"Why Education": A Narrative on Why I Chose to Be a Teacher (And Why It Is Still Pretty Great)
I Sometimes Want to Quit...But Never Do. Here’s Why.
The conversation about teachers leaving the field of education is a real one. We hear the statistics early on: Teachers leave within the first five years of their career, new teachers struggle with anxiety and depression, the field of education is shrinking as a whole, and so on. The problem is all teachers feel all of these things at every point of their career. Teaching is hard. All the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it and attempt to do it well. But, we exist among those that are self-labeled as crazy for doing what we love to do. We are all going to have mornings where we don’t feel like going, where we drag ourselves to the doorstep of our buildings just to hold on to our coffee cups tighter. But the bottom line is, there are so many good things about this job that make a teacher want to keep teaching. And the truth is that the silent urge to constantly quit all the time is a friendly reminder we are doing the hard work. I often will scroll Indeed just to see what is out there or to feel like I have professional options. However, I have been faced twice with the option to leave, and I cannot do it.
The great thing is that I love teaching. Love is actually an understatement because I would not tirelessly work at my craft and improve my focus at this job without being truly dedicated to my profession and field. The problem is you never hear about the good or why someone goes into education. Often, if you hear the rehearsed sentiments, they may not come off as sincere as they can sound like “I do it for the kids.” Yes, I do this job in order to work with students and that alone is fulfilling. However, I do this job for me, too. The act of being a teacher in 2019 has to also be a selfish one. In this post, I plan on outlining some major ways that education as a profession is downright appealing and more people should consider entering it in order to experience the freedom, the intellectual stimulation and growth, and obtain skillsets that they can apply to aspects of life everywhere. Let me make a clear disclaimer: I have written before about leaving teaching....a lot. There is therapy in working through the things that bother us. I hate the amount of paper and workload we have, the criticism that teachers face, the growing pressure to “fix” the achievement gap, standardized testing, stress and stress eating, the absurdity of sub plans, and the growing anxiety we feel related to work. See? So. Many. Posts. But, I still choose to teach every single time, year after year.
The Unexpected Reasons Why I Love Teaching (And Some Expected Ones, Too)
This post was inspired by the Michigan Education Association Voice Magazine’s recent article, “Who Will Listen to Educators?” In the article, it stated, “Only 25 percent of all Michigan educators—and just 20 percent of teachers—would recommend a career in education to a young person they know, according to results from Launch Michigan’s 2019 Statewide Educator Survey.” What this will mean for the field of education is that crisis is impending if not already here. We need to nurture the next generation of teachers just as much as we give to our students in our classrooms. It has to be a priority because we will inevitably burn out or teach until we can’t anymore. This includes forming relationships with our local universities and fostering strong internship programs. Here are some of the unexpected (and some expected) ways teaching is amazing. These are also the reasons that I would start putting on a billboard on the side of the road so we can make it clear that the gig of teaching is still worth one going into…in spite of what everyone else may be saying.
The planning that goes into teaching is one that is sometimes a perfect mixture of art and science. Jennifer Gonzalez from The Cult of Pedagogy published a blog post, “Teaching in Beta: What We Can Learn from Software Developers” in which she argues we should be in “beta” mode in our classrooms. I love beta mode. This job calls for finding things that work and sticking to them, and then trying out different solutions to problems over and over. One of the main reasons why I love teaching is the power we have to design the actual physical environments in our classrooms, but also the content and manner in which we share knowledge with all of our students. Even if some teachers are more limited in their innovation than others, you are still the master designer. YOU are the greatest design element in your classroom based on your personality and your delivery. I administer the same standardized tests each year, and even the intonation in my voice giving test directions can be filled with more life than perhaps another teacher giving the same test. We are in control of how much joy we insert into our classrooms.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have a district that has a pacing guide that allows me to be inventive and creative with how I am giving lessons. I can use a myriad of technology resources and have Chromebooks that can implement new ideas. I am fortunate because some of my teaching counterparts throughout the country do not have the same luxuries in terms of resources or support. I am with you. Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” We can only do what we can, but our minds are so powerful. Individual energy is contagious. Ever been around someone who loves what they do? They only need to have a conversation with you and you begin to feel excited as well.
I love solving a problem. It is one of those character traits I am most proud of in every single way. I enjoy an hour of class that does not get along or struggles with behavior and then works to build community in the end. I love when my colleagues say “this can never be done” because it feels like a personal challenge. I was that kid that wouldn’t stop until the puzzle was finished. The challenge of trying to examine my own areas of improvement through reflection and work towards solutions has been a major area of encouragement for me. I don’t like criticism as much as I am my own self-critic. An example of this is for this summer, my grade level teammate and I are going to attempt to figure out how to conduct reading and writing conferences in class to minimize the amount of paper that we are taking home with us each night. The problem question is: Can I be an effective teacher and not take papers home? I can’t wait to find out. I believe teachers can learn new strategies and skills at all times. This can be as big as a task of maintaining rigor without the hours of feedback on essays, and as small as figuring out the pencil sharpener is best in the left corner of the room and not the right due to classroom flow.
If you find yourself wanting to solve problems, you will ultimately be met with many problems each day that may require creative solutions. We make so many minute-by-minute decisions that heads would spin if they were in the back of our classrooms. Perhaps this is a cause for burnout because teachers grow tired of solving problems; however, I would argue that boredom is never a worry for me in my profession. I never worry that I will “have it all figured out” because that is impossible. I wrap my brain around the idea each year that I am striving to improve just like my students. Someone that makes me feel like an even bigger part of my classroom community.
Finding Your Kid “Fit”
I love kids who struggle with behavior. Something about the setup and structure of “school” has always rubbed me the wrong way because it is so formal, so structured, so expected in so many ways. I get why kids who struggle with behavior act out. And building a rapport with tough kids is a reason that keeps me going into work each day feeling the same way. I love having a schedule of 1-2 advanced classes each year and 3-4 general education classes because I feed on the balance. It has taken years to find my kid “fit” where I can simultaneously love working on MLA research papers with my advanced students and also flipping sight word cards during reading time with another student in a general education setting. Middle school students are also the perfect fit for my personality because they are still figuring out who they are. I like having conversations with kids about identity because their is power in the impact made in middle school. The middle years are where it is at.
Don’t give up on finding your “kid fit.” You may have to move buildings or schools to find your right place because the response of an ill-fitting situation might feel like sadness, inadequacy, or defeat. Try a new situation and see if that is the right building or grade-level for you. I know that the students I serve in my building are the exact students that I need to be working with every single day. This keeps me coming back year after year.
My Teaching Community
Your teaching community may be online like on Instagram or Twitter, and it is certainly in your buildings. I love the camaraderie of teaching that somehow we are in this thing together. I am wary of calling my school a “family” because I think this idea can be toxic, but I am very fond of calling my school my community because of we all part of something bigger. Take any given day when somebody had an emergency and can’t make sub plans...teaching team. Take any time there is a dance or all school assembly...teaching team. Conferences? Team. IEP or 504 meetings? Team. Support making a tough parent phone call? Team. Team. Team. There are times when I am so sad and overwhelmed with my to-do list that all it takes is one of my colleagues to say “let’s do this” that it lifts me right back up. Teachers travel in packs for a reason. It is because we are here to support each other, affirm each other, and lift each other up.
Your building may not operate in core teams like mine. Keep reaching out to other teachers. The role of teachers in each others’ lives provides a critical component for staying in the field of education. I don’t always agree or love who I am working within my building or district, but the idea that I have people helping to troubleshoot the same issues is empowering. My teaching team in my building is a huge reason I stay teaching each year.
Reading and Writing
I get to read books for work. I get to write poetry for work. I get to assign crazy creative writing stories about dystopian worlds that have zombie attacks as a way to learn literary elements. English teachers have a unique perspective because of the way they teach process and not just content. Reading and writing are habits that evolve, not just a skillset to learn. I had to learn how to love reading and writing as a child. Because that instillation of love was successful, you can find me now teaching. Last winter, I ran into my librarian from third grade at the grocery store. She was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. I always remember people no matter what. I walked up to her and re-introduced myself and told her who I was and what I had chosen to do with my life. What a moment. Books and words have such power. I find myself rejuvenated by instilling this love of reading and writing into my mentor text work and into my work in the classroom overall.
Summer is awesome if you let it be awesome. I am a summer school veteran and work at a writing camp at Western Michigan University each summer. I also love working on teaching things in the summer as well. So, I debated about putting summer into this post and decided it was necessary. I love summer not so much for the days off in a row. I love summer for the time to have creative rejuvenation each year. I am always reading, researching, or trying to learn something new. Summer gives me that opportunity annually. I also love that winter break, spring break, and other holiday breaks are given to me because it ensures I have holidays off with my husband. These are gifts I don’t want to take for granted. Breaks are the key to the self-care process, and I am constantly working on slowing down and taking the break time to rest and restore.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Why You Stay Teaching:
Break out the journal or bullet journal, and reflect on a few of these if you are finding yourself in a rut. Again, these are not my reasons for why I teach…these are my reasons for why i stay teaching. You can argue that those two things are the same thing, but the purposeful phrasing of this work does wonders for my attitude when I am cranky.
When are you most happy teaching? Journal about some key moments of joy.
What parts of your job do you enjoy? Write about the times when you feel moved to wake up at 3am about a new lesson or talk to a colleague about a great idea.
Who sticks out in your mind as a great supporter for your teaching? Remember students, other teachers, and families that needed you. Write about your impact.