Teaching Opinion

New Teachers: Are You in It for the Long Haul?

By Jaime O'Neill — July 25, 2011 4 min read
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Welcome, newbies, to the wonderful world of education. You are now embarked upon that career for which you’ve been preparing for so long. You’ve jumped through the hoops, sat through classes that often seemed irrelevant and/or stultifyingly dull. You’ve taken those horrible courses in education and teacher training that were required of you, those classes that took time away from gaining greater command of the discipline you were preparing to teach. And, despite the fact that those education classes offered almost nothing, you sat through them, nonetheless, demonstrating to all future employers that you have what it takes to deal with the myriad pointless faculty meetings and in-service breakout sessions that lie ahead. Should you find that you don’t like teaching, you can, of course, change course and head into the better-paid realms of administration, where a tolerance for wasting vast amounts of time in meetings is absolutely central to the work you will do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, since you’ve only just begun and already I’ve got you bailing out.

The temptation to bail out is, however, one of the hallmarks of your new career. A bad student, a bad class, a paranoia-prompting administrative overseer, or the mere drudgery of the paperwork that now takes up so much of your time will have you considering other occupations nearly every week. When the stress of meeting a big and ill-defined spectrum of expectations leads you to pour one more glass of wine each night than you know is good for you, you’ll surely think that a career in retail sales might be a better alternative than taking attitude from a kid whose chief concern is the current state of his complexion, not your precious words of wisdom.

For some of you, that kid, or some other catalyst, will drive you out of the classroom. For those who stay, it won’t help your dedication or your motivation to find your job threatened each and every year when the annual state budget reveals once more that big cuts to education are coming, that you’ve been pink slipped until or unless there’s a last-minute reprieve. That yearly panic will cause you to wonder why you ever went into teaching in the first place, and you will surely make plans to seek other employment with each mention of just how precarious your employment is.

If you manage to avoid losing your job for budgetary reasons, many of you are in for the duration. Dedication, or the force of habit, will keep you coming back, year in and year out, as you gradually morph into some version of those teachers you yourself once had: people with impossibly faulty senses of style, or ear hair, or other focal points of ridicule that served to amuse you and your middle school peers back when you were a kid.

But what separates you now from the pack of twerps in front of you is that you’re older and wiser; you’ve got perspective, skills, and insights to share. Having once sat where they sit, you know how much posturing is going on, how much insecurity they possess despite the attitudes they cop. You also know the challenges they face, the rockiness of the road that lies ahead, and how many ways there are for them to spin out and crash.

If you stay, you’ll harden yourself against the whispered derision, the groans when you explain an assignment, and the student excuses you’ve heard over and over—excuses you may once have offered to one or more of your own teachers. You’ll soldier on through days that seem interminable, through semesters in which little you try seems to work, through years that can seem like decades.

And you’ll keep up that work, and re-steel your resolve because there are those days when things click into place, when a face lights with understanding, or an exchange with a class makes even you see an idea in a new light. You’ll keep up that work because your students frequently remind you of just what it feels like to learn new things, and to experience the sense of growth that comes with knowing more.

You will reach the end of each academic year feeling somewhat spent, but exhilarated, and you will return when classes resume the following fall because you know the satisfaction that comes with doing work that can make a difference in people’s lives, that offers you a chance to make small but meaningful contribution to the future.

You will return because, unlike so many other jobs, teaching allows for repeated chances to get it right, to learn from the things that didn’t work, to use your brain, your creativity, and your full range of talents to invent new and better ways of doing it.

Despite administrators who often have priorities that conflict with real learning, despite the emphasis on testing and the educational fads that get trotted out by politicians and educrats who seldom get near actual students, you will return because you have a growing suspicion you are needed, and the feeling of being needed isn’t always easy to come by.

You will return because, when it is all said and done, you are a teacher. You didn’t choose this profession; it chose you. It picked you out when you were a student, selected you because getting rich wasn’t your highest priority, because you were absorbed by the subject you now teach, because you had a teacher who made you want to be a teacher—one who stirred your interests, fired your passion to learn, and helped you find your way.

Now you want to help your students find their way. You can’t get enough of doing that. You won’t get enough of doing that, not this year, not next year, because there is never enough of helping students if you’re a teacher.

And, if you made it this far, the chances are you’re a teacher.

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