Diversity Career Stories Education

Kindergarten teacher copes with difficult parents for sake of children

This kindergarten teacher of six years finds that parents, and not the students, are often the most difficult part of the job. Here is her story.

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I’m a Kindergarten teacher.  With that title, comes a bundle of additional “hats” but, for the interview, I’ll use that generic title.  I have six years of teaching experience at the elementary school level and two years of substitute teaching experience.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
I typically arrive at school around 7:30 in the morning.  On occasion, I arrive earlier for parent/teacher conferences and staff meetings.  My students arrive at around 7:45 and we complete morning bookkeeping activities such as collecting lunch money and following up on parent/teacher correspondence.  From then on, our day is broken up into “time blocks” of instruction.  Instructional blocks include a literacy block, math block, and science/social studies block and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the subject and our schedule.  Additionally, our day includes a 30 minute lunch break and a 45 minute enrichment class i.e. Music, P.E., Computers.  While my students are at their enrichment class, I plan instruction using my school district and state’s scope and sequence as a guide, collaborate with fellow teachers, and communicate with parents.  My school dismisses at 2:45 and, at that time, my after school duty begins.  My duty consists of assisting students to their cars in the parent pick up line.  After duty, I return to my classroom and continue any planning that I didn’t finish earlier in the day.  Some days, I have more work than I can possibly finish after school and other days, I manage to catch up.  My work load varies and, as a result, my schedule is sporadic.  On a good day, I can leave at 3:30.  On most days, I leave around 4:30.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my job as an 8.  I have an incredible career that allows me to positively contribute to the lives of children.  Watching the academic and social growth of a child is an incredible sight.  The best part is knowing that I had a hand in it!  In order to increase my rating, some of the stress factors of my job would have to be diminished. Difficult parents, an increasing focus on standardized testing, and educational budget cuts keep my rating at an 8 as opposed to a 10.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned my first year that effective classroom management is priceless!  Having a behavior plan in place, setting up positive reinforcements and rewards in the classroom, and explaining expectations from day one are essential.  I mistakenly thought my behavior expectations and reward systems would fall into place as I got to know my students.  Needless to say, my first class was a little crazy and my stress level was high.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Two areas I would have liked to have been taught more on are technology and diversity.  I know how to use technology but I don’t always feel confident incorporating it into my teaching.  As far as diversity, I would have benefited from strategies on how to identify and reach out to students whose culture is different than my own.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and   do it differently, what would you change?
Initially, I was interested in teaching because I have so many family members who are teachers.  They seemed to like their job and the idea of having summers off was very enticing to me.  I started substitute teaching and I recommend that to ANY prospective teacher.  It was a great way to learn more about what teachers do on a daily basis and test out the career.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I have had a lot of strange things happen to me while teaching.  I think it goes with the territory.  The strangest, and most disgusting thing, is dealing with bodily fluid issues.  I’ve been thrown up on and witnessed more bathroom accidents than I care to count!

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
For me, the best example of a good day is seeing a student’s face light up when he or she understands a concept we are working on in class.  I wish I could bottle those moments!  It’s also nice to be recognized by parents and administration for a job well done.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
Dealing with parents is one of the most difficult aspects of my job.  Parents rightfully love their children and will defend against any offense they feel you or another student has committed against them.  The problem lies in the fact that those offenses aren’t always 100% accurate or true.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
My job is stressful at times because I’m pulled in many different directions over the course of a day.  However, on my most stressful day, I know that I have great holidays and a summer vacation to look forward to.  Knowing that, I’m able to have a work-life balance that I love.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Where I work, the range is high thirties to mid forties depending on experience.  Many people say teachers aren’t paid enough and, given our responsibilities, I would tend to agree.  However, I know that I make enough to live comfortably and I have great vacation time.  For those reasons, I personally don’t complain too much about the salary.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
It’s hard to pinpoint the most rewarding moment in teaching because there truly are so many rewarding moments.  Teaching primary grades, I keep a portfolio of student work over the course of the year.  Reviewing those portfolios at the end of the year and seeing how much growth my class has made is probably the most rewarding moment of the year.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most challenging moments are having heated discussions with parents.  Whether I am wrong or right, it’s difficult and stressful to have a parent question my intentions, teaching style, and classroom decisions.  I have had parents yell at me in person and over the phone.  Both scenarios can be pretty traumatizing!

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
To teach in public schools, you’ll need at least a Bachelor’s degree in Education from an accredited university and appropriate certification from your state’s education agency.  When choosing your degree program, make sure you are choosing a program focused on the age group and level you wish to teach.  Being an elementary school teacher, my degree is in Early Childhood Education.  While all teachers must hold a Bachelor’s degree, many teachers do not have a degree in Education.  These teachers obtain alternative certification through local programs and districts.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
As I mentioned before, I would recommend substitute teaching first to make sure teaching is the right career move for you.  While substitute teaching, you can get a feel for the grade level you prefer and experience a teacher’s job responsibilities.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
In addition to my summer and holiday vacation time, I have additional days that are available for me to take during the school year.  With so many kids in such a small area, I often get sick during the school year and use many of my vacation days as sick days.  However, I rarely use all of vacation days and roll many over from year to year.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
It’s a common misconception that teachers don’t work as hard as others who work year round.  From experience, I can say that teachers pack as much work into a 9 month period as 12 month employees do.  When I go back to teaching in the fall, I always have to remind myself that I DID just have a summer break.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
Teaching absolutely moves my heart.  Some days my heart is overjoyed by a kind word or a successful lesson.  Other days, my heart is sad about a tough situation a child should never have to experience.  On a few days, my heart is angry about seeing cuts to programs my students benefit from.  However, every day I know in my heart that the classroom is exactly where I need to be.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
In five years, I would love to see my job evolve beyond the classroom.  There are so many opportunities to touch the lives of children and I feel that the classroom is only one of many ways to do that.  I would be interested in counseling, being a librarian, or working with a children’s interest group.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
When I started teaching, I was in my early twenties and fresh out of college.  It was difficult for parents and teachers to take me seriously and relate to me.  As a bit of advice to young teachers out there, I would recommend making an extra effort to connect and communicate with staff and parents.  Making that effort will show others that you’re knowledgeable about education and that you care.