As my former pastor used to say, “I’m an equal opportunity offender.” Get ready, because it’s about to be a bumpy ride as I set out not to offend, but to plead with my fellow teachers to please, please get off the “life sucks being a teacher” bandwagon.
It’s everywhere. I see it on Facebook almost daily. On Twitter. Forwarded in emails. Diatribe after bullet point after screaming headline that bemoans the state of education, lists the many ways in which teachers are fighting a losing battle, and worst of all, tells young adults who are considering teaching to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Don’t think I don’t get it. After almost two decades in education, I know all about it. But I’m not going to scream it from the rooftops, and I’m about to tell you why. All I ask is that after you get mad at me, you take a breath and just think about this.
You’re not frustrated because of low pay, unruly kids, uninformed government decisions, and discursive meetings. Okay, you are, but that’s not what really gets under your skin. What bothers you is that you love what you do, and other people keep making it harder to do what you love doing. Period. Now that we’ve identified the problem, allow me to make some humble suggestions. As someone who’s been a happy teacher my entire career, let me tell you how you’re hurting yourself and making your job harder than it has to be.
1. When you share angry teacher letters, highlights about the myriad problems in education, and yet another blog on why a great teacher has decided to leave the classroom, you merely perpetuate the problem. You feed into the talk about town that teaching sucks. You agree with it, publicly, to everyone who knows you. You spread the word that teaching is a horrible career and those who are considering it must be deluded. You keep promising college students from following their calling by sounding the trumpets that their calling is garbage.
2. This demeans our profession and you as a teacher. You create the very problem you are fighting. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like a professional, not a petulant child. Furthermore, you are announcing to the world that you don’t like your job. And seeing as your clients are innocent kids and parents who are entrusting their prized possessions to your care, that’s not such a great message to send out into the universe. If you want everyone to respect you, have enough respect for yourself to stand up for your profession.
3. You make yourself a victim of bureaucracy and idiocy. There is plenty of that in education, and to a certain extent, you must play along. But you have a certain amount of autonomy in your classroom. You are free to love your kids and teach them to love learning. Your hands aren’t tied. Regardless of what test kids need to pass or what new math methods come around the corner, you still get to teach and watch light dawn on growing minds. You get to be responsible for that and take some credit for it. You are not a victim.
4. Anyone can point out what is wrong, but if you really care, do something about it. Get involved in your community and in local politics, vote for the right people, lobby, speak out. Take on a leadership position that allows you to effect change. Do any of the things you are free to do as American citizens, whatever might be in your comfort zone, but do something. It’s hard to respect someone who moans and groans their way through their career. You have a choice to embrace it or to denigrate it. Your call. Your consequences.
5. If you are really, truly unhappy being a teacher, please, for the love of all things holy, quit. No child deserves to have a teacher who doesn’t want to be there. Children should not be surrounded by bitterness and frustration when all they want to do is learn. If you’re unhappy with your current situation, change it. You owe it to yourself and to all of your students.
If you know me, you know I’m not some “pie in the sky” teacher who is naive to the problems in education. But as far as my students know, I love coming to school every day, I’m excited about what I teach, and I have a passion for my subject. It’s not put on, not fake, not a big show. I just happen to believe that teachers should be proud to be teachers, that they should laugh with their students every day, they should care enough about them to give them everything they have, and they should leave school knowing that no one, anywhere, kept them from teaching their kids.
When my daughter graduated from college and got her first teaching job, it was one of my most proud moments as a parent and a teacher. But it doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her face as she tells me stories about her students, falls into bed after an insanely busy day, and exuberantly reads her kids’ test scores (from the very standardized test she is opposed to) as she discovers that she taught them, really taught them. Ask my daughter’s students if she was deluded for going into education. For that matter, teachers, ask your own students. Their answers may get you to drop the negativity once and for all.