A colleague of mine wrote a post this week (found here) about the negative attitudes surrounding the field of education and teaching, and his post inspired me to write this post of my own personal experiences with this same issue. I am currently twenty years old, but I have known since I was about eleven that I want to be an elementary school teacher. I was first inspired by my second grade teacher, who greatly impacted my life in several ways, and it is because of her that I have a burning desire to teach, and hopefully inspire other young children in the way that she taught and inspired me. Unfortunately, my dream to teach was not always as impressive to others as it was to me, and I am going to relate to you the attitudes about teaching that I have encountered over the past nine years and where I think these are coming from.
The most common negative attitude I often received about my future career relates back to the potential income. It is very common for people to tell me that I should not teach because I will make “next to nothing”, but surprisingly, most of these negative attitudes about teacher income came from actual teachers themselves. This was dumbfounding to me: teachers that were “inspiring” me were so unsatisfied with their job, that they were telling me to consider another career. Why is that? When considering the perspective of a teacher, I think there are two factors that need to be considered: (1) the truth behind the frustration, and (2) false intentions.
To begin, I want to contend that I know there is some truth behind all of their complaints. Teachers, especially in rural areas, do not make very much money, given how much time they put into their work, which can understandably be frustrating. Not only that, but over the past 10 or so years, the modern school system has undergone much controversial political reform in the forms of increased standardized testing, implementation of common core, and loss of teacher autonomy in the classroom. Not to mention the daily stress of dealing with 15-30 restless students all day and the increased pressure to get each child to a certain standard at the end of the year. So, when considering all that a teacher actually does, I understand why it could be stressful and frustrating. However, my second point relates to false intentions. What are these teachers teaching for? Is it for money? – not likely. Is it for acknowledgement and praise? – hopefully not. Is it for the sheer love of inspiring others? – it should be. To me, teaching is not a career field you should get into for your own personal benefits, because you will be greatly disappointed. Teaching is special, because it is one of few career fields that you get into, knowing that you won’t get much financial benefit, but still pursue because you are passionate about inspiring others and changing their lives in some way. It is a selfless career field. I think if most teachers taught for this reason, the love and desire to inspire children, then teachers would be more satisfied with their job, despite all of the many frustrations, and encourage others to fill in their shoes when their time of teaching is over.
Despite the attitudes from teachers, I have also received various negative comments regarding the quality of teachers. There is one conversation that I had with my tennis coach senior year of high school, about my future career as a teacher, that I will never forget. I was talking to him about possible colleges and grades when he asked, “what is your GPA? ” I told him “Well, it’s a 4.5 weighted.” Then he asked, “Which colleges were you accepted to?” I told him, “Well, all four that I applied to, but I think I’m gonna choose UNC.” Then, his response was unforgettable. He turned to me, and with the most serious look on his face, he said, “You don’t need to be a teacher. You are smarter than that.” Although, some may see this as a compliment to my intelligence, I saw it as a direct insult. What do you mean “smarter than that?!” Do you want a “dumb” person to educate your children? Do you want a “dumb” person shaping the minds of our future? This comment was unbelievable to me, and although some may not openly express it in the way that my tennis coach did, I am sure that there are many who think this way. There is a common phrase that goes, “those who can’t, teach.” What does this mean? To many, this phrase means that teaching is sort of a last resort. That, if you cannot excel in a money-making career field, such as engineering or medicine, you could always teach. However, to me, this phrase means something different. In my mind this phrase means:
To those who cannot stand to see our school systems continue to devolve – TEACH.
To those who cannot stand to see children continue to slip through a system that overlooks their “atypical” intelligence – TEACH.
To those who cannot let their greed overcome their passions – TEACH.
To those who cannot wait to inspire children and shape the future – TEACH.
I think it is about time we start reshaping the way that we think about teachers. To those who are already in the classroom, my advice is – don’t let the frustration get to you. If you are teaching for the right reasons, you may not be rewarded for all of your work financially, but you will surely be rewarded in other ways that are much more meaningful. Also, remember that any job comes with its own frustrations, so embrace the good things and try to forget the bad. For those who are not in the classroom and judging from the outside, I suggest that you ask a teacher or visit a classroom, just to see what teachers do on a daily basis. If this doesn’t change your mind, maybe consider the fact that your children’s futures depend on how these teachers shape their minds and how they funnel their talents into new areas unexplored. So for those of you who still hold a negative outlook on teaching and education, remember that teachers are literally shaping our future. So, yeah… they’re kind of a big deal.