Tuesday, December 10, 2013
It was going to be a wonderful weekend. Two nights and a dinner at an historic Brunswick inn, a second dinner at a new Vietnamese restaurant there, a visit to the Bowdoin Art Museum to see William Wegman's exhibition, and Sunday brunch at the Topsham Sea Dog -- all for our travel column published on Thursdays in this newspaper.
Then Linda called from school. She wanted to attend a teachers' conference in Rockland on that Saturday, to learn more about aligning common core standards to literacy. Of course, I said sarcastically. Sounds a lot better than my plan.
If you think teachers have an easy job and a lot of time off, you are not married to one. My first-grade teacher wife works all the time, day and night. Teaching is a 24-hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year life's work.
When I get up in the morning, Lin's already been up for an hour or two and is sitting in the kitchen, working on school-related things on her computer. She tries to eat her breakfast during the five-minute drive to the school. She gets 15 minutes to eat lunch.
On our daily late-afternoon walks (if she gets home in time to join me -- teachers don't leave when the students do, that's for sure), she talks animatedly about her day at school.
At night, while I read or watch TV, she's sitting there on the couch beside me, papers spread all over the place, grading, preparing material for the next day's lesson, or gathering information that will help her be a better teacher.
She's already phenomenal, of course. It's hard to believe she needs to learn more to teach better. But I had to cancel a week at our north woods camp in July because Lin wanted to take a course on a new elementary school math curriculum at the University of Maine in Farmington.
She's up at school on beautiful summer days and weekends working in her classroom. She attends an unbelievable number of after-school meetings and even volunteers for special committees and extra work. Luckily, I have a photo of Lin on my desk to remind me what she looks like.
I do love being out in public with her when one of her current or former students sees her. Shouting "Mrs. Smith! Mrs. Smith!" and giving her a furious wave, the child is often levitating right off the ground.
There is no bigger person in the universe than Mrs. Smith, their first-grade teacher.
Linda lugs her school work to camp all summer long, to every inn we visit for our travel column, everywhere we go. She rarely reads anything unrelated to teaching, with the exception of gardening and cooking, her other passions.
Last year, I participated in Poetry Day at the Mount Vernon Elementary School, where Lin teaches. I had a room full of second- and third-graders. I read poems to them. They read poems to me. And then, with the help of other adults who volunteered along with me for this event, the kids wrote poems.
After 45 minutes, I was exhausted. I don't know how teachers do it. Honestly, I was mentally and physically drained.
There's been a lot of rhetoric about the value of teachers, the desire to give them more support, a new focus on the classroom and the students -- but I'm sure not seeing it yet.
From teachers much is expected. To teachers little is given.
And I cringe when I learn that we've reduced educational opportunities for pre-schoolers, many of whom will be a lot more difficult for Linda to reach if they don't get help before they start elementary school.
Those who demand bigger class sizes should spend a day in Linda's class of 17 first-graders. That's a lot of kids!
I once wrote this ad for a first-grade teacher: Wanted -- someone to spend long days with enthusiastic 6- and 7-year-olds, able to teach them to read, write, count, sit still and tie their shoes, willing to be evaluated and compensated based on how well those children learn all that, sufficiently physically fit to stand all day on concrete floors, strong enough to spend a lot of time outside policing recess even on the coldest winter days, flexible enough to adapt to new teaching standards and demands on a constant basis, and willing to work for low wages and little appreciation except from the children who will remember and love you for the rest of their lives.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.