Think Teaching Is Easy? This Blog Proves You Wrong

Jul 18, 2011

Economic troubles have put public education under remarkable strain. Public school teachers are facing strong scrutiny as school districts cut faculty jobs and salaries to make ends meet. Charles Ripley is a teacher on a mission to advocate for his profession. Using his blog, Mr. Ripley hopes to paint a more realistic portrait of what it's really like to work as a public educator.

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By Sarah Wright

charles ripley 2000 Hours

Public school teachers across the U.S. are facing challenges ranging from employment uncertainty to pay cuts and budget slashing that may impact classroom activities. On top of all this, the profession is under fire from some corners, with claims that teachers enjoy a cushy lifestyle underwritten by hardworking taxpayers.

Charles Ripley, an Iowa high school teacher, started a blog, 2000 Hours, to help fight against some of the misinformation being spread about his profession. The blog is a personal and passionate defense of the work he does. As a primary focus, Ripley uses the blog to track every hour he works. For those who have never known a professional teacher, the amount of work that goes on outside of the classroom may be surprising. Can you please describe your professional life?

Charles Ripley: I teach at Ames High School in Iowa. I work mainly with juniors and seniors, teaching American literature, composition, media and British literature. I also coach Speech Club. This fall will be my sixth year in the profession. Your blog is called 2000 Hours. What's your goal for this project?

CR: I hope to log every minute I spend working as a teacher over the next year. I'm hoping this will exceed 2,000 hours, or a 50 week, 40 hour work year. The idea is that teachers put in a year's worth of work in only ten month's time. You say there's a misconception about the amount of time teachers spend working. Why do you think that is?

CR: Everyone (hopefully) has at least 12 years of experience in a classroom. They have thousands of hours of observation of what a teacher does during school hours and they think that's all teaching is. They think they know what a teacher's life is like. It's an understandable, but frustrating assumption. What made you decide to track every hour that you work? Was there a specific event that triggered your desire to make a statement?

CR: There were many reasons I began the project. The first was this overwhelming questioning of my profession, a doubt that I wanted to teach anymore. I thought, perhaps naively, that if I could show the public what I actually do and how much I work then perhaps my situation could improve.

Secondly, we ended our American literature year with the transcendentalists, and I could no longer resist the urgings of Emerson, Whitman or Thoreau to speak my truth. Can you describe a typical workday for you, during both the school year and summer break?

CR: The summer workday is very atypical. Sometimes I might not work for a week or more, sometimes I put in four to six hours before lunch. I work best in the morning, so I try to keep my early hours year round. This summer I've worked a lot on applying to graduate school and broadening my literary knowledge by reading as much as I can.

Keeping a steady schedule during the school year really helps me focus and avoid stress. I like showing up to my classroom around seven, which gives me an hour to prepare for the coming day. We have an eight-hour day. We teach six classes, supervise a study hall and have one prep hour. I usually work with around 170 students a day. In August and June my days can be long as there's less to do, but September through May is a blur.

I go home before four if I can, where I exercise, dine and spend time with friends or walking my dog. Most nights I also put in one or two hours preparing for the next day or week by reading, grading papers or renovating lessons. What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

CR: Watching kids becoming better people and knowing I had something to do with it. That's the simplest way I can describe it. On your blog, you say that after five years of teaching, you aren't so sure you'll be able to make it a full decade. Why?

CR: Teaching is an incredibly draining job. I've seen the effect that it's had on my health, my relationships and my mood. I'm not sure that all the good I can achieve is worth the personal sacrifice anymore. It saddens me to say that, but it's true. Politically, it's been a pretty rough climate for teachers recently. Do you think higher visibility of working education professionals will help to reverse this trend?

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CR: I hope so. That's part of the thought behind this blog. I want to appeal to the people in a way that our politicians aren't. I'm being utterly honest about the amount and quality of my work as a public employee. It's an expose, but directed towards myself. I'm trying to run a positive campaign for the profession, if you will. Which is sad. It's sad that politicians have been able to manipulate the public against us. Of course, it's also sad that some of their complaints about teacher quality are valid, but that's another story. Your blog seems like a pretty good way to get the message across that teachers really are hardworking, valuable members of our society. In what other ways do you think your professional peers can get this message across?

CR: I don't know. I don't know how you try to speak to a public that's either made up their mind not to listen or just doesn't care.

I think that teachers (myself included) need to do a better job of advocating and voicing concerns they have about their ability to do the job they're tasked with. Talk to parents, board members, friends and family. Many teachers are reticent to speak up for fear of being negatively judged by the public. That's going to happen regardless, so you might as well weather the storm and try to improve your situation for the sake of the students. Your blog has been up and running for a few weeks. What have you learned so far?

CR: I've learned that this vilification of teachers is international, and is being seen across Europe as well. I've also learned, that despite my worries, most people online are really nice. Even when they disagree to the core with everything I say, most of them do it civilly. So, thanks for that. 2,000 Hours is still relatively new, and you're on summer break right now. How do you plan to keep your blogging stamina up?

CR: I don't. I fully expect to see a dive around October. I will still update hours weekly, but reflections, documents or videos may not happen. This is just a project, and teaching does come first on the list of priorities. I also think it'll be really telling to the public when they see me online for the first time in weeks pale and near exhaustion. Let them see how draining the job can be. How can teachers participate in your project?

CR: Teachers can do lots of things! First, I have a Google document where they can also log their hours. They can also share the blog with other teachers. Knowing someone out there is frustrated enough to speak can be a big morale boost. Lastly, don't be afraid to speak up for yourself. Tell your students, your parents and your community just how much you work for them. Is there anything else you'd like to say about your profession or your blog?

CR: I mentioned it on my address to the private sector video, but viewership took a plunge, so I'm not sure many people got the message. I just want to reiterate that I'm not ignorant to the perils of private sector jobs, whether union work or white collar jobs. People I love dearly are being worked to exhaustion and it sickens me. I hope my blog begins a discourse not only of teacher's careers, but all careers. I want all people to be fairly compensated for the work they do. I also want people to ask 'is this job worth it,' and if not...well...leave.

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