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Parents: A Peek Behind The School Day Curtain

Hello Parents,

I’d like to tell you a little bit about a teacher’s workday. It’s usually a long, rewarding, frustrating story, but I think it will help us draw some conclusions about the best ways for you to help your children.

Let’s make it a Wednesday, and we’ll follow the perfectly average, well meaning 7th grade teacher Ms. Stevenson through her day:

6:00: Up, coffee, dress, school by 7:30. Stuff an 8-count box of “100 calorie” snacks into oversized teacher tote on the way out the door. Hope no one notices the pizza stains on 2nd period’s papers, which were graded the night prior while watching HGTV.

7:30: Once at school, change day’s assignments in online teacher-parent-student communication tool, because last night’s homework grading clearly demonstrated that students didn’t comprehend Monday’s lesson on two-step equations. (Note that homework completed on Monday will be turned in on Tuesday for grading and return on Wednesday. How did Ms. Stevenson know what to teach on Tuesday if she doesn’t know how the kids did on Monday night’s homework? Did she move to the next lesson on Tuesday, and now she’s backtracking? This is a classic dilemma of the classroom teacher.)

7:55: Ack, that’s right! It’s faculty meeting day. Take last few papers to grade to the library, where the assistant principal has queued up some motivational music. Be sure to sign in as not to receive a testy email from administration. Find some teacher friends to sit with in the back of the room. Mercilessly mock the old-timers and brand new teachers who sit in the front and take notes. Munch on “100 calorie” blueberry crisp wafer-bar. During the meeting the tech specialist gives a presentation on yet another tool which will transform education. The power point font is too small to read, but rest assured that there will be more training to follow during conference periods the following week. The principal talks about data, which unfortunately has become a nasty word mainly because the teachers are required to provide so much of it, also because some small bonuses are now tied to student test scores. Leave the meeting ready to get back to the classroom to be ready for the students.

8:50-9:15; Homeroom: Bell rings and students report to homeroom. Watching the morning show on closes circuit TV, the pledge, and attendance.

9:20-10:10; 1st Period; 7th Grade Advanced Pre-Algebra: With the state max of 22 students, this class is pleasant for Ms. Stevenson because it’s “advanced” (aka medium) and the students are still pretty sleepy due to the early hour. The price Ms. Stevenson has to pay for the blissful sleepy cooperation of these 22 students is that their class average is a few points behind behind 3rd Period. Two students arrive late (one without any materials), one student comes in to retrieve the binder which they left during homeroom, and the office calls once to make sure that Suzie got to class, because she’s neen skipping lately and her grandmother has taken the reins from Suzie’s detached mother.

10:15-11:05; 2nd Period; 7th Grade Pre-Algebra: Since everyone in 7th grade in this district still takes a class called “pre-algebra” (which, by the way, actually teachers very little algebra, and focuses mainly on reteaching 6th grade skills) these are the lower achieving students. There are also a few serious discipline problems in this class, and managing them takes time away from those students who desperately need all the help they can get in this 50 minute hour. At one point during independent practice Jose falls asleep, and when Ms. Stevenson wakes him up he says that he was up all night at the hospital because his aunt was having a baby. It’s a boy.

11:10-12:00; 3rd Period; 7th Grade Advanced Pre-Algebra: Much like 1st period, but a little rowdier because these kids are hungry. They’re harder to manage than the first two classes, but doing a little better academically. During this class one student, Johnny, just can’t keep it together. After a few reminders and one time-out he gets sent down to the office. Ms. Stevenson will have to use the new online office referral tool to write the referral during lunch.

12:05-12:35; Lunch: Make the trek down to the copy machine, but there’s a line, so back to the classroom for 15 minutes of solitude and catching up on email.

12:40-1:30; 4th Period; Planning: Ms. Stevenson’s conference/planning period. It’s pretty rare that parent teacher conferences will happen during this time. It’s normally filled with phone calls home, mandatory training or department meetings, waiting in line for the one copy machine that still works, and reading/replying to the many emails from the principal, assistant principals, guidance counselors, and math department.

1:35-2:25; 5th Period; 6th Grade Basic Math: The Assistant Principal really needed someone to take it because there are a lot of 6th graders this year. The pace of this class is far slower than the 7th grade honors or advanced courses, and it’s quite pleasant to spend time teaching multiplication tables, fractions, etc.

2:30-3:20; 6th Period; 7th Grade Advanced Pre-Algebra: The students are starting to get a little squirrely this close to the end of the day, and Tameka gets sent to another teacher for time-out. This class has an extra wide mix of ability levels, including two students who should clearly be in the basic course and four who are definitely honors material. 6th period is hard to teach because those two low kids really need extra time, the four sharper ones are bored, and everyone in the middle is merely trying to learn at their own pace while Ms. Stevenson helps the low babies extra and disciplines the bored-smart kids. During this class one student gets called to the office for a referral meeting and two are signed out early for “doctor’s appointments”. It’s funny how Mary goes to the dentist pretty much every week. She doesn’t even have braces.

3:15-4:05; 7th Period; 7th Grade Pre-Algebra: The home stretch! The end of the day! These students, like 2nd and 5th periods, are on the lower end of the scale and are just ready to go home. 7th period has the greatest number of sleepers and discipline problems. Plus a good 2-4 students have either gotten in trouble, are suspended, or have signed out early. 7th period is all about survival, but Ms. Stevenson tries her hardest to finish each day strong, and the students who are left work hard. Eventually class gets cut short by end-of-day announcements, and the students rush out the door.

4:20-7:00; Coach Girls’ Soccer: Just one more “100 calorie” snack before going off to coach girls’ soccer, which is not required, but the AP in charge of sports programs REALLY needed someone and said that if Ms. Stevenson didn’t do it then they just wouldn’t have a girls’ soccer team this year and wouldn’t that be terrible? Practice ends at 6:30, but Brittany’s dad is late, again. So Ms. Stevenson sits outside the school with Brittany to wait, calling Brittany’s dad on her own cell phone, which means both Dad and Brittany now have her number and will abuse it mercilessly. Still, this is the nicest 30 minutes of the day, because she gets to actually talk with a student instead of at a student.

 7:30: Drive home, late dinner with Mr. Stevenson, homework grading, more HGTV and sleep.


This is all just the flow of a normal day, and nothing to be alarmed over. Because the job gets done. The students get taught. The most significant challenge here is the sheer number of number one priorities competing for Ms. Stevenson’s attention. My lesson for you, parents, is that you have to get in there and compete for her attention as well. You see, the deep dark secret of many teachers is that their hard working, quiet, B and C students get the least attention. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to pull failing students up, and doing that takes a lot of energy. But if your little one is doing “just fine” then chances are they’ll continue to do just fine all year long rather than become one of the top class performers. For the best path to get that attention for your child, see our posts on communication:

Those hard working B and C students are a passion for us here at Grade Squad. Whether it’s through our local private tutoring, our online overnight tutoring, recommending DIY resources, or just through talking with the many parents we encounter every day to help them help their children, we have a passion for pulling those students up to the top of the class!


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