July 22, 2021
You know the saying “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”? I heard someone say it recently and it got me thinking. And I personally think it’s not entirely true. But, then again, I don’t buy into the YOLO mindset either because, why would we do anything that wasn’t easy?
But I digress. I think that doing something you love actually means you will work harder than you ever did in a job you weren’t passionate about. And that is good. I loved DeeJaying at the skating rink in high school, but that meant we had the job of cleaning the bathrooms…used by little kids on wheels. I didn’t love that job, but I still did it well because who wants to do a hard job twice?
Teaching gets a bad rap, and mostly from people that don’t do the job or weren’t cut out for the job. No shame to either of those categories–things always look different through different perspectives and, until you’ve experienced it, you really don’t know. And if you had a negative experience, it can cloud perspectives, too.
Teaching is hard. And it doesn’t matter what you teach, this statement can apply to teaching in any field, not just in an academic classroom. You have a short amount of time to complete a bunch of items on a checklist required by various government agencies and departments in the district that want bell to bell teaching with tiered lesson plans that calculate precise and engaging learning for every student in your class, and for every minute of every day–and in writing. You have limited resources, materials, time–and in some subjects limited attention span from the students. And I can’t blame them–I am not good at some skills and I don’t work in those fields on purpose. Yet, in education, the lack of engagement reflects on teachers. And their job, their life, their family, depends on whether or not they can engage the student in the activity and make it stick long enough to pass a standardized test or licensing certification.
Then, there’s meetings, and paperwork, and duties, and committees…which usually mean work goes home with you. And, in a job that is never done, that can result in lost personal and family time and working 7 days a week if you don’t put boundaries in place. Of course, even when you do, you may endure public criticism or lack of promotion/high ratings.
And we all know teacher pay is not comparable to other occupations with similar requirements of degrees, certifications and experience.
But, from another perspective….
The challenge, while tall, can be so rewarding when you see that student get it and then light up, or better yet, share with someone else and help them. When you help that overwhelmed fellow teacher and cover their duty so they can catch up on grading or parent calls or tutoring that they are behind on. When you help out school leadership and join or lead a committee at school. When you take on a spot to coach a team in a sport you’ve never played, but you being there means that they get to play that year instead of not having a team. When you call a parent of a student you’ve called a hundred times for problems to brag about something they did well at that day and hear their pride (if they actually still answer your call). When you stay after school and help the school secretary copy and count out flyers to go in teacher’s mailboxes that need to go out tomorrow and dozen things went wrong so it’s getting done last minute and their duty day ended an hour ago, too. When you take the time to have students pick up trash, or stack chairs on desks, or you do sanitize your classroom, making it easier for that stretched too thin janitor to come in and quickly tend to your room before moving on to the next one, and the next school they have to clean during their short shift due to budget cuts. The rewards are endless and have lasting impacts on both us and them.
Teaching requires passion, but it also requires compassion.
Every person, at every level of education plays an important role in making it happen effectively.
I’ve heard the saying about how we should treat the CEO and the janitor with the same respect. I wholeheartedly believe this, and especially in education.
I’ve heard that we should never quit teaching on a bad year, but should come back for another one and try to do better. Then, if it still isn’t a good fit, at least you move on knowing you tried your best.
Most educators that chose to make this a career have bad days, too. But, after a bad day that left them screaming, crying, cursing, ready to quit–they talked to a co-teacher, a coach, an administrator, a mentor, and honed in on what went wrong, planned a new approach, and got back up the next day and tried again to get it right.
We have all had days where it wasn’t clicking, for whatever reason. The students were distracted by a holiday or a world event. You just weren’t feeling that lesson for whatever reason. The students weren’t connecting. You weren’t connecting. The students managed to sidetrack you with a million questions and the bell rang before you ever even got to the lesson (a life goal for many a middle school student). And we tried again the next day. We acknowledged that we weren’t connecting. We tried a new approach. We didn’t give up.
We’ve all had those days where we questioned ourselves. Did I do enough? Did I talk too much? Too little? Did I allow enough practice? Did I assign too much work or homework? Did they connect? Did I teach them all they need to know? Should I have done X instead of Y? What could I have done differently to get this student to engage or that student to understand and not leave frustrated?
Because, while we need to teach our content to our student, we are entrusted with teaching so much more. Kindness. Perseverance. Follow through. Keeping your word. Helping or serving others. Integrity. An open mind. Trustworthiness. An unbiased perspective. Respect.
And we do this with aching feet, sore backs, empty bellies and overflowing bladders through side effects of chronic dehydration. Because it’s our passion. Because we love what we do and want to pass on a love for the subject, the skill, the career field. And because we have compassion for each individual person that crosses our path.
Teaching is hard. And it isn’t for everyone. But, if it is for you, go do your best every day. And, if it’s a bad day, that’s okay, too. Keep getting up and trying again. Showing up matters. Yes, the world needs you, but so does that student that sits in the back, acting like they don’t want to be there, even though you are the only reason they came to school today. Or the student that is hungry that knows, if they give a correct answer and are paying attention, they will get a piece of candy to take home and have something to eat later when the hunger pains are too much. Or the student that waits until last to come into your room so they can get a few extra seconds to talk to you and a hug since that is the only kindness they will get in their day.
And just when we think we’ve got it down at the end of a great year, the curriculum changes, we get new resources, we are moved to a new school/grade/subject, the dynamic or achievement level of the new students is different from the last group. So those lessons we spent hours on and thought we’d be able to use again and again–it’s back to the drawing board.
But don’t let this distract you from your calling. The student is our entire reason for being here. Planting a seed and ensuring it will grow–whether it’s in our classroom or years later on their journey–is what we do.
You are amazing.
You are a teacher.
You are changing the world.
And if you are a brand new teacher, welcome. Don’t give up too quickly. We’ve all been there and are here to help you succeed.
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