There was one particular day that I remember walking out to my car after work and realizing that I was taking the longest walk I had taken since I walked from my car to my classroom that morning. I thought about that on my drive home. I had walked a lot in my classroom. This was back in the FitBit days, so I knew I had come close to my 10,000 steps already, but I was in my classroom all day. My classroom was a sloppy rectangle of about 20’ x 30’. I had roughly 90 kids come to me through my day (three blocks worth). I had a sandwich for lunch that I brought myself. I am sure I walked down to the bathroom at least once - but that was only two doors down. The majority of my entire working day had been spent inside one room. I like to think I was pretty mobile in the classroom, but the reality of teaching high school English is that I was probably within about 10 square feet all day - between my desk, my computer and the door. Almost 10,000 steps inside of 10 square feet.
I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or saddened by that revelation. I’m still not. I remember leaving that day thinking that I had done a good job. That’s not something I could say everyday, but that day was a good day. I don’t remember the lesson exactly, but I do remember that I did it three times (block scheduling), it was well received by the kids and there was understanding. I graded papers during my planning and got a lot of work done. It was a good day.
A few years later I worked with the district office. I taught teachers about computers and how to use technology. I really loved that job and it made me much more mobile. I wasn’t just in one class, or even one school. I was in 10 schools spread out over miles. I drove from one to the other. I walked just as much, but now I was walking in new hallways. I thought about that day teaching inside my 10 square feet and figured that I was covering about 10 square miles now. That was pretty cool. I was also able to do something that teachers sometimes only dream about - I went to the bank during normal business hours.
But thinking back to my days walking miles in a 10x10 space makes me think a lot about the space that teachers occupy in their own classroom and in the lives of their students. Teachers sacrifice the convenience of their personal lives to serve their communities, teachers often can’t even get to the bank. Teachers aren’t just working until 2pm with summers off. They aren’t just delivering the same lesson over and over and going home. They aren’t just serving individual students. Educators serve the world by cultivating interest in science, the arts, politics and so much more; they deliver knowledge and inspiration to our kids. They often do all that inside 10 square feet.
We value education enough in the United States that thousands of individuals are compelled each year to serve in public schools; frequently at the expense of their free time, their wallets, and sometimes their pride. We can all thank a teacher for showing us that the world is much bigger than our 10 square feet because those individuals felt led to serve despite the difficulties. Their foundational role in our communities must not be underestimated. But as we’ve seen, it can often be underpaid.
Today I visited two schools in two states and I’m writing this in a hotel room - now I’m not just serving a few schools, but hundreds. The cultures of those schools are different (one was about 1,000 students and one was about 300), but in the end, we all want the same thing - a better way to educate our kids that doesn’t financially and emotionally drain the individuals who are led to teach.
I hope that the increased attention in the media towards teacher pay and school funding has the positive effect of shedding light on what it means to be an Educator and the unnecessary challenges schools struggle with everyday. I pray that the teacher walkouts expands the perspective of their own 10 square feet in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and across the country and will inspire us all to value educators and our schools as the cultural foundation they truly are. That is the distance we all need to travel together.
As a former educator in Mississippi, Tyler knows a thing or two about the stresses of daily teacher life. Today, he works for SchoolStatus helping educators turn their student data analytics into meaningful parent communication.