Next to Parenting, Teaching Is the Most Important Job in the World

Emily - Shamong, New Jersey
Entered on October 17, 2011
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe that, next to parenting, teaching is the most important job in the world. To the core, I am a teacher; I feel it in my soul. A teacher’s eyes, a teacher’s heart, are my eyes, my heart. Because I was a teacher before I became a parent, my experiences with students shaped me as a mother. As a young teacher I truly believed I had the most important job in the world. When I became a mother, I learned that teaching had actually helped prepare me for that job.

The vast majority of high school teachers enter the classroom as I did: not much older than my students, and separated by only my bachelor’s degree, college “experience,” and student teaching. At the high school level, a 22-year-old teacher is conferred the daunting responsibility to not only teach but also to build strong, positive connections with as many as 150 students every school day.

Parents are both inspired and challenged by the unique personalities and qualities of their children as they nurture and guide them. Teachers have similar experiences, multiplied many times over, as they strive to understand and connect individually and collectively with a classroom of developing, malleable, and sometimes fragile personalities. They strive for the right balance of structure, support, and freedom, seeking to promote the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of the students, while pushing them to risk disappointment in pursuit of their full potential. It’s a gentle, difficult tug between letting go and holding on.

Sometimes fretting over a troubled or struggling student kept me up at night. I didn’t really sleep until I knew I’d done all in my power as a professional and human being to reach the student in need, to make that sometimes elusive, but always worthwhile connection to help the student succeed.

Who we are and who we become is based on our education, on what we learn at home, in the classroom, and in the world. As the superintendent of a regional district with four high schools and an alternative program serving 7,300 students, I’m no longer in the classroom every day but am still passionate about teaching. When I visit classrooms, which is as often as possible, I feel rooted in a profession that continues to nourish my soul through connections with students and staff, especially young teachers taking their first tentative steps.

I’m reminded of the magnitude of every teacher’s responsibility to his or her students and, in turn, of my accountability to every teacher. It’s a responsibility I am honored to have and don’t take lightly. It often keeps me up at night.