Proud to Be a Teacher

I woke up this morning more awake than I've felt in a while.  As I got out of bed, thoughts of the past several months swirling in my head, one stood out,  I really love my job.  This hit me with a jolt of a surprise today.

It's February, not exactly the brightest time of the year for anyone.  Most of my students have been with me in our grumpy, winter slump - we're tired, and all this thinking and reading and writing and having to participate is just not feeling very good.  I can also get really dragged down by a lot of other things:  I teach more students who live in poverty than I ever have; my state ranks 43rd in teacher pay; and our current political climate is night-marish for teachers right now.

And still, I woke up feeling great about what I do.  I am proud to be a teacher.  I can still remember days as a child setting up my school room in our basement.  I had a chalk board and some TV tables as desks, and that's all I needed.  I'd play for hours, reading to my class, creating lessons for them, and of course, talking to my imaginary students the whole time.

My classroom looks a bit different these days, but the joy is still the same.  I shut my door, read with kids, create engaging lessons, and talk with them the whole time.  Little did I know as a six-year-old that I was planting seeds for a life-long passion.  Little did I know as a six-year-old that real students would add so much more than those imaginary ones did.  And little did I know as a six-year-old how much I'd feel the need to defend my job.

As a teacher I hear often, "I could never do what you do."  Sometimes that comes from other adults, and sometimes my students say it.  I've heard it so often that it doesn't surprise me anymore.  I smile and give my stock answer, "It's the best job in the world!" The adults kind of smile, thinking I'm probably not all that smart.  And the kids, being more vocal, tell me in great detail what they'd do if that had to put up with kids acting the way they do.

Here's the deal:  I am that smart (I graduated Suma Cum Laude from Providence College, number 11 in my class), and yes, I am that patient that I "put up with" kids acting the way they do.  I love teaching because it's full of complex problems to be solved, over and over.  You walk in to a brand new situation every year (and sometimes twice a year) and have to get to know your kids (and their home lives and personal situations), where they are currently in their learning, what they need to learn in order to actually grow, all while building relationships with them so that they love you enough to do things they don't want to do at all, and perhaps, can't do at all.  And you do all that alone in a room full of hormonal teenagers, who even if they do love you, hit a major slump in February. And all that doesn't even touch the complex problem of colleagues, school culture, curriculum, and materials.  It's constant thinking, planning, adjusting, and revising.

And, no, not everyone can do this.  Really, they can't.  Just like not everyone is cut out to be a neurosurgeon or a line-backer.  Teachers are smart, patient, kind, dedicated, hard-working, and they multitask like no one I've ever met before, juggling the demands of their students, their colleagues, their administration, the families of their students, and their own lives (often in that order). And many also make time to write articles and books, and advocate for education all across the country on top of their already taxed lives.

I'm reading a book right now called Older, Faster, Stronger by Margaret Webb.  She decided, as 50 approached, to do a year-long experiment to see if she could train and become as fit as she was in her twenties.  She wanted to see what would happen if she changed her diet and trained hard - would she regain strength, stamina and endurance?  Could people become faster and stronger even as they age? As a runner and a woman in my late 40s, I love this book - it's motivating me to run more, eat better, and view aging in a far more positive light.

And it also applies to teaching.  It would be easy at this point in my career to fall into the burn-out category in education.  I've worked really hard for twenty years.  I've seen things come and go. Why should I put all this energy into this and not get anywhere?  Here's the deal:  I am getting somewhere. All that energy I put in day after day is not about parents, colleagues, administration, the federal government.

It. Is. Not.

All that energy I put in day after day is about students.  Bureaucrats can say what they want about the state of education, but they are not in my classroom.  My kids are.  Yes, MY kids.   Robert still comes back a year later to borrow books.  Tyrecus has devoured every Coe Booth book out there and had me tweet at her to see when she would publish another one.  And Rajinay is so passionate about the Vampire Academy series that we have to tell her to stop yelling at her book out loud during reading time.  These are the real kids I impact every day and that is why I teach.

This teaching life is a true challenge.  Unquestionably.  But it's the most worthy challenge I've ever come across.  The problem we are lucky enough to work on every day is the future of the people in our country.  We see what's to come, and we have the power, one by one, to help create stronger, smarter, thinking individuals who one day will make decisions in our country.  That is pretty awesome.

So, teacher friends, hold your heads up high today, proud of all you do.  We are an amazing group of people dedicated to love, unity and improving the lives of people every day.  It's not political.  It's being a teacher.


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