The students are the reason why teaching is the best job in the world. Working with students of any age that have a desire to learn and are willing to grow is worth every teacher’s time and patience. For those of us who have shared an “a-ha” moment, or witnessed another human being’s idea bulb light up brightly over their heads we know just how amazing and addicting the experience can be.
This is the art of teaching. Focusing on effective delivery and designing appropriate effective assignments that give students the opportunity to actually learn something may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but I love it. Curriculum design and delivery is a skilled craft that can be learned in a teacher credential program, but must be polished and refined over years of classroom teaching.
The Subject Matter
If you love history, I mean you are really passionate about history, then there is no better way to wrap yourself up in the past then to share your love of facts, dates, and the greatest stories of all time with others. Teaching allows you to do that. In fact, your passion for the content is critical to your success in the classroom.
A week off at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Easter, and three weeks at Christmas, plus two months off in the summer. The only people who spend more time away from work then teachers are politicians. Being finished with your workday at 2:30 is fantastic, especially is you have a family.
Ok, maybe it’s not that great, depending on where you work, how many dependents you have, and what kind of debt you’re carrying around. But I am consistently amazed that I actually get paid for teaching. It doesn’t feel like a job to me. It’s certainly not a sacrifice. Unlike some of my peers, I don’t hate driving to work, and I never regret the effort that I put in during my day.
I have an ego; I’m not shy about that. When I teach I get the attention of a full room of students for hours on end as I impart my wisdom about life and whatever subject I am teaching that period. Plus I get to go to bed at night confidant that I have helped to mold and change lives in a positive way. That’s cool.
Six difficult things about teaching:
There are three basic groups of students. The first group is full of self-directed, eager listeners, who have already developed a love for learning. They are fun to teach, but not very satisfying because they don’t need the teacher to do more than deliver information and assign challenging work. The middle group comes to class because they recognize that it is the socially acceptable thing to do (ok, their parents make them), they will listen begrudgingly, and learn what you try to teach them, so long as its not too difficult, and they still have time to skateboard, chat online, or play xBox until midnight every night. These students are more fun to teach then the first group because with just slightly more effort, they will not only perform, but also will genuinely appreciates the teachers’ efforts. The third group has checked out of school mentally, and for some, physically as well. They don’t come to school unless they are forced to, they have difficulty listening or staying focused on anything longer than a music video, and they haven’t yet assigned any personal value to their education. These are the most difficult group to teach, but by far, the most rewarding once they begin to turn around and achieve.
Non-teachers, especially parents, assume that to teach a child to read or write is a simple process of trial and error. Challenging enough for the one learner, one teacher relationship. Multiply the number of learners to 20 or more, and the challenge multiplies exponentially. Best intentions and a desire to change lives are not enough to make a good, and more importantly, effective teacher. The best teacher training helps, but to be a truly great instructor, one has to commit themselves to spending time with students in the classroom delivering instruction and studying the results. It’s hard work, harder then most people understand.
The Subject Matter
All teachers would love to be able to teach what we want to. But more and more, teachers are being told what to teach, when to teach it, and sometimes, how. Standards are important and the district scope and sequence guides are key to making sure that all students get all the content that they need. Long ago teachers could spend six weeks on Shakespeare in the spring if they felt the students would benefit from the experience. Now we are bound to the topic and the number of questions included in the standardized tests.
From 7:30 to 2:30 five days a week a teacher is on stage in front of their students. We are being watch hawkishly. After 2:30 the real work begins: grading and lesson planning. I no longer teach English because spending most of my Sundays grading and not with my family quickly exhausted me. And if a teacher volunteers to coach or run an after-school program, the days at work simply seem to flow one into the other
Collective bargaining is great. Unfortunately, it also means that unequal effort and results get paid equally. Equity in education is vitally important; equity of pay between teachers who do not make equal efforts or achieve equal results is nutty.
In my classroom I am ruler of my domain. Outside my classroom I am just another Joe. While sports stars and celebrities are rejecting the label of “role model,” teachers embrace it because we’re not afraid of being seen for who we are. Unfortunately, when it comes to failing kids, the teachers are always the first to blame (after all, we do give failing grades occasionally). But the same way we are only marginally responsible for kids who succeed, we are equally only marginally responsible for kids who fail. Success or failure is ultimately up to the individual student and their support group of which teachers are only a fraction.