This I Believe

Allen - Oceanside, California
Entered on August 8, 2006

I believe that teaching is the noblest of professions. At least, I did until I was left scrambling for a job last year because an out-of-subject tenured teacher needed a position. With first baby on the way and a mortgage to pay, I realized that qualifications didn’t matter as much in employing a teacher as being at the right place at the right time.

At the last minute, I stepped in for a teacher who unexpectedly quit and played catch up for most of the year. Toward the end of the year, my best student, the one whose paper I learned to read last, as not to bias my expectations of other students, told me she wanted to grow up to be a teacher. I looked for ammunition to point toward some other career, something valued like a doctor or lawyer.

She was the student for whom the favorite teacher catchall, “You can do anything you put your mind to” was invented. Pumping her for what she knew about the profession, I began to realize that every other teacher she had spoken to had also tried to dissuade her from teaching. They had told her she was too smart to teach and told her to be a doctor or lawyer.

I suddenly became more cognizant of the tragic ambiguity that teachers, at least the ones I know, have about the profession. We complain a lot, mostly to each other. Every one of us has talked about quitting at least once, if not once a year. The lonely weekends and weeknights of having students’ homework become our homework. It is perfectly reasonable to love it one day and on the next have complete support for the colleague who suddenly leaves to become the realtor who makes the real money off our school’s success.

In the teaching profession, I believe experienced teachers are battered into settling for the low expectations set for us. Standardization has pushed our very human jobs awkwardly toward automation. Those with the passion and energy to innovate have the most explaining and the most paperwork. There is an inherent guilt in teaching. You can never do enough when there is so much to do; a lot of which is beyond your control.

All semester long, before school, at lunch, my brilliant young student pestered me with all the great things that teachers have done for her—the difference we made by simply listening. At one point I broke down and spoke up for my profession. I spoke with the urgency and passion that I had when I told my friends, relatives, and teachers that I wasn’t going to be a doctor or lawyer, but a teacher.

I believe that teachers should stick up for themselves and always find reminders of why they teach all around them. I believe that teachers should listen to their students because unlike doctors or lawyers, the greatest value of our job is not what we do but who we do it with.