After an email from a parent tonight, I was left in a bit of a pensive mood. I reflected on the fact that teaching is one of the few professions where there is an unwritten expectation from some people that we fix the problems of all of our clients, 30 young people at a time in a 45 – 90 minute time slot, as well as helping them learn skills and content. That’s a tough ask, and made me feel a bit disheartened. Then I did the maths.
As a secondary school teacher, I teach approximately 150 kids across 7 classes. Let’s say I’m in the classroom for 5 hours a day. That’s 300 minutes of face to face time. Now, I usually see about 90 of those kids per day on average. Divide 300 minutes by 90 and mathematically speaking, each student should get 3.33 minutes of time with me per day. Oh, but then subtract the time I spend instructing, talking to the class, dealing with behavioural issues, supporting the students who are struggling the most. Time is whittled down until some kids don’t get any one on one time at all.
This disheartened me even more. Until I let the maths go and thought about it from a social/emotional perspective.
This is the reality of secondary teaching, but the kids cope. They may not all get equal one on one time with us (as much as they are entitled to, in my opinion) but that doesn’t mean they’re not watching us, learning from and with us and engaging with us. It doesn’t mean we’re not helping them in one way or another just because we don’t spend 3.33 minutes standing by their desk, just for them. Hopefully they develop the capacity to become the independent but connected problem solvers they need to be out in the big wide world. Because it’s not the teachers who need to solve the kids’ problems – but we CAN help them with the skills to find solutions.
So to get back to my opening point: no, teachers cannot fix all of the problems that kids face. As much as we’d love to, there’s not enough time in the day. But what we do manage to achieve in that average of less than 3 minutes per kid per day – knowing them, caring for them, nursing them – is pretty darn amazing and something we can be proud of!