It is generally believed that teachers are supposed to love what they do and sacrifice for their job. We teachers are asked to spend our days educating other people’s children in everything from letters and numbers to Latin and neurons. We wipe noses, tie shoelaces, replace forgotten lunch money, and even console youngsters when they are faced with the harsh realties of the world. We share our wisdom and our wit, we entertain and we enlighten. Teachers are Homo Universalis or the Renaissance Men and Women of our times. And for some children we are the only responsible adults they will ever know. Our job is a diverse and complicated one for which we are expected to volunteer our extra time and dedicate our passion for learning while working at a “cost of living” wage.
Most teachers I know do not teach for the paycheck, the benefits, or the schedule. They teach for the love of teaching. They love working with students, they love spending their days in the classroom and not the office, and they love how they sleep so well at night knowing that their days’ efforts were not spent in vain.
Yet there are days and times when I reflect on this job and career that I love and all I want to do is pick up my ball and just go home. If it weren’t for my families need for food, clothing, and housing, I might even just outright quit. What makes me so frustrated are the sometimes bizarre ways that schools are run, and the many times backwards, inefficient, and illogical way education itself operates.
What I most resent is the attitude of some people that teachers should just do what we are told and love what we do just because we get to do it. The ignorance of non-educators about the depth and complexity of teaching others is mind-boggling. The attitude that any adult who has ever held the hand of a child can teach them to read, write, sing or even calculus is insulting. But we the teachers all know better.
The fact is that we are willing to sacrifice for our jobs because we do love teaching. We know the joys of those moments when we realize that in a small but significant way we have changed the lives of our students. Sometimes it through teaching a fact or equation that opens the door for further understanding for a student. Other times it in sharing a life experience that ensures the child that things really will be Ok. Every once in a while it is having our own lives changed by the sincerity or honesty and caring of one of our pupils.
A law enforcement officer recently complimented me for being a teacher. He shared that he couldn’t understand how high school teachers put up with those little darlings day in and day out and that given his experience with some of today’s youth he respected my endurance. I responded that high school kids were really a lot of fun to spend time with, and that most of the students I taught were very well behaved in my classroom. I suggested that the individual cases that he interacted with were in fact the exception.
What I most love about teaching is being in the daily presence of the developing individual. I get to see students grow intellectually, emotional, and even physically over the course of four years. Most start out as frightened mush-headed knuckleheads. When they graduate they are young adults with their eyes wide open ready to take on the world. And I get to not only share but also participate in their optimism and hope for the future. It’s awesome.
One of my former students who recently finished his AA is applying to a handful of universities. He had an interview this week with UCLA for one of their high-profile programs. He came to see me before the interview for advice on everything from dress to facial hair (I told him to shave.) I also passed along this little gem: eat an apple 15 minutes before the interview. It helps to calm the stomach and will prevent dry mouth. Plus I think its just good eating. Anyway, my cell phone rang during class right after lunch on Friday. My former pupil had just completed the interview and wanted to share the results. Now tell me, in what other job does someone get to enjoy this type of mentorship?
Oh course, mentorship also means that you endure your pupils’ hardships as well. Life is difficult for everyone. People struggle. It’s brutal to have to watch those you care about muddle through the challenges in their lives. Sometimes growing up is a painful experience. It’s painful for the child, and its painful for their supporters. And the more students that you teach in your career, the greater the chance that you will be affected by the difficulties of some of the lives of those you educate. It’s inevitable, difficult, and yet somehow comforting to know that from time to time you will participate in and positively contribute to the maturity of another individual.
There is just something cool about participating in the improvement of others. Much like doctors, pastors and therapists, teachers get to see individuals grow right before our eyes; and not just one or two but whole classrooms full of them. Not only that, but we get to guide and influence that growth. It’s amazing when you sit and think about it. If we are the pebble and our students are the ripples in the pond then just think about how far our influence will go in their lives. I still reflect on the influence of my schoolteachers and that was a VERY long time ago.
So when you consider that huge impact that teachers have on their students, and by extension the world, then maybe we should just simply be thankful to have the privilege of being teachers.