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It's Broke. Fix It.

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 (Charity Johnson)

The phone stopped working in the school office today. That's why I didn't call when the electrical outlet in the teacher workroom started to spark. I would have sent an email, but the wifi has been down for four weeks at the public school where I work. So I ran to the office, and the secretary used her cell phone to call maintenance about the electrical issue.

I would rather have been planning a math lesson or designing a hands-on science project but all too often my once-a-week planning hour is spent inquiring about the broken sink, or taking out the recycling, or toiling away on another lengthy corporate grant proposal for library books.

A recent study found that U.S. teachers spend 80 percent of their time giving instruction while teachers in other high-achieving nations only spend 60 percent, meaning they have much more time to plan and learn together, developing high-quality curriculum and instruction. That sure beats running to the office to prevent the school from burning down.

A lot of well-intentioned people wonder about the achievement gap, and the Common Core, and the quality of teachers and teacher education. But I wonder when the connection will be made between safe, clean, highly-functioning work environments, and the funding required to create them.

Luckily for society, we teachers are problem solvers. When no one came to fix the intercom system in my classroom that had been beeping all afternoon and into the next morning, I didn't complain. I cut the wires and kept teaching. When my colleague in Special Ed was assigned twice the case load allowed by law, he didn't complain. He kept teaching.


Why do teachers keep working under conditions that would simply not be tolerated in any other profession? I know why. Because there are 24 little 8-year-olds counting on your smile and "Good Morning" every day. Because they need a place to read and wonder and express their ideas, even if the copy machine is still broken. Even if the budget for pencils has run out. And especially even if you're exhausted from pouring your heart and soul into something the rest of society cares enough to complain about, but not enough to fund.  

With a Perspective, I'm Charity Johnston.

Charity Johnson teaches third grade in Oakland.

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