Is Sacrifice Needed To Be Good Teacher?

by | Apr 7, 2019

The teaching profession is synonymous with self-sacrifice. Teachers regularly go the extra mile. They go into school early, stay late, take work home, plan and attend special events, give their personal time, energy, and money to help their students succeed.

Self-sacrifice has become part of what it means to be a teacher, but is it needed to be a good teacher? Click To Tweet

Prepared to Give

Those entering teacher education programs understand what it means to be a teacher – at least in concept. There are discussions of the many roles that teachers take on. There are conversations about the workload. Even though starting teaching (and even student teaching) can be a shock to the system, they don’t enter the classroom unprepared.

However, in teacher training and practice, the sacrifices that an educator makes is always framed as being worth it to help make a difference in children’s lives. So, we enter the field knowing that this is part of the job.

But, does it have to be?

Why Teachers Give So Much

Unfortunately the answer isn’t as straightforward as we would like it to be. There are many factors that influence a teacher’s self-sacrifice for her position.

Here are some of the contributing factors to why teachers give so much:

  • make a difference 
  • catch up to the workload
  • prove dedication
  • help individual students
  • improve assessment data
  • share a passion
  • fulfill a role
  • improve community
  • meet expectations of others
  • fulfill duties
  • demonstrate knowledge
  • feel an intrinsic reward
  • give back
  • showcase leadership

It is possible to divide this list into three sets of factors:

Reasons teachers choose, have been conditioned, and feel obligated to give so much.

The difference between these three lists is of major concern when discussing teacher resilience and well-being because from the outside they all look the same. However, to the teacher, the distinction can be the difference between a fulfilling and a draining career in education.

Choice-Sacrifice

When teachers choose to extend (or over-extend) themselves they are entering into the work with open eyes. They understand the level of commitment and they choose to give of themselves for the cause.

This type of giving is not necessarily completely self-less. Personally, I am of the opinion that every transaction has a give and take. 

When a teacher chooses to embark upon work that is clearly above and beyond the required workload she gets the satisfaction of sharing her passion and expertise – knowledge or skill and showing her abilities and leadership beyond the classroom. There is an intrinsic motivation for this type of giving – the warm glow that you feel when you know you are helping others because it is what you choose to do. This type of self-sacrifice has always been a part of teaching and is often what can keep the spark going during a tough term.

Conditioned-Sacrifice

Conditioned-sacrifice is tricky. It is tricky because it can easily be disguised as choice-sacrifice. 

This type of self-sacrifice is done because the teacher believes she has to – that it’s part of the job. Extra, less joyful tasks, that a teacher says yes to because they have been conditioned to believe that if they are a good teacher they will do it. So the teacher does it – not because they see the extra work as valuable to their students, or because it’s even required, but because it is what they believe they should do. Even if it’s not.

Obligated-Sacrifice

Obligate-sacrifice is just as it sounds. It’s the extra-work, the after-hours work, that has shifted into required practice. It is the assumption that teachers will pick up what needs to be done and it is often assigned work outside of the contract and requirements of a typical teacher’s day.

This level over-extension is perhaps the most difficult to overturn because it is already institutionalized. However, this just as the other two need to be topics of conversations in all teacher resilience training and professional development.

Where Does Your Sacrifice Fall?

So, Is Self-Sacrifice Needed to Be a Good Teacher? The first step is answering what type of self-sacrifice you are doing – is it your choice, have you been conditioned to do it, or is it an obligation? If the majority of your “extra workload” is falling into the latter categories it is time for a reassessment of priorities and perhaps a frank discussion with your team. However, if you are giving of yourself because it is your choice, your desire, and passion – then it could be exactly what you need to keep teaching strong and with resilience  – just listen to yourself and be mindful of creating a balance in your life. 

If you are intersted in learning more about teacher resilience check out these resources:

Article: The Importance and Impact of Teacher Wellbeing

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