A day in the life of an elementary teacher

Pushy parents, tattling kids and insufficient prep time—they’re all in a day’s work for this grade one teacher.

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Illustrations: Grace Lee

6 a.m. We’re up. Yawn.

It feels like the middle of the night, but we’re up, flying through the morning routine. I drop my five-year-old son at the school bus and my three-year-old daughter at daycare. She cries when I leave her and it breaks my heart. All I can do is hug her—and then bolt.

7:45 a.m. Prep like a maniac.

I’m at school an hour before the bell rings because there’s a million little things to do before the kids show up: tidy the class, take out books, reply to emails from colleagues, assign the kids classroom helper jobs, and so on.

8:45 a.m. Here come the kids.

The bell rings and the kids file in. Parents often use this time to ask me questions about how their child is doing. Note to parents: Please don’t do this! It’s not a private setting, I don’t have assessments on hand to give you the feedback you deserve, and I’m totally preoccupied—taking attendance, collecting money for field trips and organizing the kids for “O Canada” and morning announcements. (It can actually be pretty overwhelming, trying to remember everything I have to do.) I’ve let parents know that if they want to discuss their kid’s progress, they should write a note in their child’s agenda asking me to call them or set up a meeting. Some of them just don’t get the hint.

10:05 a.m. Recess!

Getting kids to dress themselves for the weather is exhausting, and it eats into the very little time I have to prep for the next block of classes and use the bathroom (I’m bursting by now). This is one of the day’s big time sucks. Funny how parents worry about sending their kid into grade one unable to read, but rarely think about the fact that they can’t button or zip their own jacket.

11:30 a.m. Time for awkward convos!

It’s finally lunchtime, and I’m ravenous—but the introvert in me doesn’t love the forced chit-chat in the staff room. I just want to eat in peace…but there’s nowhere else for me to go.

12:30 p.m. Trying not to yell.

The kids are working on math when one suddenly yells, “I’m telling!” and runs to me complaining that a kid stole her pencil crayon. Sigh. This happens Every. Single. Day. But I have to have compassion for these kids, who are just learning how to share and work together. To be honest, this compassion is lacking in some of my colleagues. Some of them yell harshly at kids to get them to behave, and call me “too soft” on my students, who, I admit, aren’t always in a quiet, orderly line when travelling through the school. It’s called “classroom management”—trying to maintain order while keeping students’ dignity intact. Not easy!

2:05 p.m. “Free” time.

Time for the “spare period” I get most days—40 minutes to plan lessons, mark work, rearrange my class, prep report cards, chat with colleagues—oh, and think about professional development. I also have to squeeze in personal needs, like using the bathroom and making phone calls. Fastest 40 minutes ever.

2:45 p.m. Media studies.

I’m back in the classroom, wrapping up the day with media studies. We watch a McDonald’s commercial. I ask the students to describe the ad’s message and then give an alternate point of view. It’s amusing that even kids get sanctimonious about fast food being unhealthy, yet some of them have Happy Meals dropped off for lunch.

3:15 p.m. The kids are gone! I’m not.

Jealous that my day ends at 3:15? It doesn’t. The kids are leaving, but now I’m on crosswalk duty, part of my mandatory weekly supervision duties. I stand there, looking awesome in my orange safety vest, ensuring kids don’t get run over as they walk home.

I think about the rest of my day—daycare pickup, dinner, laundry—and when the weekend is finally going to come. And yes, I’m always thinking about my two-month-long summer vacation, too. I know it sounds like heaven, but there’s a hefty trade-off. The only other times I can take off are stat holidays and March break—and that’s when flights are the most expensive. I can’t take vacation days for “me time” like my non-teacher friends do, and I have to use my sick days carefully, because colds and flus spread like crazy in the winter. I love my job, but it’s not the cushy gig I imagined it would be when I applied for teachers’ college.

4 p.m.

I turn off the lights in my empty classroom and head home. Sometimes I bring marking or reading with me, but I try not to—usually I’m pretty busy with my kids’ homework or activities. Taking care of kids—my own and other people’s—has become my entire life, 24/7. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anonymous is a grade one teacher in a city outside Toronto.

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