Why I’m a Teacher and How I Got Here
Teaching’s a funny profession. Not funny ha-ha but funny weird. It’s funny because nearly everyone has an opinion on teaching: how to teach, who should be teachers, who shouldn’t be teachers, why teachers are the bane of society’s existence or modern day martyrs. There doesn’t seem to another profession, career, occupation, day job, what-have-you, that gets people so riled up like teaching.
It’s funny because I don’t like talk about my opinions on teaching much. Whenever someone criticizes my career of choice, I get a sick feeling in my stomach and fire in my throat, that often renders me unable to explain how important this job is, to me and to society. The feeling is almost has strong as when someone mocks me for being a Southerner or picks on the South a little too much. Fred C. Hobson identified this feeling as “the Southern rage to explain.” I’ve had this rage for years and now I’ve come down with a bad case of “the teacher rage to explain” as well.
You see, I didn’t plan on being a teacher. When I was an English major, I found no inquisition more annoying than, “What are you going to with that [major]? Do you want to teach?” I usually responded in a huff, “No, I’m not going to be a teacher! You can do a lot of things with an English major.” This question annoyed me for two reasons. One being that the said person implied that a major was only a tool to get you a job rather than a subject of study and fascination. Second being that I didn’t know what I was going to be. But I wasn’t going to be a teacher. It wasn’t good enough.
There, I said it. I used to believe, like so many people, that the teaching profession was lower on the totem pole that being, say, a journalist, PR agent, publisher, etc. Teaching wasn’t special enough for me.
Obviously, things changed. I graduated in May of 2010 and quickly enrolled in a teacher training program in my hometown. After my years of rejecting the notion of being a teacher, I was on my way to being one, ready or not.
And with this new job, came the comments:
What do you know about teaching? (Valid point.)
Are you just going to do this for a few years and then go to grad school? (I admit that this was my thinking at first. In fact, teaching was originally a way for me to stall grad school.)
Your students will never appreciate you. (False.)
Wow, that must be so rewarding. (Then why don’t you do it?)
I could never be a teacher! (Good thing you don’t have to.)
There are no more good teachers today. The problem with the education system is the teachers. (Incompetent teachers are a piece of the broken down locomotive that is our education system. Not the whole machine.)
Of course, there were many people who said encouraging and thoughtful things. I am grateful for them but in some ways, I am more grateful for the people who discouraged me, for the people who said teaching wasn’t good enough for me or good enough in general, and for the people who just generally thumbed their noses at my new profession.
I’m thankful because their comments made me examine my own attitude toward teaching. Why did I treat teaching as something I had settled for? Why did I feel the need to defend my profession? Did others’ disapproval remind me of my own conflicted notions about teaching?
My first year of teaching was not what most would call a success. It was a success because I survived and my students learned something. My spirit was nearly broken when May 2011 rolled around. It is true. I was not prepared for what I would see, hear and feel teaching 15-18 special needs elementary students in a Title I school. I was not prepared for what I would see, hear and feel among other teachers, administrators and staff. I was not prepared for how deeply I would love my students and how much their pain and suffering would affect my own life. I was not prepared to be loved like by a mother by some students and hated with deep rage by others. I was not prepared to feel psychically unsafe and threatened in my own work environment.
I finished my teaching position in May and resigned. A little voice told me, “Don’t quit teaching.” I wanted to give teaching a go again in a different environment, with more freedom and in a position that matched my own strengths. I found myself in La Violeta, Costa Rica February 8, 2012 with a sea of 32 little face looking up at me with a sense of wonder and excitement. The same expressions held by my students in August of 2011. I walked with a sense of determination in my classroom and begin teaching English as a foreign language. Every day I learn more about teaching. There are days I hate things about teaching, the way I can feel bone-tired and emotionally dried up after a hectic day and the way I will never leave my work at work. Still, this job feels right. I feel lifted by my students’ naturally optimistic souls, encouraged by their sponge like absorption of new material and challenged to be better each day.
Teaching is something that I’ll always carry with me. I don’t know if I’ll always be a teacher. Right now, I can’t imagine anything else but I am aware of how life and we, our selves change. But my attitude toward teaching has changed. I rejoice in my career, long for others to do the same, and forge onward with purpose and pride.