to June. The teaching profession has changed and while I love my job, I challenge anyone to spend a day in my shoes and come out on the other side anything but exhausted (and hopefully enlightened). Teaching is the most rewarding career I’ve had. I love what I do. But I also love June, July and August.


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