Teaching is poorly paid and stressful. The social status of teachers has been in decline for decades and the job has an ever-increasing workload. Moreover, teachers have to put up with spoilt children and parents who think their ‘little angel’ could do no wrong. Moreover, we are tainted by that great canard, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. So, why do we do it?
Let's Get the Downside out of the Way
Many parts of a teacher’s job are tedious: marking, invigilating exams, and writing reports all require great concentration on a very mundane task and come on top of, not instead of, the boring activities that other sectors face, such as inputting data and staff meetings.
Nobody went into teaching for the pleasure of these activities. Teachers teach for the joy of preparing and imparting classes. Preparing a class is a creative, productive and intellectual activity in which the teacher is both scriptwriter and director. However, it is in the interaction with students that our primary joys are found.
Now for the upside.
Making a Difference
Most people go into teaching inspired by one or two great teachers who made an important difference to their lives when they were growing up. It is the direct experience of the powerful positive role of a teacher that results in the calling. Most jobs these days involve pushing data around and operating machines. Teaching means interacting with real people and helping them to become better versions of
themselves. Good teachers stimulate ideas, channel energies and guide understanding. We participate in a process in which not only is knowledge acquired, but creative and critical thought is fostered. By helping people to think better, we improve society – making its members more resilient to demagoguery and equipping people to take better decisions.
Teachers serve society and get a lot back in return. To teach a class is to take nothing – a period of time in which you are shut in a room with strangers – and create something.
In that time period you handle your class like a conductor manages an orchestra. You feel the ebb and flow of emotions – both good and bad – and you channel them productively. You witness the struggle to comprehend, and you foster effort until that effort is successful. Teachers inhabit one of the few face-to-face interactions left to us outside the family (and often even including the family!). We have more real human experiences than most other people. We communicate and we grow as a result.
No doubt, not all of the preceding homily applies to you. However, if you are a teacher I’m sure some of it does. It is worth keeping these loftier thoughts and ideals in mind during the darker moments of the job. All jobs have their darker moments, but teaching has its vocational tonic to spur us on.
Do you agree with the upside and downside of teaching mentioned in the article? Can you think of any others?