Ready: The trials and triumphs of teaching

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

The rules have changed for today’s teachers

During the week of pre-planning for teachers, some speaker at an in-service meeting will invariably trot out the list of rules for teachers in the 1800s or early 1900s. According to, these lists may not be authentic, but they show a plausible contrast to the life of today’s teachers. I’ve combined items from several of these ancient rules:

Women teachers are not to keep company with men, marry, or engage in unseemly conduct. Teachers must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless at a school function. Teachers may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores or pool halls. Drinking, smoking, or getting shaved in a barbershop is cause for dismissal. Dying the hair is prohibited. Women teachers’ dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.

To keep the classroom neat and clean, teachers must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with hot, soapy water once a week, and clean the blackboards once a day. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they attend church regularly. After school, teachers should spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books. Every teacher should lay aside a goodly sum of his earnings so that he will not become a burden on society. Teachers who perform their labor faithfully for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week, providing the Board of Education approves.

With the passage of time, modern rules for teachers have appeared. These lists aren’t endorsed by any school system as they enumerate supposedly comic guidelines, but as any teacher in the trenches can vouch, they are tongue-in-cheek TRUE. Again, I’ve combined several and thrown in a few of my own based on 36 years of teaching.

Here goes:

Teachers must take no credit, but take all of the blame. The teacher is to blame if the child doesn’t do well in school, even if he rarely shows up for class.

It’s harder to be gone than to be there. When you are gone, you’re not really gone. No matter how sick you are when you wake up, you have to drag yourself up to the school and desperately design lesson plans that a sub can do while you worry about what’s going on in your classroom.

Performance is nearly impossible to measure with current techniques. Good teaching can’t be determined with current appraisal instruments. Student performance isn’t always a good measure. The competence of a teacher in an impoverished inner city school being compared to another at an affluent community, college-prep school is apples and turnips.

The administrator evaluating your performance probably never taught what you teach, or ever taught in an academic classroom at all.

Teachers are like Marines. You’re never an ex-teacher, you are a former teacher (Semper Teach!) Teachers go up to the school during the summer and play in their rooms, moving desks around to find the perfect arrangement.

Also worth noting are Murphy’s laws of teaching:

The clock in the classroom will be wrong.

A kid is more likely to vomit when a visitor or supervisor is in the room.

The length of a faculty meeting is directly proportional to the boredom the speaker generates.

The more important the lesson, coupled with a supervisor in the classroom, the more likely the bulb in the machine will burn out.

The problem child will be a school board member's son.

Students with behavior problems are never absent — not one day — all year.

After hours of intense creativity, your bulletin boards are perfect. The next day, you will be assigned to another classroom in which the sizes of the bulletin boards are incompatible.

Once your notebook is full of good ideas, tests, sample lessons, films and a list of 500 library books for supplemental reading, keyed to your textbook, a different textbook is adopted, and your current one is obsolete.

The kid is not “weird.” He is, instead, “emotionally challenged.”

Study hall can turn ugly quickly.

After completing lesson plans to keep on schedule with the curriculum and allow you to teach remaining material before year’s end, you will lose precious class time because of “special assemblies” or prank bomb threats.

Open House will be held on the night of part two of the best three-part TV series of the year.

On a test day, at least 15 percent of the class will be absent.

I’m not saying teachers have it worse than other people or that they deserve higher pay and gratitude. But I AM saying it’s a tough job, and critics should try walking a few miles in their shoes. Are there bad teachers? Of course. Are there more bad teachers than bad any other profession? Uh, no.

If you’re a teacher, good luck, my friend, and God bless you this year.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.