You need to really, really think about this.
I’m not trying to scare you away; I’m just trying to prepare you. You can’t go thinking that liking kids, that kids liking you, that believing you can make a difference, that wanting to make a difference, that being smart…you can’t think that any of that is enough. It’s prerequisite, sure. But it isn’t nearly enough.
Not even close.
You need to be ready to pretty much give up a chunk of your life.
Once you have been teaching for a while, you’ll find yourself strategizing ways to carve out time for yourself, your family, your own health…because that time will mostly be taken by other people’s children and by other families. Planning, correcting papers, grading, and just decompressing can eat into your home life-the “you being you” for your family. Challenging days will dry up your well of patience, and then what happens when you get home? What is left for your children? Your spouse?
If you decide to be more involved, in coaching, running clubs or activities, taking a leadership role in your union…be prepared for even more sacrifice. Attending board meetings or participating in the PTA, lending a hand for special events…deciding to be an educator, if you really take it on rather than just going through the motions, means time given to the endeavor and taken out of your life.
You need to prepare to have your heart broken.
Again, and again and again, in a hundred different ways. You will see kids beaten down psychologically and emotionally by the lives they live and the families their losing-life lottery dumped them into. Don’t think I’m being “judgy”, there is not enough time for me to share all the mothers who leave, fathers who return after getting out of jail, live-in boyfriend, custodial non-related “grandmother”, busted for meth and heroine stories I know. What I can tell you is that children come to school bearing this weight and you will have to try and shoulder some of it to help them get through the day and what you are told you have to do. The grit, the rigor, the “raised bars”, the tests and whatnot.
You will likely see girls having babies far too young, boys unable to take responsibility even if they are willing to try, and that custodial grandparent cycle will come back around for another generation. You could very well end up teaching the grandchildren of your former students. You could also see former students die. In war, by overdose, and in the most heartbreaking ways. You may hear of a sweet, funny, freckle-faced boy from your very first real elementary classroom who, for whatever reason, made it through high school but then took his own life.
You need to be prepared to have your profession both revered and reviled.
Despite all you will have dumped onto your lap and into your life, there will be rewards. When children are thrilled to see you, either in school or out in public, when you get notes of appreciation from them or from parents, it lifts a little of that weight and helps to keep the heartbreaks patched together. Notes that say “[Enter student name here] never liked reading until he had you,” or “[Some other student] wants to come to school now because of you,” are little pieces of treasure to keep safely tucked away to be pulled out and reread on those days you wonder why the hell you went into teaching. Your students will know, and their parents will know how important you are, and you’ll see the “aha” moments in the classroom (where students get excited about learning something new); when their work shows that they grasp a concept and gain some skills…those are the times that make a teacher keep coming back to brave the bad days.
At the same time, you will have to suffer the deliberate attacks on the profession you chose. Education “reformers” will look to reduce your worth to test scores, and the value of education to empty slogans like “college and career ready”. They have been and will continue to campaign to dismiss the parts of the job you have no choice but to do, while they promote schools that avoid those parts. They will paint you as greedy, because you expect a living wage and the deferred pay you contribute to a pension fund once you retire. You will be lumped into the “lazy” category because you get holiday and summer breaks that others don’t get (never admitting that if it were such a wonderful gig, it would pay more and more people would be doing it). You will see these “reformers” look to cheapen and de-professionalize teachers, reducing them to gigged, at will hires to fuel the education market they want to profit from.
They stake proud claim to agendas called “school choice”, and “the rights of parents”, while avoiding the essential truths behind what those slogans mean in practice and why more communities and schools and students are struggling to achieve better outcomes.
Good news is: despite reformer attacks on communities, schools, educators and students: parents overwhelmingly support public education and teachers, and want to see it funded and supported.
You will be confronted with your own old age.
Through the advancing lives of your students, you will see the truth in “Days crawl, but the years fly.” It is exhilarating, scary, and inspirational. One of my early career students is now substitute teaching in my school. She was in the staff room eating lunch and I noticed an engagement ring. Her fiance was a student in my homeroom two years before her. He has been working in the school also. Two of the sweetest kids ever…But holy cow! Where did the time go??? My oldest daughter just went to college, and many students I taught have as well.
I guess that must mean I’m getting older, right? I mean, that’s how time works…if it passes for them, it passes for me too. You don’t really feel it happen, but one day it hits you. After that day the hits keep coming. My god, the time has flown. But I am so happy I chose to do what I do.
Just be prepared to be reminded one day of how old you are getting.
So…do you still want to be a teacher?
If so, you are the type of person I want doing it. The type of teacher I would have wanted for my own, the type I want my someday grand-kids to have, the type I know kids desperately need.
And I hope I get to work with you before I’m done.