John and I recently found out we were accepted into the education program we’d applied to. I wasn’t exactly surprised that we were accepted (since we both have a great deal of experience working with kids), but I was surprised at just how ecstatic the news made me. Maybe I’m feeling motivated by my student loans, since they’ve just been there, looming. Maybe I’m just excited to move beyond the academic world of writing essays for affirmation. Then again, maybe I’m just excited to start a job that I love doing.
As I head towards my new career I feel a little torn by the stigma the profession carries. Here in Canada, many people accuse teachers of being overpaid for a job they don’t consider very difficult. Then there are the teachers who have worked for years only to be burned up and spit out by the system they dedicated their lives to. Some of them have asked me if this is really the route I think is best. There’s also the general sentiment that “those who can’t do, teach,” so despite my own excitement over my career path, I often feel the need to defend my choice or explain that “I might explore other options later.” Not to mention that, as a woman, it feels like I’m giving in to that traditional cliche of finding the kind of job that people can classify as “women’s work”.
Yet in spite of all the ideas about teaching that I’ve internalized, or at least had thrown my way, I keep feeling drawn back towards the profession. Finally, I’ve allowed myself to recognize what an amazing and rewarding career path it is. Don’t believe me? Well, let me explain.
You get to be creative
Last summer I got a job running a kids’ program at the local library. My role consisted of reading books to kids, encouraging them to read at home, and doing a few crafts with them. Basically I was babysitting them for an hour so that their parents could have a break.
While I knew I would enjoy entertaining the kids and reading children’s books (who doesn’t love reading children’s books?), I had no idea I would become obsessed with crafting and building forts. After a year of focusing my attention on a computer screen, I was suddenly able to make stuff by hand. It was bizarrely exhilarating.
I realize that the typical school doesn’t allow quite as much open time for play, but most schools do offer opportunities for learning to happen in new and creative forms. I have every intention of unleashing my newly discovered creative impulse as soon as I get the opportunity.
You get to witness kids develop their own identity
When I was working as a teacher’s aide in Niger I generally only worked with small groups of students. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, I ended up helping to co-teach a Grade 7 class part way through the year. In hindsight, I can see so many things I did wrong. Up until that point I had primarily worked with younger kids, so I wasn’t always sure how to keep the attention of a class of teenagers. I also felt too young to be their teacher, and often felt torn between relating to them (“yeah, that assignment really does seem stupid”) and telling them what to do (“but you are still required to complete it in order to pass this class”). Luckily, there were many more experienced teachers to help me along the way.
I only spent one year with this groups of students, but I still got to witness many of them grow up via social media. I realize that becoming Facebook friends with your students is probably not the best policy as a teacher, and it probably won’t be something I do in the future. However, I feel really lucky that I got to witness these kids grow into adults, and now, see what they are heading off to do with their adult lives.
You have the power to change lives
I have always been infected with a naive optimism about what kind of change I am capable of bringing about in the world. These delusions of grandeur have led me to be severely humbled many times, but they have never really gone away. Whenever I see something crappy I still think to myself, “I could do something about that.”
I’ve worked on and off in different schools since my first year after high school when my mom convinced me to get certified as a special education assistant. During that time I’ve seen a lot of mediocre teachers, a lot of fantastic teachers, and every now and then, really terrible teachers. Few things have made me more furious than working in a class where a teacher would yell at students from across the room because she (or he) just assumed that the students were sneaky or up to no good. As a T.A. working from the sidelines, I wasn’t able to call out the teacher for chastising students who had only been trying to help one another with a difficult question, or were struggling with an attention or anxiety disorder. On the flip side, I’ve heard countless stories from adults about a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives by investing just a little extra time in them as children. Heck, I could tell you my very own stories of teachers who made a lasting impact on my life.
I realize teaching isn’t going to be easy. There’s a constant battle in my province for adequate school programs and support for overcrowded classrooms. I’ve also done a fair bit of substitute teaching already, so I know it can be some of the most exhausting, sometimes confusing, and often frustrating work out there. However, it’s also been some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. What better way could anyone spend their time than to invest in the kids that are going to shape our future?