It's no secret that attending to the varying needs of a class full of children is like spinning plates in the middle of a juggling act while trying to diffuse a bomb.
In any given group of 25-30 children around the same age you will find a range of social, emotional, behavioural and learning needs as wide as the ocean. You could have a number of kids sitting attentively, while one just needs to rub his face on the carpet, two are trying to kill each other, one is ready to flip a table if anyone dares to look at her again, another who needs some food and a cuddle because they're not getting much of either at home - oh, and five busting to go to the toilet all at once.
There are children who can't speak English, have medical needs that must be regularly attended to, have experienced trauma, are experiencing abuse or neglect, or suffer from anxiety for a myriad of reasons.
Academically, some may struggle with recognising letters and sounds or knowing what 1 + 1 equals, while others in the same class could read the latest Jodi Picoult novel and can multiply into the thousands – and of course then there's all of the kids in between.
The understanding and planning that it takes to ensure that lessons engage each child and enable them to work towards their own potential and build their self-confidence is a full-time job before any of them even set foot in the classroom.
That, however, is the core of the job of teachers. Before writing reports or programs or attending meetings and endless professional development days (i.e. the boring stuff), it's the exciting stuff that we're really there for – unlocking the puzzle of each child. Creating an environment and building a relationship that makes kids want to be there and want to learn is the key to making that happen.
There are so many fine details that go into making the big things happen, that many people don't know the little things that teachers do, yes as part of their job, but mostly out of their love of the kids.
Invest their own money in our children
It's common knowledge that teaching is an incredibly underpaid profession, but what isn't as widely known is just how much of that modest pay cheque is spent on the kids. Yes, there is generally a small school budget for the basics, but teachers fork out for everything from classroom furniture to art supplies to books, games and learning materials from their own pocket to make sure the kids have enriching and interesting lessons that they enjoy.
Making sure you get your present
Speaking of money - from excursions to fundraisers, school expenses pop up all the time and sometimes it's hard to keep track of. Teachers know there are always bound to be students who don't bring money in for the Mothers' and Fathers' Day stalls and other events, so they always fill their wallets with change, ready to dispense coins to upset students so that presents can be purchased and the kids don't go home disappointed.
Every parent knows that social problems can cause a lot of heartache, and this is an issue that's brought into the classroom throughout every day. Teachers are constantly mending broken friendships, mediating disputes and ensuring your child has somebody to play with when they head out to the playground.
Sacrificing their breaks
On a good day, teachers will get ten minutes to have a break. Between taking their class out to the playground, doing their allocated playground duty and preparing the classroom for the next lesson, some food on the run and a few minutes of quiet is all they get to recharge. Inevitably, there is always a child who needs something – an ice pack for an injury, a lost jumper on a cold day, a forgotten lunch order. Their break very quickly drops to the bottom of the priority list as they instead tend to the children's needs and comfort them while hunting for misplaced items before the bell goes again.
Being a nurse
The amount of scratches, scrapes and collisions that occur at school on a daily basis can make classrooms feel like mini emergency rooms. It's rarely anything serious, but often kids just want their pain (however small) acknowledged, and teachers give kids that TLC that lets them know they're cared for. Same goes for when they're sick. Parents don't always have the option of keeping kids at home when they're not feeling well, and teachers know that. Sometimes a bit of a rest on a cushion in the corner is all they need to get through the rest of the day.
Constantly thinking of your children
If you think that once teachers wave off the kids at the end of the day they switch off, think again. We all lay awake at night and think about work in one way or another, and teachers are no different. Thinking about strategies to support struggling learners or extend the most capable are pretty standard thoughts. More specific ones like how to find the money to provide something they know will hugely benefit and excite their class or how to build a maths lesson around skateboarding because the kids are all into it this week also help fight off that pesky time-wasting sleep.