Recently I attended a national conference, a conference in fact that I love, with passionate teachers whom I also love. As my colleague and I entered the room, we observed a table filled with giant word clouds on which we were supposed to write our reasons for teaching and post to our social media accounts with the tag #whyiteach. The many reasons teachers gave were inspiring and heartfelt.
But I couldn’t help feeling a little sassy.
You know, I’m thankful that I’m doing this important job. Yes, it’s important. Yes, it’s meaningful. Yes, it can be crazy hard. Yes, the conditions of American public education need to improve.
But no, it’s not really a sacrifice for me. I can honestly not think of a single other career that I would enjoy doing as much as I love this one.
And trust me, there are days when I think really long and really hard about other careers. If I really needed to, for the sake of my family and my financial situation, I would move on to something else, which is something the American public should think about when discussing the needs of education and the retention of experienced teachers. But for now, I don’t NEED to move on to something else for any practical reason. And, besides, at the end of the day and after inordinate amounts of time spent on Linkedin, I got nothing.
Because. . .
- Teaching high school English is intellectually stimulating. I, for a very brief period of time, worked in office jobs not well suited to my personality or my talents. My brain atrophied, I swear to you. Now, I am privileged to teach teenagers who can engage in the most interesting conversations about important stuff.
But what about students who aren’t interested in talking about important or intellectual stuff? Even then, and sometimes especially then, my brain works to figure out the best approach, the best lesson, the best scaffolding for a particular student. Teaching is like a constant game of strategy that speaks to my INTJ heart.
I. Love. It.
- Teaching is well-suited to my particular gifts, talents, interests, and skill set. I get to do all the things I love: read books, talk about books, write about books, buy school supplies, do public speaking, write with colored pens, use big words, play with technology, attend conferences in cool cities, talk to kids about their lives, watch students struggle/learn/grow/achieve their goals, keep up with the latest songs/gossip/political issues/slang, laugh.
- Teaching in a public high school allows me to interact with all kinds of people from all kinds of cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. My life is incredibly rich with interesting people who challenge me to confront my own presuppositions and introduce me to new perspectives.
Public education, in fact, may be the one place left in our society that is truly public, where the citizens of the polis come together and have to interact in a civil manner.
- Teaching is new every day, every week, every year. If you get bored as a teacher, you are really not doing something right. I have never, ever been bored.
(Except for those few times I was teaching MLA citation rules.)
I can always pick a different book, change an assignment, or pull a poem out that I’ve never even read. I can experiment on my students (in completely benign, no-IRB-form-required ways) and observe my findings. I can even make grammar interesting.
- Teaching is fast-paced, which is something I never would have imagined as a student. A teaching day done right goes by incredibly fast. I never watch the clock, except when I’m trying to figure out if I have enough time to teach all the things that day.
- Teaching is important. Yeah, yeah, I know we all say this. And I’m pretty sure we all agree. But let me just reiterate: every day I turn onto my street with a sense of satisfaction. Even the horrible days (and there are some of those) matter. Working with human beings can be incredibly hard, but the rewards are immeasurable.
As I close this calendar year and enter a new one, I want to remind myself and my fellow teachers of all the reasons we continue in this profession and why I still view it as the best option for my life. I will never continue in a career just to be a sacrifice. I choose instead the life path that rewards me every day.