Teaching Is the Best Profession (and Not Just Because of Summer)
It's a funny thing. When people find out that I am a teacher, they immediately offer up apologies and opinions about how my profession is notably underappreciated and underpaid. They seem to half-expect me to confess regret for my miserable career choice. During the summer, their references related to my job tend to lighten up, but they still involve pity: "Summer's a teacher's payback for the rest of the year, right?" Or, "I bet you need a couple months to recover from spending the the school year dealing with preadolescents. I don't know how you do it. Ha, ha, ha..." After decades as a teacher, I can script this predictable social banter.
But here is what I want people to know about my job: I love it. The truth. It is highly likely that someone will have to forcibly cart me out of my classroom when I get too old (okay, maybe that is an exaggeration -- hopefully I will leave my chosen career strong and at peace, content with the timing of my exit.). But in addition to offering me the cyclical opportunity to reflect, restore and explore (otherwise known as summer break), there are many reasons that this fall will be my 29th year of teaching.
HERE ARE JUST SOME OF THE REASONS WHY TEACHING IS THE BEST JOB
Teaching gives me a clear sense of purpose. I never, never ever, have to struggle with nagging questions about the value of my occupation. Teaching children is obviously important work. This deep conviction infuses me, every day, with energy for my complex interactions with students and their families. I might go so far as to contend that teaching, and its accompanying sense of purpose, offers me a vaccination against any sense of angst or self-doubt about what I should be doing with my life.
Teaching is highly nutritional. It feeds me important ideas, challenges my bad ones, and supports and sustains my intellectual curiosity and growth. True, part of my motivation to keep learning is derived from the simple fear of regret. While I would rather not be caught flat-footed or wrong when leading or facilitating learning, the inevitable failures are a part of the job (oh yes, teaching also keeps me humble).
- Teaching helps me stay culturally nimble. As a teacher, I have to constantly check my assumptions and language to make sure that I am not unintentionally perpetuating ideas that are harmful to any of my students (or simply outdated or wrong). This is good reflective practice for anyone, but it is essential for teachers. My college-aged children are often surprised that I attempt to keep up with them regarding academic debate related to race, gender, sexuality, cultural or socioeconomic theories, cognitive science, literary constructs and/or revisionist history or thought. The investment I make, and the professional development necessary, to stay aware of the constantly shifting cultural and political landscape also conveniently keeps me relevant at the dinner table (and hopefully staves off some inevitable cognitive decline).
Teaching offers me a sense of playfulness. What other middle-aged women spend their work days sitting cross-legged on the floor, crafting art projects, reading children's picture books, running around on the blacktop or the playing in the field, singing loudly, laughing hard, being teased and hugged, and dancing and singing to pop music? I do not take any of that daily joy for granted. It fuels me.
- Teaching surrounds me with interesting people. My colleagues (both in and out of my school) are the funniest, smartest, most creative and curious people I know. Together, teachers make up a diverse community of caring, engaged learners and lovers of life. We share ideas, jokes, struggles, conflicts and realizations that continually aid us in being more knowledgeable, thoughtful and caring people. In fact, I cannot think of any company I would rather keep.
So while I recognize that there are obvious challenges associated with being a teacher, we are hardly a desperate group with no other options. Teaching is a passion for many, and certainly a well-considered choice for most others. I would argue that teaching offers the privilege of living a life informed by highly coveted values and opportunities that money cannot buy. Additionally, the work is both grounding and medicinal. I feel fortunate to teach. No one needs to feel sorry for me.
Photo taken by Clara Greisman