Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

I Don’t Have to Love My Students to Be a Good Teacher

Teachers should be allowed to keep their personal and professional lives separate
By Jherine Wilkerson — March 04, 2022 3 min read
Conceptual Illustration
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I often miss the nuances of relationships with other people, the unspoken communication that takes place between us. As an English/language arts teacher, I can feel the depth of Hamlet’s despair when he says, “To be or not to be,” but I cannot understand what my principal is referring to when he says, “Be the you that you needed when you were this age.”

This inability to understand the politics of the job can get in the way. The other teachers in the room are enraptured, clinging to my principal’s words as though they are profound and life affirming; I am incredulous.

I can’t pretend to understand. I have asked him “why” one too many times, and, recently, in a fit of frustration, he stated, “I want you to love your work and love the kids.” Why do I need to do anything other than what I am contractually obligated to do, to be anything other than what I went to school to be: a person who can assist students with learning to read better and write well? Which class did I miss that stated I needed to be someone other than a teacher—or is this what I missed when I failed to read between the lines?

See Also

Opinion illustration of teachers and students, about job perceptions.
Dedraw Studio/iStock/Getty

I am a good teacher. I have a knack for helping students learn to express themselves succinctly through writing. I am not, however, any student’s favorite teacher. No letters will be written to me in years expressing how much my winning personality changed them. But I didn’t become a teacher to be anything other than a teacher. I became a teacher because I saw a need, not because I had a latent desire to nurture.

I reserve my nurturing for my personal life and my own children. My nurturing is for my nieces and nephews and my siblings. Reading stories about selfless teachers calling students from a hospital bed after surgery to check in doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me question my own sanity. Is this what teaching is? If you are a good teacher who also loves kids, I feel so happy for you. I can’t relate, but I honor this part of you.

Teaching is dominated by women, and there is a clearly stated expectation that women are to give endlessly and selflessly. I think it’s why so often teachers are made to feel guilty about wanting to separate the job from their own lives. “You are a woman,” society tells us. “You are supposed to want to give yourself.” If you die at your job, people will say that you died doing what you loved—who wouldn’t want to teach for nickels and then be found in the classroom after hours? Is there a more fulfilling way to go?

I don’t want to do that. I want to teach my students from 9 to 5 (or 7:40 to 3:40, as the case may be) and then I want to get off work. I want to be able to call my job that—a job—without facing a piercing glare from an administrator for not cheerfully sacrificing my personal time to grade papers.

See Also

Teaching is [a] work [of heart].
Handini_Atmodiwiryo/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Q&A Why One Teacher Hates the Phrase 'Teaching Is a Calling'
Madeline Will, March 10, 2022
7 min read

I don’t remember what I needed at 13. I was hyperfocused on a boy with spaghetti-noodle legs who made my heart flutter every time his eyes skipped over me in the hall. What I do remember is not caring one iota about what my teachers thought or who they were. I definitely did not care whether or not they loved me. That probably comes from a place of privilege, but still, I did not become a teacher to be the savior for society’s ills. I took out loans and went to school like any other professional, and love did not come up once.

What I really need as a teacher is a distinct line between my profession and myself. I work as a teacher. Being a teacher is what I do professionally. It is what pays my bills. I need parents to know that it is their job to love their kids and my job is to teach them.

My doctor doesn’t love me, nor do my dentist or my therapist. They can work for me effectively—even better, I may argue—without the added unstated expectation that they feel deep unwavering affection for me. What’s more, I can have a good and meaningful relationship without love. I do not have to love everyone that I care for. I have not always loved everyone that I have cared for. It is only here in this profession that I am expected to.

What I need right now at 35 is for more of us teachers to stand up and proclaim, “I can be a good teacher and not love my job.” I am fulfilling a need and paying my bills. I have a student loan debt that must be repaid in cash every month. For that debt I received an education. It doesn’t have to be more than that. I shouldn’t have to give up parts of my soul, too.

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2022 edition of Education Week as I Don’t Have to Love My Students To Be a Good Teacher

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Should Class Feel Like Entertainment? Teachers Have Mixed Feelings
Teachers on social media give their opinions on whether entertaining is a necessary part of their job.
4 min read
An eighth-grade math teacher demonstrates a lesson called “math golf.”
An eighth-grade math teacher demonstrates a lesson called “math golf.”
Allison Shelley for All4Ed
Teaching Profession Teachers’ Careers Go Through Phases. They Need Support in Each
Teachers experience a dip in job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
5 min read
Vector illustration of a female teacher at her desk with her head in her hands. There are papers, stacked notebooks, and a pen on the desk and a very light photo of a blurred school hallway with bustling students walking by in the background.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Download Downloadable: 5 Ways Principals Can Help With Teacher Burnout
This downloadable gives school leaders and teachers various ways to spot and treat teacher burnout.
1 min read
Silhouette of a woman with an icon of battery with low charge and icons such as a scribble line, dollar sign and lightning bolt floating around the blue background.
Canva
Teaching Profession Massages, Mammograms, and Dental Care: How One School Saves Teachers' Time
This Atlanta school offers unique onsite benefits to teachers to help them reduce stress.
3 min read
Employees learn more about health and wellness options during a mini benefits fair put on by The Lovett School in Atlanta on May 8, 2024.
Employees at the Lovett School in Atlanta meet with health benefits representatives during a mini benefits fair on May 8, 2024.
Erin Sintos for Education Week