My husband is a Teacher. He has been a teacher for 21 years. He has earned a Bachelors of Science in both Forestry and Education; and a Masters in Science Education. He has worked as a Forester until returning to school to pursue his life’s work as a teacher of young people. He believes in the future and educated children are the future.
Not only does he teach science to 8th graders, he teaches students how to manage their time and behavior, how to become productive citizens, and helps some kids to get through the day when their parents are in jail. His day is filled with 115 different students; 28 students per class, five classes per day. Class sizes are smaller this year with one-time federal money available to hire additional teachers – class sizes last year were up to 35 students.
When our middle school was built in the seventies, the state supported reasonable class sizes that were in the twenties. With state funding not keeping pace with inflation over the past decade, there are now fewer teachers in fewer classrooms with more kids. Teachers are concerned about the crowded conditions, but they continue to bring positive energy to the classroom every day.
My husband usually starts his working day eating cereal while correcting papers at 6:30 AM. He leaves for work at 7:00, arriving at his desk by 7:35 and greeting students already at school. Usually by that time there are already more than 30 staff members in the building. I’ve visited his classrooms over the years and there is not a free moment when there are not young people waiting to talk and ask questions. They have forgotten assignments; they want to go to the library or the restroom; they want to make up school work; they want guidance on their science fair project; and most importantly, they want to talk about themselves, their interests and their families.
Our community’s children come from a range of backgrounds, but the majority of middle school students live in poverty. Poverty influences students in the classroom in many different ways. My husband is continually trying to find ways to motivate his students to apply their skills and abilities to the classroom topics but it’s hard to concentrate on science when your parent is in jail, without a job, struggling with drug or alcohol addiction or just not there. It’s hard to complete assigned homework when there is not an encouraging adult at home. It’s hard to concentrate when your family has moved for the third time that semester. Most kids succeed, but as a teacher, you work to make sure ALL your students are successful.
School’s out at 3:20 and the teachers contracted day ends at 3:50, although the parking lot is often full long beyond that. There are many after school activities for the students and they are encouraged to become involved. Participation gives them a chance to pursue other interests like athletics, intensively focused academics, and the arts. Students that participate after school often do better in school. Many days, my husband stays until 5:30, leading and planning activities for the Environmental Outdoor Club and the National Junior Honor Society.
Stretching his days into the evening, he facilitates the Parent Teacher Organization, a small group of parents and staff that work to make the middle school a better place for students. He makes phone calls to parents after school and evenings. Evenings at home also often include correcting and reviewing more of the students’ school work. Working for the area’s children, he also volunteers as a Board member for both the regional science center and youth soccer organization. It’s a long day.
This past summer in response to the interest demonstrated by surveyed students, the many local forest management and/or products industries and his own interest; he developed a new class to be taught at the middle school that focuses on the art and science of forest management. With no salary support from the school district, he developed the curriculum and planned for the initial 45 class hours.
Class development is an ongoing and continual process as the class continues to be offered throughout the year. Developing and teaching the class has been a highlight for him. The students are enjoying the class. What a great opportunity to teach hands-on science, focused on the outdoors in a regional environment where the forest industry plays a crucial economic role.
As a teacher, his primary focus is educating children for their future. He does this through continuing to learn from the students; developing relationships with students and adults; supporting the best teaching practices; learning new methods of teaching from other teachers and workshops; and being involved in the school community and the larger community. He works to become a better teacher each and every day.
My husband is not an unusual teacher. Teachers teach children to build a better future for everyone.
Ann Long Voelkner serves on the Bemidji Area School Board.