Why Being a Teacher is The Best (and Worst) Job Ever.
My name is Dr. Tiffany Carr and I am, admittedly in a love-hate relationship with teaching.
At this point in my career, I feel as if I have earned the title of “veteran teacher”. I, perhaps more than
most, have packed a whole lot of different experiences into the years I have been a teacher. I have taught at 14 schools (albeit half of those were in my first year of teaching. Yes, there is a story there… for another time). I have taught elementary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate studies. I have shared classrooms, traveled between schools, and been completely isolated. I have worked with countless numbers of principals and professional learning communities. It’s been a journey, to say the least.
Perhaps you can relate.
Sometimes I am a bit jealous of those of you who can’t.
But, all those experiences have informed my position at this moment – which is, no matter what your teaching experience, where you teach, or how – teaching is the best (and worst) job ever!
Alright, here’s my “back in my day” spiel:
When I started teaching we used overhead projectors, there weren’t smart boards, and students didn’t have cell phones in their back pockets. We definitely didn’t have VR headsets, video conferencing capabilities, or even wifi (gasp). My point? Yes, I have one. The environment in which we teach has changed drastically since I began my career. However, if you think about it, has how we teach changed with it?
Not really and not for a very, very long time.
Right now is an exciting time. There are many opportunities for students to learn and explore. The level of knowledge available to students at their fingertips is astonishing and yet, most schools still operate under the same education framework as was in place when our grandparents were in school.
Keeping it old school (literally) is doing a disservice to our students and this is one of the ways that teaching can be the worst job (even though it’s the best).
Teaching is great. You get to be a part of your students’ stories, share in their successes and lead them toward greatness. You see how much your belief in them can change how they see themselves, and on a regular basis, you get to have some very funny and interesting conversations with young people (like that time when the student told me about her pet chicken that sleeps under her bed). It’s a pretty good gig.
However, most teachers aren’t in a position to really dictate how they teach. I mean, they get to choose what they are doing each day (mostly), but can you choose to blend your subjects so that students aren’t having to take off their math hats to put on their history hats? Can you spend a day totally immersed in a subject exploring the impact of your curriculum? Can you go outside when you want? Can you follow a tangent that might lead to more engaged learning? Can you take a break to motivate students to be responsible digital natives? Can you let students follow their passions? Can you really, when you think about it, teach how the students deserve?
For most teachers I talk to, the answer is no.
This year, for example, my homeroom was very opinionated when it came to standardized testing. They wanted to get it over with quickly, they didn’t believe it was a good snapshot of who they were, and most importantly they weren’t very motivated to do well on them. Enter me. A teacher who has been through this, a lot, and for the most part, secretly, was in total agreement with my students. However, I found myself in a position of opposing my students and defending the tests. Basically being a bit of a hypocrite, and doing so because, right now, we teach a certain way and as a teacher, right now, I have to work within that framework. I lost sleep over this that night.
The more we teach the more we find that we are existing within a system that doesn’t quite make the best sense and that isn’t quite preparing students for the world they are entering after school.
There are exceptions and I hope that there are many more to come.
And the kids. Well, they are the best (and the worst).
Yep, I said it. We want to see them succeed on a level deeper than just because it’s our job. We lose sleep over them, worry about their well-being and wonder what they are up to when they aren’t at school. We believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves. And there is not much that feels as warm and good as helping a student achieve what they thought was impossible.
But, they are kids and eventually, if you teach long enough you are going to get your heartbroken. When that kid who you stay late after school with each day to work on homework, that kid who you sneak a granola bar to each morning because he’s hungry, that kid who told you all his personal baggage and you have sympathized with and supported every way you can does something undermining or disrespectful, when he falls off the path you have created – it hurts. It feels personal. And you have to let it feel personal, knowing that he’s just a kid and he still needs you and your support – maybe even more now.
It’s the nature of teaching, the heart-wrenching truth of teaching, that when you care deeply about your students, you open yourself up for some pain.
The key is to not let it close you off and to move forward knowing you can and do make a positive impact in ways both seen and unseen ways.
So, what do we do?
Maximize the good, because it is really good.
Celebrate the accomplishments, big and small. Remind ourselves that we can never see the full impact of what we do each day and believe that we are making a positive difference.
Minimize the bad, because it has the potential to be really bad.
Cut yourself some slack. Know that each day offers new opportunities to reteach and rebuild. Take care of yourself – you are doing more good than you even know and you are no good at all to your students if you let yourself burnout.
In the end, we take the good with the bad, because we believe in what we do and we know that we can make a difference.
This is what Joy in Teaching is all about.