Monday, May 16, 2016

Please Don't Be a Teacher

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’”. – Dan Rather

I hope my title doesn’t offend you, but if it does, maybe there’s good reason.

If you’re looking for an easy job, one where you punch in and out at a regular time, please don’t be a teacher.

If you’re looking for a job where you don’t bring your troubles or your work home with you at the end of the day, please don’t be a teacher.

If you see the job, and all you see is summers “off”, please don’t be a teacher.

Because, you see, you have it all wrong.

There are no “off” hours to teaching. Teachers earn a salary. I very deliberately use the word “earn” there, as opposed to “teachers are paid” a salary. Believe me when I say that teachers earn every penny of their low wages. Teachers arrive early and stay late. We bring our work home and continue working hours after the school day has ended and we work weekends. Yes, we know going into this career that this is how it is going to be and we do it anyway.

The thing is, good teachers don’t really “choose” teaching. It’s more like it chooses them. Good teachers, great teachers, feel a pull – a call – to teach.

We fully realize the responsibility we have. This is not a joke to us. We did not take this job just for the holidays. By taking this job, we know we are the ones responsible for teaching our kids the information they will be required to know for all future years to come. That is pressure. Their knowledge base is entirely dependent on what we put there. Everything we teach, everything we say has to be accurate, has to be reliable because we have to be trustworthy. They have to know that they can count on us no matter what because if once we prove to be doubtable, they will always be hesitant. We have to keep the bar high.

Being a teacher has no “hours of operation”. We will worry about our kids because once they are in our class, they are “our” kids. It doesn’t matter what grade we teach. I have a sister who teaches third grade. I have another sister who teaches eleventh grade. I teach college. The one thing we all have in common is that we worry about our kids. When a student is going through something, it translates into problems in the classroom, problems in the work. I worry about my students as fellow humans. Sometimes, when we know their particular horrible situations, the worry is enough to keep us up late at night. Being a teacher means teaching the whole person, seeing the whole person, and not just the parts that are masked and presented in a classroom. Being available to talk when needed is important.

We give so much of ourselves during the school year that when the summer comes we are exhausted. However, despite the large number of teacher friends I have, I do not know a single teacher who actually gets a “summer off”. Summers are used for planning our fall courses, for revising, revamping, and attending conferences and professional development. Many teachers use this time for the expected writing, research, and publication they have not been able to pursue during the fall and spring semesters. We’re still working; we’re simply working without the students being present.

Teachers teach because we love connecting to our students. We have a passion for our subject and want to tell as many people about it as possible. We take seriously the fact that it’s our job to teach them all the things, that we have to make the determination of what they do and do not need to know at that moment.

The moment we take this job for granted is the moment we begin to fail in our position. It’s the moment we lose credibility and passion. If you only think about paychecks and holidays, please don’t be a teacher. I don’t want my children in your class. 

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