Teaching English in a New York City high school is not a happy lot. Each day you see about 150+ students, and from that number alone you can derive the fact that doing the job cannot be done, or if you are stubborn, if will eventually drive you nuts or kill you. Consider the following: each day you have to check and correct at least 150 homework assignments. If you don’t do it, your students will stop doing homework, and as your lessons are often based on that. . . Assuming that it takes you only one minute to go over each paper (you learn to do things rapidly), that is two and a half-hours to do nothing but checking papers. Add to that the recording of the completion of those assignments, and you get over three hours of paper work when you get home. Of course, homework assignments are not the only thing that happens in an English class. There is written class work, there are tests (to be made up and scored), there are essays, and book reports, and a slew of other productions to be checked, corrected, and entered in your slim grade book. And there is the preparation of all those lesson plans. Yes, there is some time provided during the school day, about 40 minutes, but if you’re not careful before you know it you are wallowing in paper work. If you “lose” or discard it, your students become unhappy. No, an English teacher’s job is not a “‘appy one”.
Much of the unhappiness with teachers derives from the fact that almost all are “experts” on the subject of teachers. They have all sat in those little desks, being either inspired or bored or amused by the individual in front of the class, and everyone therefore knows good teaching from bad. However, what most people know of teaching is essentially the classroom performance of teachers. They know nothing of the time which goes into those classroom performances, the hours of unpaid preparation that is an essential part of the profession. If you are planning to become a teacher, the field to pick is physical education. There are no papers to grade, and you get paid for overtime spent on team activities after school and on weekends. And throwing a basketball around and yelling, “Shoot! Shoot!” is a lot of fun. In addition to which, 50% of all American school principals are former gym teachers.
I also wanted to be a principal, and was certified in both New York and New Jersey to be one. However, what I really wanted was an urban high school, a school with four to five thousand students with every problem caused by poverty and immigration. I wanted a school like George Washington. It was not to be.
Each weekend I sent out resumes, and sometimes I went for interviews for jobs as assistant principal, but for some mysterious reason (at least to me) I was unacceptable. Sometime, I will have to have a serious “think” about that, but I was really disappointed and thought about leaving education for greener pastures.
I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so I decided to visit a professional, a career counselor, who specialized in identifying other areas of interest and abilities. The one I went to had an office in Rockefeller Center, and I paid him an outrageous amount of money. He interviewed me, and he tested me, and at the end of several weeks he concluded that what I was best suited for was being an English teacher.
For some reason that escapes me at the moment, Sartre’s Huis Clos comes to mind (I didn’t want to be insensitive and use the English title).
It wasn’t quite that bad, and could be ended by early retirement. But the comparison is interesting. . .