© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Life And Times Of Teachers In The Modern Age

Rob Dillard
Hoover High School teachers (front row, left) Jeanette Hollins, Danielle Baugh, (back row l-r) Chris Knee, Eric Hall and Jerry Rohach.

The challenges teachers face when students are distracted by outside-the-classroom influences are enormous. A group of Hoover High School instructors gathered recently to talk about the things that can block a teacher’s best efforts.

The reasons people go into teaching are varied, said Hoover High School teachers Jerry Rohach, Jeanette Hollins, Chris Knee, Danielle Baugh and Eric Hall. 

“I enjoy seeing changes in kids.”

“I wanted to be kind of this figure for minority students that kind of look like me.”

“Both of my parents were teachers, so I grew up in a family of educators.”

“I just wanted to show kids they can express themselves freely through art.”

“I had really positive experiences in my schooling.”

Although they come to the teaching profession along different paths, the things they experience once in front of a class are quite similar. Absenteeism, behavioral disruptions, social media interference, unsettled home lives. 

“Kids have issues all over the place," said Jerry Rohach, a coach and behavior interventionist.  "And they’re not necessarily what’s going on within our classroom.”

There’s a common concern among today’s teachers. It’s something school districts have been struggling with for a very long time. 

“Student attendance in classes is a real problem,” said technology teacher Chris Knee.

If they’re not in class, where are they? Social studies teacher Jeanette Hollins puzzles they’re not driving around town or hanging out in nearby parks.

“Kids are skipping class, but they’re staying in the building,” she said.

In other words, Hollins said, they’re skipping class to roam the halls. At the opposite extreme, there are also problems when everyone shows up for class. Overcrowded classrooms are stressing out teachers. Art teacher Danielle Baugh has up to 38 students in a class. It keeps her on the move.

“When I wear my Fitbit, I walk four miles a day just walking to kids,” she said.

The large-sized classes pose special difficulties when there’s a range of academic abilities. Jeanette Hollins said it’s hard to reach them all.

“Essentially we are K-12 teaching in one classroom,” she said.

Some issues that have arisen in recent years include the advent of smart phones and social media. Technology instructor Chris Knee said schools have transitioned from a complete ban of cell phones in schools to figuring out how to work them into assignments.

“We use them as technology devices in some of our classes, to snap a picture of what you’re doing in class,” he said.

These new devices do not always serve students well, said Danielle Baugh.

“Their spelling and handwriting is gone out the window because all they do is type now,” she said.

Finally, there’s the question of school funding. Teacher salaries are not increasing by much. Some teachers are losing jobs. Baugh said these cutbacks come at a cost to students interested in vocations coming out of high school.

“We have so many kids in this population that we know aren’t going to college,” she said.

And Jerry Rohach said schools can’t afford the people needed for one-on-one teacher-student instruction.

“We desperately need instructional aides,” he said.

Plus therapists and psychologists, he said. Over his long career as a teacher, coach and counselor, Rohach has altered his expectations.

“You don’t see the big successes anymore," he said. "You’re looking for baby steps.”

At Hoover, which is the state’s most diverse high school, you can find those small, meaningful stories among a student body where more than 40 languages are spoken. 

“It’s amazing what these students have done,” said Eric Hall, an instructional coach.

Even though, Hall said, it might not be the level of accomplishments teachers want or expect.