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Interview with Super Teacher Jerie Rhode

Q: Run us through your workday. What’s it like?

Well, the first thing I do is I get up at quarter to five and I try to be out of the house by five thirty. There is no time for exercise at night cause I have too many demands, so I’ve kind of given up an hour of sleep and I start out the morning walking in a mall. So, I walk 4 or 5 miles there and then I can get into school at 7:05. And I walk every minute I can. I’m almost always the first one there. So, it’s kind of my unspoken job to turn on the copiers and this kind of thing.

Then I start my classroom. I have to take down the chairs; I have to get out the work; I have to pass out their first assignments of the day; I have to get all the supplies ready; I have to run through my day. Very often I’ll have teachers walking in and asking for help or advice. Then I usually have children that’ll start coming in around 7:30 till 8. Now, they don’t need to be there till ten to nine. But, they’ll come in and we’ll do a study hall. If they don’t understand something from the day before, they had trouble with their homework, or just didn’t have a peaceful place to do it at home, they’ll come to school and do it. They do their work and I’ll help them. Sometimes I get the idea that they just like to be in a community when they’re doing the work. Then I have an assigned place that I stand to bring the kids in that did not come early. And then, I do things like take attendance and take lunch count and monies for different things and that sort of thing.

My first period is my planning hour. So they would go to either music or art or PE. During that time I have to run my copies, get everything stapled and collated and put together and sometimes I can work on lesson plans; not very often. It’s just not a long enough period. Then after that, I have them the rest of the day with me.

During my lunch hour, I have several kids who will come in during lunch. They choose not to go out to recess and we usually work on the computer, or I’ll help them with something—sometimes it’s just to talk. Once a week, I’ll have a girls-only lunch and the girls can bring in their lunch and we just sit on the floor and talk girls’ stuff. And then another day I’ll have a boys’ luncheon. It’s just amazing what you learn about them and their worries and their concerns and their hopes and their dreams. So, it’s kind of a nice bonding time.

Q: When you’re done for the day, when you’ve left school—are you done?

Oh, no. There’s probably 2-2 1/2 hours of correcting to do every night, and scoring. I would need to print out these grades to add them to my paper—my hard copy. And then after that I would have to start planning tomorrow’s lesson and preparing a new unit for the next section…I’ve never been off at 3:20 teaching. You know, I never walk out without anything in my hands, even on the weekends, which are really my busiest time. I just really don’t think people understand that it isn’t something you can let go. All the way home tonight I thought about the day and the kids that really had problems coping and the ones that had problems with the new story we were reading. And why—what could I do? That’s always on your mind. In fact, I actually got off at the wrong exit and had to redo because I was preoccupied with something.

You make so many choices. Our son was graduating from college and I was in a pure panic because we were going to leave on a Friday night and I normally have about seven hours that I can work on Saturdays. And I just couldn’t figure out where I was going to get those seven hours. What was I going to do without them? And I ended up not walking a half-hour each day, and sleeping less—a half hour each day. And I figured out, mathematically, I would make up those seven hours.

Q: How many students do you have in your classroom?

I normally have twenty-four. We’re on the extended school-year program here where we do an additional five weeks of school. Now we don’t spread out those school weeks like some of the schools that go throughout the year. We don’t just make the same number of days over a longer period of time. We actually have added twenty-five days in this district to our calendar—for four of our schools. So, we had some children who would normally move or go to see parents over the weekend—or over the summer—people who might have fathers in Colorado. So, right now I’m down to seventeen. So—we have a few on vacation today. But normally I have a pretty high attendance.

Q: Do you ever sort of read all this stuff about all these dot-commers working all the time, and just sort of compare it to your own work day?

Oh, absolutely. I feel like when someone like a dot-commer’s working, they’re doing it for their benefit, for their advancement, for their income, for their upward-mobility. When I’m doing it, I’m not gonna get anything out of it, other than just seeing a child smile or feel ok, or at the end of the school year, hearing them say something nice in something they write. But I don’t get paid any more or any less depending on what kind of job I do. Where, that’s not true in any other market. You know, the better you perform, the higher you go. I’m finding in my job, the better I perform, the more jobs I get.

Q: So, you’re really good, so you have to do more work.

Oh, you’re put in charge of different committees, you’re asked to think of different things, the district calls on you. A lot of times you get the more problematic children.

Q: So, there was this study that just came out that talked about teachers’ salaries. Why do you think that is? Why are teachers’ salaries so low?

I just don’t think people value what we do that much. They think anyone can teach. Even within our profession. You know, I teach upper grades, which I think is more difficult than teaching lower grades. Until one day, I have a couple kindergartners put in my class and I realize—those people really earn their money. So, it’s just a matter of perspective. And unfortunately, I think teachers often replace childcare workers. You know, the children are in childcare and they quit going to childcare and they come into school. You don’t have to pay the teacher and you had to pay the childcare worker and I think there’s a value put on. "I’m not paying for it; then how much can it be worth? And, I’m just going from one babysitter to another."

Q: Are you hopeful that people might see the value in your work and the work of teachers?

I think we’re beginning to see people have more respect and realize it’s a harder job. When I first started teaching, people would just kind of make jokes about the summers off and this kind of thing. And now, I hear more like, "I could not do your job." And a lot of times I wanna say, "You’re right. You couldn’t." And my husband, who’s a very calm, peaceful type person, will come pick me up at school and we’ll go home together and he’ll just say, "I don’t know how you do it. I’m surprised more teachers don’t do something they shouldn’t. How do you keep your calm and patience with them?" Of course, you say that you don’t always, but—but you try to.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day?

The hardest part of my day is when I see someone being given the opportunity to learn something, and who’s off in a different world—day-dreaming or sleeping. For example: Mondays. They come in so tired; we lose so much of the day; I become so frustrated. I’m sitting here telling them something so important that they’re going to need for a test or just in life in general, and they don’t even know I’m talking. They’re off in their own place.

Q: What’s the best part?

When someone gets something. You can just see it in their eyes. When they just like, "oh, ok. Now I understand". Or, when you can tell them something where they can actually visualize it. For example we were reading a story during the concentration days in Germany, about a little girl who was remembering "Gone with the Wind". And my students had not seen the movie. And so I was acting out the Scarlett O’Hara part for them, and the drama and explaining the women’s movement within that movie, and just to watch their eyes get it. And to know that, oh—there were issues then, that there are still issues now. So that’s the best part

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