Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Not Everyone Can Do My Job

It takes some people a long time to figure out what they want to do in life.  For me, it was an easy decision.  Ever since second grade I have known I wanted to be a teacher.  For half a year in first grade, my mother decided to home school me.  She realized her folly very quickly and put me in school because I needed socialization.  One of the perks though is that I got to keep all of the instructional materials from the homeschooling.  I would set up all of my stuffed animals in neat rows and "teach" them math and English.  Gaggy the fake Care Bear always got in trouble for talking too much and Ferdinand the rabbit, whose poor neck drooped to one side due to lack of stuffing, was always sent to the hallway principal's office for sleeping.

My mother always encouraged reading and for that I am grateful.  I was always the kid who got to keep the shipping box on Scholastic Book Fair day because I was taking home so many treasured chapter books.  Book It provided free pizza dinners for many nights of my childhood.  I was one of the lucky ones because, from middle school up through high school, I had amazing English teachers.  They were full of vigor and imagination and a passion for their job.  Because of their encouraging comments and my passion for teaching, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was born to be an English teacher.  I would sit in my desk watching the masters at their craft, figuring out what I liked about their styles and what I didn't think worked.  I never considered anything else.  This was my future.

Teaching comes naturally to me.  It's easy.  Which is why I found college to be so frustrating.  To this day I don't believe you can teach someone how to teach.  There are some people, quite a few actually, who just shouldn't be a teacher--which brings me to the point of this post.  Surprisingly, I have had dozens of conversations with people who claim that my job is easy and that anyone can do it.  Or, they try to one up me with their own jobs.  Oh, you are a teacher?  You should try to be an insurance seller.  You wouldn't last one day in my job.  Seriously, dude?  With training, yes, I can do your job.  For some people, it doesn't matter how smart they are, how much training they receive, how much college education they get, they should never be a teacher.  Teaching should not be a profession for the common man.  It shouldn't be something that just any ol' person can go to college and pick up.  There's a reason why most of the job-switchers don't make it as a teacher.  It works for some, yes, but those who make it could or should have been a teacher from the beginning.

I will say this again: you can't teach someone how to teach.  I was told by a college professor that I should rethink being a teacher.  Not because she had seen me teach.  Not because she had read any of my lessons. Her issue was that I was questioning everything that my university was doing with their teaching program.  At my university, you sit in a classroom most of your college career, hearing theories about things you should do.  "Well, if this happens, you can try this, but remember, it won't work in every situation."  Before teaching, I have never had to require anyone to respect me.  Classroom management should have been something hands on, not probable situations in a textbook.  In fact, the only time you get true hands on experience is after you have concluded your education.  Then, you get thrown into the tiger pit and hope that you survive still wanting to do this job.  It's ironic that a good teacher knows that the best way to check for understanding is to get the student to reproduce what you have taught them.  It is a waste of education to realize once you are done with it that teaching is not for you.  Ironically, my professor who questioned my abilities was the same person who ended up doing my student-teacher evaluations.  She later apologized and said she was wrong.  I was made to be a teacher.

I don't assume to know how to do other professions, and yet, being a teacher is a job that so many people have told me they can do and several have assumed the responsibility of telling me how to do my job.  I don't go up to a power company linesman and say "I think you are doing that wrong."  I don't stand behind my banker and say "I think you could have done that better."  I don't tell my nail salon technician "Are you sure this is the best technique?"  Maybe I'm doing life incorrectly, but I assume these people are professionals and that they know how to do their job until they prove me wrong.

Teaching is not simply a profession where you vomit up knowledge and let it pour down over the children and they magically learn.  Honestly ask yourself: How much can you take?  Can you handle 30 teens at a time (usually around 90-150 a day depending on the school), full of hormones and lacking common sense?  Can you put up with senators who have never stepped foot in your job, telling you how to perform?  Can you keep parents, principals, students, and school boards happy?   How many hats can you wear in one day?  Can you be a teacher, a psychiatrist, a friend, a parent, a disciplinarian, a comedian, a performer, an authoritarian, a clear communicator, a monitor, a janitor, a researcher, a coach, an encourager, a security guard, and so much more?  These represent the many hats of a TEACHER.  Teaching would be easy if all I did was teach.  But there's so much more to it.  

When parents leave their children in our hands, we take on their parental roles and more.  You have to make kids responsible human beings because you see them more than their parents do.  Imagine taking the role of a parent to 90 kids that you didn't choose to create yourself.  As a teacher, you are now their moral compass.  Sometimes you are there for them even when their parents can't be.  You have to understand why they are acting out, listen to their stories, protect them from themselves and others, clearly communicate to parents, remember that kids are human and have little life experience, get them to understand concepts that they don't think they need in life because they haven't had to use this knowledge yet and they already know everything anyways, and do all of this while teaching.  You have to be on your toes, constantly changing, trying to keep them focused on what you have to tell them and make them like it at the same time.  

Ask yourself: Can you do this?

I love teaching.  I LOVE my job.  I thrive off of the challenges it presents to me everyday.  It is always changing, and the rewards are tremendous.  But I have to work for them.  Everything I do will change the future of a child.  I hold a lot of power in my hands.  Think about that the next time you hear someone trying to demean this position.  You have your job because a teacher taught you the basics for you to be able to do what you do.  Therefore, this job shouldn't be for just anyone to be able to do.


  1. I can totally relate--especially to the Book It and Scholastic memories. My sister, who is also a teacher, was my unwilling pupil. I love to teach!

  2. Great post, Jennifer! After having worked in Korea for a month and spoken with teachers here (and other teachers who have taught in many different countries), I have come to realize that really teachers anywhere are not made into teachers but just are teachers. Your concluding question is probably one that most idealistic wannabe teachers never ask themselves and it should be the first thing that is asked of them. So, to end, it really comes down to, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime--unless you are a bad teacher, then have him get frustrated, give up, and never attempt catching seafood for the rest of his life".