Here are a few ideas I’ve concluded to be true about teaching, but need to keep relearning again and again.
First of all, it’s not really a “job”. At least, that’s not how I think about it. When you go to work, do you feel like you’re clocking into an eight-hour shift? Or, do you just sorta float in and out of work mode, like I do. Maybe that’s just the way that a person without kids feels about it, or maybe that’s just how every salaried person feels about work; I don’t know. Personally, I’ve always felt that teaching is simply this thing that I go and do, and I’ve never really considered not going and doing it. (Other than those first few years. But my mom was right – if you can make it to Christmas, you can make forever.) I almost always refer to it as going to school and not going to work, as if I’m just a kid on my way to fulfill the duties of fourth grade. And at some point I came to the realization that in order for me to be able to love a job, I also have to have the experience of hating it. It’s kind of masochistic. I will only ever truly love a job that at times challenges me literally to the point of breakdown. That’s what makes it a passion, I think. I’ve had other jobs that only mildly challenged me, and they bored me and frustrated me due to my lack of autonomy (I don’t make a good subordinate). I dreaded going to those jobs. Teaching allows me that position of autonomy, but also overwhelms (nay, forcefully drowns) me with responsibility, some of which is self-imposed, I’m sure. Sometimes it just really, really sucks. But it’s nothing that I can’t get over. It’s nothing that the students can’t make worth it.
Second, from September to June, I know that I will never be “done”, so I try to remember to make peace with myself whenever I just don’t feel like doing any more. I could literally go on lesson planning forever, even throughout the summer, and there’s simply no need for that. When I’ve put my heart and soul into my work for roughly 8 to 10 hours in a day, that’s enough. That’s plenty. And some days, I don’t put my heart and soul into it. I barely put my pinky toe into it. (On those days we play dodge ball and I deal with all small person complaints of any nature by putting a hand to the face and wordlessly pointing in any direction away from me.) But, in general, I bust my ass for it every day, and I go to bed exhausted and satisfied.
A third truth that I keep forgetting is that there will always be someone who appears to be a better teacher than me. I think that no matter the teacher, they will know someone who is more knowledgeable/ experienced/ confident/ fun than them. They might feel admiration or even jealousy towards this teacher, but the fact of the matter is that by working with these talented educators, they are getting better, too. And who’s to say that they are better? What does that even mean? In whose eyes? In fact, there are probably things that I do better than these teachers I think are better (but it’s definitely not teaching math.) Either way, it’s not a competition, unless you want to make it one. Nobody gets paid more for being better, just for being experienced, and we are all getting more experienced by the day. By the block.
Finally, the truth is that teaching is pretty fun. (Except when it’s not fun, like the times you have two unresolved parent complaints, a pile of failed tests, some hate art directed at you, and IEP’s to update by yesterday.) But most of the time, it really is fun. There is so much room for creativity and freedom of choice, and not everyone is blessed with such liberties at work. I can watch Labyrinth with my students and be the first to explain David Bowie. We can read powerful books like The Breadwinner and I can witness minds opening up before my eyes. We can go skating and my students can watch their teacher suck at something. We can construct things, explore things, hot glue things, summarize things, eat things… there’s just so much fun to be had. I even took my students to see Jurassic World last year and did nothing educational about it. (Sorry Sheryl.) When things get heavy, I need to remind myself that it’s usually fun, and the hard times aren’t the norm. And if they do become the norm, it’s probably just time to switch grades, not careers.*
*I wrote this in a Dayquil-induced trance and take no responsibility for typos or grammatical errors. I should have taken a sick day yesterday but I had prep and my Menace was absent so I really didn’t want to waste it.