A Day in the Life of a High School Teacher

As with most jobs, when the alarm goes off in the early hour of the day, the first reaction can be a few sighs as one briefly contemplates the work ahead.  Thoughts can immediately go to all the tasks that await, and for me as a teacher, the thoughts become concentrated on the lessons that will be presented, perhaps some of them less exciting than others.  But then the day develops. I arrive at my desk between 6:30 and 7:00 am and sit down for personal devotions. I peruse through the material for the day, looking at the sequence of the lessons and how I plan to teach the material.  I think of spiritual application for the young people in each of the main ideas of the lessons. I might do some grading for assignments I want ready to be passed out that day, and I make sure any copies are ready to go. Often I make a last minute change in how I want to do something in a particular class.
It’s quiet in the classroom before classes begin.  And then a slow crescendo of student banter develops outside in the hall, and I’m reminded why I became a teacher.  The interaction with the students is the joy of my work. It’s not the subject matter—that’s secondary in a certain sense.  It’s time spent with these great young people who, for the most part, enjoy being at school each day.
As the time gets closer to the first hour, I look forward to getting started.  As the first bell rings, I try to meet all 20 freshmen at the door to say “Good morning.”  I’m not expecting eye contact and a resounding “Good morning!” from each one, but I get a few who seem to make an effort.  A barely audible mumble is better than nothing.
Active conversations before the second bell rings are what I want.  A morgue-like atmosphere can make for a long class period. I want active students who are ready to be engaged and interact in class.  I begin each class period with a loud “Good morning” which is both to greet them and also to indicate we’re ready to begin. They now know that class has officially begun.  After a little back-and-forth between them and me, perhaps a “How was your weekend?” exchange, it’s time for morning devotions which sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Algebra is the first class of the day.  I can’t think of a better way to start. As the class period progresses and I’m presenting, some students are willing to answer questions quickly, and others are more content to be gleaners.  That’s okay. From time to time I’ll call on that quiet kid to show them that I know they’re there, even if they think I’ve forgotten about them. They all have different personalities, and the longer I’ve taught, the more I’ve readily accepted the diversity of students.  
As the first hour comes to a close, they scurry out with some last minute reminders from me.  There’s no break, however, as a new group of 25 begin coming in for Worldviews class. This new group is seniors, with many of them reacting to this part of the day as vampires at dawn.  Many of them mutter “So tired” as they plop down. That’s good. Now it’s my task to wake them up. Challenge accepted.
Morning break comes next which allows me to walk the halls a bit, have a few brief conversations with kids, maybe throw down a snack, then back to it.  3rd hour. 24 new students come in for New Testament, and we’re back to freshman. A little more awake, a few louder conversations, but then as the bell rings we get down to business.  4th hour brings another crop of New Testament freshman, this time 22 in number. A different group means discussions will perhaps go in a slightly different direction. I love that. That’s the type of variety that makes teaching enjoyable.  As we work through the material in New Testament, a student may ask a question I haven’t thought about before. It forces me to study further and to come the next day with a good answer. Saying “I don’t know” in front of the group is healthy—it’s not being vulnerable—it’s showing you are a real person who doesn’t have a perfect answer for every question right out of the box.  I find students appreciate that more than when the teacher is afraid not to have an immediate response to the question.
The 4th hour ends with some closing devotions and dismissal for lunch.  91 students have sat in my classroom between 8:15 and 11:45. Finally, a moment to sit down and try to enjoy a brief lunch before the bell rings at 12:10.  I walk the halls again—maybe interject a few conversations to see how students are doing. I try to ask students about their lives—jobs, sports, etc.—to try and make a connection.  Maybe there is a struggling student who comes from a difficult home or has other challenges. I want to engage them, too, and perhaps offer a bit of encouragement.
After lunch is a study hall and a free period, which goes by like lightning as I begin planning the next day and attempt to put a dent in any grading of papers that ended up on my desk during the morning.  Students will filter in and out during my study hall and free period to ask questions, so it’s hard sometimes to stay in the groove, but again, that’s okay.
The last period is Algebra again—ending as I started.  I can’t image more fitting bookends to my schedule. The 7th hour can mean either the students are much more awake, or it could mean they are worn out from a long day.  Either way, I have fun with the 14 students who get to end their day in my room. A nice size class. A few digressions and lame jokes end the day.
As the final bell rings I like to hang out at my door.  I’m located in freshman hall, so that’s who I wave goodbye to.  Many of them are whipping out their phones faster than a gun-draw in the Wild West.  It has been seven hours of social media deprivation—time to get back to it.
As I come back into my room, I try to get a bit organized and prioritize what has to be done before another day begins tomorrow.  I reflect on how things went. Sometimes I reflect on my work and come to the conclusion that high school teaching involves carefully crafted lesson plans met with casual indifference.  While this can be the case, I have to remind myself that many students appreciate what they have at a Christian high school and are genuinely interested in the subject matter.
As I said earlier, the subject matter is in a sense, secondary.  It’s important, don’t misunderstand me, but going into teaching because you love history, for example, may be a mistake.  My love for the students must supersede my love for the subject matter. If I seem to love the material more than I show care for them, they can sense it instantly.  If I don’t show enthusiasm for both them and what I’m teaching, then I dare say I’m in the wrong profession. It’s time to get out.
High school teaching is challenging, yet certainly rewarding.  The problems students face, as well as the pains they endure developing in spiritual maturity, can make for burdensome times.  Knowing the brokenness of homes that students leave each morning and return to each night can be difficult to bear. But the joy of the work is building relationships and watching them grow in spiritual maturity. The reward is showing them Christ in each subject that is taught, and equipping them with a Reformed worldview that they can take with them as they face new challenges and experiences. High school teaching is a blessed work.