This morning I read an article in the NYTimes by Charles Blow, In Honor of Teachers about a teacher who inspired him. I am glad I read the article but I made the mistake of reading the comments other readers had about the article. Now I realize that many people have some strong opinions about teachers and teaching, but most of those people have never been a teacher and don’t really know the realities of the job.
Let me address the two elephants in the room to begin: Yes, I do get more vacation time than most American workers. Unfortunately most of that vacation time is consumed by work for my job. My summer vacation is the one time during the year that I am not working seven days a week. Now I don’t say this to sound like some martyr dragging my cross to the classroom each day, I just want people to know that as a teacher my job follows me everyday. I have worked many other jobs: land leveler, bag boy, toilet cleaner, paperboy, tree trimmer, bellman, pizza deliverer; and there is no other job that stays with you every moment of every day.
The second elephant in the room is the union protecting “bad” teachers. Yes, there are teachers in the profession that are not equipped for the challenges of the classroom. Those people should not be teaching, other teachers do not want those people teaching, but those people are not as numerous as the public seems to think. The public is under the impression that for every “good” teacher there are 12 bad ones, I would turn that statistic around, for every bad teacher there are 12 good ones. Now your ideal teacher may not be my ideal, but once you spend time in the classroom you begin to understand that not every child is going to like you or respect you or learn from you, but a good school will have a teacher somewhere out there that connects with that child. You need a variety of teaching styles and teaching personalities to make connections with the variety of students.
I have taught in five different schools. In each school there were different working conditions and different challenges, but in each school there were amazing teachers…I mean amazing teachers. People who change lives. People devoted to their students. People who truly care. People who spend long hours not giving up on students. Those teachers are in every school in our nation.
I decided to become a teacher in an odd location: Pauanui, New Zealand. I was not in an education class thinking about curriculum design, I was sitting on a beach thinking about what I was going to do with my life. Like most big decisions in my life I took a 360 degree turn from what I had been planning on doing and decided that teaching was for me. I wanted to do something productive and altruistic with my life, something that would benefit society.
Twenty-one years later, I can only say that I believe I made the right choice. Sure I get frustrated with crazy parents. How many crazy parents are there? Take the number of bad teachers and multiple it by 15. Sure I get angry when all of the country places the blame for all of society’s ills on my shoulders. Certainly there are days when I want to quit because the state cuts my pay and then adds days of work to my schedule. But there is no greater joy than seeing a student learn. There is nothing like knowing that you played a small part in sending someone great into the world.
I will never earn more money from the state of Washington than I do right now, the state salary schedule ends at 17 years of experience, but I don’t really care about that. I don’t care that politicians are making uninformed decisions that make my job more difficult. I don’t really care about all of the things that happen outside of room 122, because once those students get into my room next Tuesday I will have the opportunity to make a difference and those differences can’t be weighed or measured.
I am a teacher and I make a difference.