It's 7.30am and the first decision I make is what to wear. The question is not what colour shirt or style of pants, but what I need for my walk to Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. As fortunate as I am to live within walking distance of my school, depending on the time of year I may be exposed to heavy rain or snow, wind and temperatures from minus 20C to 38C. This is a suburb of Chicago and we get it all.
I work as a science teacher in Oak Park, Illinois. Our school has almost 900 students in three grades. Every day I teach almost 160 Grade 8 students aged 13-14. The district is quite racially diverse and students primarily come from lower middle class or more wealthy families.
Once I arrive at around 8.15am, I greet the other teachers on my team, make a large cup of coffee and check my materials are ready. At 8.54am, the quiet hallways suddenly fill with a mass of children. Six minutes later, at the start of first period, they are empty except for a few chronic stragglers.
I teach six science periods every day. We do many hands-on activities with fire, chemicals and other lab equipment. On some days, I might demonstrate a loud or visually exciting chemical reaction in the fume hood. If it can be done safely, I allow a student to perform the demonstration.
I know exactly which periods are going to be the most tiring. Although behaviour in class is generally good, I have the usual handful of students with impulse-control issues, attention deficits, social and emotional problems and resistance to doing work. Classes are very mixed: children working at near-college level may be seated next to those working well below grade level. This is one of our biggest challenges. To deal with it, I have developed three skill levels in each class that students can choose from.
During fourth period, the other teachers on my team and I discuss the students at risk of not passing. At least one teacher relays a story about something a child said or did that was especially inappropriate, hilarious or both. We are dealing with teenagers, after all.
At lunchtime, I supervise the cafeteria. It's the only way to make extra money without coming in early or staying late, so for me it's a perfect way to supplement my salary. Few seem to share that opinion, however, and we are rarely able to find enough staff to supervise, extra money or not. I suppose I can see why: the cafeteria is unquestionably the loudest room in the entire school.
The final bell rings at 3.30pm after a relatively short but very intense day. Most students are usually long gone within 10 minutes of the bell. Strangely, the children who are the least enthused about being in class are often the last to leave.
Soon afterwards, I exit the building and walk home, stopping for an iced americano on the way. As I sip my coffee, I boast inwardly of my good fortune in being able to relax at a cafe while most of my colleagues are in their cars, battling the rush-hour traffic.
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