There is a dichotomy to teaching, which I am grateful for; for every working minute, ten months of the year, we are in the moment – there is no other choice. When I am in my classroom, surrounded by children, my mind is fully focused on the needs and opportunities of the present moment; there is no time for thinking about any of the conditions or problems of my home life. The last six months of this past school year were very challenging on the home front, with death, surgeries, illnesses, and such, and I was never so grateful for this facet of my work. Conversely, at the end of each school year, there is time for reflection; what worked and what didn’t work in the past ten months, and how to improve the experience in the next ten, for the children whose development I will then be charged with.
Reflection is an important part of being successful as a teacher. Summer break is vital, not only to refill the emotional, and physical reserves (which do become depleted after ten months of intense engagement with students, parents, administration and peers) but also to think, to revisit, to plan. Last summer I worked a lot, and took state mandated classes, and returned to the classroom in August, not fully “spiritually” prepared for the year ahead. It was still a great year, but I knew that this summer I owed it to myself and to my next group of students, to breathe, and to think. Then, as if to support that plan, the Universe heaped one challenging event on top of another, so that, come June, there was no other choice but to step back and engage in a bit of self care.
This summer I enjoyed the company of my wonderful family and friends, I sat on a beach in Mexico, I read, I zip lined, I swam with sea turtles, I sailed on a catamaran, I cleared out closets, I redecorated, and I organized twenty years worth of accumulated teacher “stuff”.
The break of the summer naturally lends it self to reflection. This summer, when it came time for that reflection, I engaged in an annual train of thought and self-analysis (which I’m not totally sure is unique to my profession, or just to me); I considered why it is that I do the job I do?
I contemplate my career choice, and it’s impact on my family, my finances, my health, and my personal and spiritual development. I know, this year in particular, that many, many educators in America have done the same. Record numbers of teachers have chosen to leave the profession altogether after the many debacles of the last school year. And I totally understand why. What other profession puts such demands on its members, while paying them so meagerly, and valuing them (at a societal level, at least) so poorly? It’s a tough number, and only those who feel compelled, at their core, to teach, can survive the job in the long term, without becoming bitter and jaded. I do know a lot of teachers who feel that it is their “soul’s calling”. I envy them. While I have been perceived to be a fairly decent teacher by some over the years, once again this summer I find myself reflecting on why it is that I teach. I consider the reasons against:
Being a teacher means that for ten months of the year, there is an expectation that I am available to answer emails, calls, and texts between the hours of 6 am and 11 pm, seven days a week.
Being a teacher means that the bar on my qualifications is constantly moving, and I am required to take course after course, on my own time, and often on my own dime, at the whim of my school district and state.
Being a teacher means that at social events, when the conversation comes around to disclosing my career choice to other professionals, they usually say, “Oh, that’s nice”, and shortly after move right along to engage in conversation with someone a bit more influential or powerful.
Being a teacher means, despite earning about forty percent less than similarly qualified professionals in other fields, I spend a hefty amount of my own money on my classroom and students (sometimes even buying clothes and food for them).
Being a teacher means sleepless nights worrying about how to get through to that child who is shutting me out, or those children who aren’t learning as they should.
Being a teacher means not only devoting myself to my students, but also having to manage the sometimes challenging behaviors of their parents and guardians.
Being a teacher means working in a petri-dish of germs, being sick frequently and sometimes (more often than you would image) being pooped, urinated or vomited on!
Being a teacher means taking a fresh classroom full of students into my heart every year; living their success and failures, their joys and their tragedies as surely as they were my own, and then having to let them go.
Being a teacher means that I miss my own children’s school events, because they often coincide with those at my school.
And here are a few that aren’t particular to my situation (because I am lucky enough to currently work at a Montessori charter), but which I have experienced, and which are part and parcel of life as a teacher in traditional public schools;
Being a teacher means having to write five page lesson plans for every lesson I plan to teach, without ever being given time at work to write them (goodbye weekend).
Being a teacher means having to teach in prescribed ways (depending on the educational philosophy flavor of the month, at district or state level) and not being trusted to teach or assess in the ways you know work.
Being a teacher means that the bar on expected income and benefits is also constantly moving, with regular adjustments being made to pension, pay scale, and bonuses (and many of the recent changes on this front make no sense at all).
Being a teacher means (and this has been the career-ender for so many teachers this year) losing instructional time with your students for up to three weeks a year, so that they can take often changing, district or state mandated tests, that do nothing but turn your students off learning, and do little to show their actual abilities.
These are the things I consider every summer. With all those negatives, why is it that for fourteen summers now, I have reflected, and still decided to go back to the classroom and do it all again? It’s because every summer, I remember the reasons why I love teaching:
Being a teacher means being given the gift of a new group of amazing young people to love and nurture every year. Now, that may not be a very politically correct thing to say, given how we aren’t supposed to touch, much less hug (I teach kindergarten – hugs happen), our students these days, but I don’t know one good teacher, who doesn’t develop a real affection for, or connection with, his or her students every year.
Being a teacher means that I get to share in the failures and successes, joys and tragedies, of the students in my care. I get to offer congratulations when they come in on Monday, all excited about their soccer team’s win, or the great party they were at, or their new karate belt. I get to offer them encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, and yes, a hug, through losses, divorces, deaths, and whatever else life throws at them in our time together.
Being a teacher means that I get to facilitate a-ha moments on a daily basis. I get to shepherd my students down the path of discovery. I get to witness the look on their faces when that thing they have been working so hard to understand, finally and suddenly becomes apparent.
Being a teacher means that I get to teach my students that learning is a magnificent endeavor. I get to teach them to take that pleasure for themselves, and to push towards understanding and success, not to make me happy, nor to make their parents happy, but because it makes them feel good to do it.
Being a teacher means that I get to participate in the pure, unadulterated joy of childhood every day. I get to see things through the eyes of a child, and experience the wonder of everything anew, over and over again.
Being a teacher means that I am influential and powerful because I get to nourish humanity at its very roots. I get to encourage children to see beyond themselves; to their classmates, to their communities, and to the world. I get to help them develop a sense of themselves as capable and responsible members of society, and stewards of our planet. Every day I contribute to the formation of good, kind, well informed and well rounded human beings. We need those.
These are the reasons why I teach. The pros are fewer in number than the cons, but they are infinitely more powerful. So, despite the abuses, love and learning are the “drugs” that keep me coming back for more every year. That’s why I teach.