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At the beginning of this school year, I invited students to “apply” for jobs in the classroom. I needed a student to write the “Quote of the Day” and “Song of the Day” on the classroom board every day. I also needed a student to write the “Daily Grammar” and “Daily Spelling” and “Vocabulary Notes” for each day on the board. I needed one student in charge of updating the weekly planner board, another student as the classroom librarian to keep the classroom library in order, and one student to check the Chromebook cart at the end of each day to make sure everything was put away properly. In the middle of the year, I added a new job and that was for a student who would set up the Smart Board computer each day with the proper tabs open and the Song of the Day ready to play each morning.

I teach 6th grade English Language Arts, and most jobs had to come out of my 7th period class because most jobs had to be done at the end of the day. The person who set up the computer in the morning, though, came out of 1st period. To apply, these students had to write a handwritten letter to me explaining why they would be good for the job. The letters needed to be handwritten, especially for the jobs that involved writing on the board. I needed the handwriting to be neat, so students could read it every day. I also explained to students that these jobs were unpaid, voluntary positions, and that I needed people who would be dependable. I also told students, once they got the job, that if they ever wanted to quit, they would need to give me two weeks’ notice so I could train the next person.

This year it so happened that I got seven applications for the seven jobs. They each applied for something different, and they all had good “applications,” so it all worked out perfectly. I’m sure that won’t always work out that way, but this year it did.

It was a big stretch for me to give up control of the writing on the board. As an English teacher, it is not a good look if the writing on the board is misspelled or has other outrageous errors. There would be harsh judgement if others thought that the English teacher had made those mistakes. I had to train the board writers in the importance of accuracy. They were pretty accurate most of the time. They only had to copy things from the notes I had provided for them, but there were still mistakes. To solve this problem, I started having them post their names beneath their section of the board. That way, if there were mistakes, at least anyone walking through the room might realize that it was them, not me!

Why have students sign up for jobs in the first place? Well, my school district is participating in a movement called PCBE or Personalized Competency-Based Education. (Everything in education is an acronym.) Part of this latest push involves student agency or having students have more of a voice and more involvement in their schools and education. Whenever there is a new push in education, (there always will be something new) a teacher must work to understand the new ways and choose parts of the new program that they can implement in their classroom. I went and observed in a PCBE school earlier this year, and one thing I noticed while I was there was that students were involved with everything from taking groups of teachers on informative tours around their schools, to helping manage the cleanliness of the cafeteria, to being security guards out in their school parking lots. It was truly amazing to see. That part of PCBE was something I could buy into, so I decided to attempt to mimic what they appeared to be doing with student jobs in my own classroom.

So, these seven students worked diligently for me all school year for nothing. They gave up some of their silent reading time, after-school time, or before-school time to complete these jobs. They did a fabulous job all year long, and none of them quit. They also helped keep me organized. I had to have my complete week of notes ready for them before 7th period every Friday. If I didn’t, the board writers couldn’t do their jobs. If I ever made a mistake, they caught it. If I forgot to do something, they reminded me. If I had a sub, they helped the sub manage the classroom routines. If they were going to be absent, they got their own subs without even involving me in that process.

This year I saw the value in having student jobs, and I will do it again next year. I’m sure there will be things that I will add or change, but jobs are good for the students and their learning and responsibility, and it’s also good for the teacher because once they’re trained, it is a huge help, and we all need help managing all the tasks involved in running a classroom.

As the year was ending, I knew I needed to do something to recognize these students for all their voluntary hard work. I thought of getting them something tangible like a book or a gift card or something, but then I decided that I would buy all of them lunch form the local delicious burger place. I printed off menus and gave one to each of them and told them that they could each choose a meal and a drink and that I would buy them lunch and have it ready for them in my classroom during their lunch time on Thursday.

They were all so surprised, and they picked out their meals and everyone remembered to show up on Thursday. I ordered it all online plus something for me, my husband (the band teacher at my school), and my best teacher friend who is retiring this year. My friend helped me pick up the order during our prep time, and the burger place had everything all labeled and ready right on time.

As the students came in for lunch that day, they were all so grateful. We all decided that there would be an adult table and a kid table, so they all sat together in one section of the classroom, and my husband, friend, and I had our lunch at another group of desks in the room. They all (coming from different friend groups) sat happily together for the whole lunch period and visited and laughed, sometimes including us teachers as we were having fun visiting too and also eavesdropping on their delightful conversations. At one point, one of my students said, “Thank you so much for this. I feel so ‘blessed!’” He was being dramatic because he usually is, and he doesn’t usually use the word “blessed,” but the intention was sincere. I could tell.

I’m glad I did this. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do because it would cost a little money, my money, but I wanted to do something for them. Sometimes the general public doesn’t realize all of the little things teachers do out of their own time or pockets because they will be good for the students, and there is no budget for it. These little worker bees of mine needed some recognition for a job well done. They didn’t ask for it or expect it, and they appreciated the gesture so much. They deserved it. Sometimes, as teachers, we spend so much time on the students who require our attention because of behavior issues or other needs, that the kids who are just at school, working hard and wanting to do their best every day, get overlooked because there is always a shortage of time. I was glad to take that one lunch period to thank them.

I don’t bring this up to martyr myself or anything like that, but it’s come to my attention, especially lately, as my district is in the negotiation process for teacher contracts, that some people in society, even some who are in education have no idea the lengths to which teachers go to ensure students get what they need at school.

As the powers that be argue about what teachers need and don’t need in my district, someone actually said, “Teachers are only productive when they’re with students.” This was meant to be an argument about why teachers could make do with less prep time. I wish I hadn’t heard that comment. It opened my eyes to just how much some people are out of touch with what a day in the life of a teacher is like. I, for one, use every minute of my prep time, and I could do such a better job if I had more.

I think one reason for the common misconceptions is that teachers do every extra little thing we do for the well-being of our students. And we do them quietly. No one really hears about it because we don’t do it for the recognition, we do it for the students. But sometimes that is why teachers are undervalued and underappreciated. If we quietly compensate for all the budget shortfalls and other issues in a school district, then people don’t see the need for it to change. Just add more to the teachers’ plates. They’ll handle it. Historically, we have. But it does take a toll.

My daughter is working to become a teacher. I share my story today because I want to do my part to let people know that this is happening in every school, every day in the US. I hope that policymakers will come to realize that, and that my daughter will enter a sustainable profession where she will be valued and treated like a professional. Happy, respected teachers equal happy, well-educated students, and that is a good thing for everyone.