Ask most children what they want to be when they grow up and they’ll probably say pop star, football player or fireman. Not many say they’d like to be an accountant, lawyer or stockbroker. They don’t really know what those things are. They have no point of reference, unless their own parents work these jobs. And even then they’re mostly unaware of what it entails.
However the one job they do have a point of reference for is being a teacher. Apart from the musical artists and sports stars guiding the young population, the other outside influence is the classroom teacher. There are the teachers we hate. But there are also the teachers we love, and they are like gods to us.
My Pre-Primary teacher and also my Year One teacher both played the guitar, and so that’s what I wanted to do and I did. My Year Three teacher had a wicked sense of humour and so I wanted to be equally dry in my humour and I certainly try. My Year Four teacher was the kindest most generous person I know outside my own family. She was also extremely creative and I always aimed to impress her with my own craftiness.
And so on and so forth throughout the impressionable years, I was presented with these great role models and eventually chose to become one myself; not before having a crack at a short-lived career in newspaper journalism.
So those of you looking through your career options, may also be drawn to paying back the system, which created you, by re-entering the classroom as an educator.
Well, be warned. It’s not much different from the other side. I should have heeded the advice I was given. Before I had even left school I would tell people I wanted to be either a journalist or school teacher.
“Don’t do teaching,” said an older friend, who was a very successful teacher.
“It’s not worth it,” said my own teachers.
“Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” said an engineer.
“I could have been a doctor,” said one of my physical education teachers.
“The holidays aren’t worth the stress during term,” said my teaching mentor during work experience.
“Teachers are overpaid and have too many holidays,” said the press.
“I had to leave, because kids these days are out of control,” said a sixty year old retiree.
“You’re better than that,” said a close friend.
“Why don’t you write a novel instead of teaching brats,” said a closer friend.
“People can be so cynical,” I thought cynically to myself. I was sure the reality of teaching would be more rewarding than everyone made out. The reality was not rewarding. All my ideological fantasies went flying out the half open window like a paper plane, made from an altruistic manifesto, careering towards a dumpster filled with pedagogical text books.
Like with all my misplaced romantic notions, I blame Hollywood. I should have watched more films like The Breakfast Club and less films like Dead Poet’s Society.
The workload of teaching is huge, many parents are thankless, the students have attitude and every time a child spells ‘their’ as ‘there’, a little bit of your soul dies. I should have listened to the advice I was given. Sometimes I think it’s too late to get out.
The pay is reasonable, but it’s not as much as many other professions get. I would have to requalify to get those jobs. Or if I took another job outside of teaching, but within my skillset, I’d probably be paid less. Teaching certainly pays the bills. But it also gives you a headache. Now I’ve become the person who warns others against teaching. I try to remember what it was like to be bright eyed and bushy tailed to avoid crushing other’s dreams.
On the flipside, I’ve learnt a lot being a teacher. Perhaps because the point of the job is learning, you revert to being some form of student yourself; even to the point where you sometimes get teased by teenagers. You continually research and read books to remain two steps ahead of your students; You get to be a fly-on-the-wall to human behaviour at all ages; You find new and creative ways to present content to your audience. And every now and then, you begin to get less cynical views on teaching.
“You must be very patient,” said a stranger.
“I couldn’t do it, but the world needs people like you,” said a former flatmate.
“You’re helping lots of people who need it,” said my grandparents.
“Schools need more male teachers like you,” said every female person.
So, mildly buoyed on by the sporadic praise of being a role model to the youth of tomorrow, I continue to turn up to the classroom to espouse wisdom. Whether it becomes a long term prospect is yet to be seen.
If like me you turn your back to the negative opinions on teaching, and continue to pursue this career, please take note of the following: don’t be envious of your contemporaries who are on better pay in better jobs; don’t take anything said by someone under the age of 18 personally; don’t feel guilty about all the extra holidays you get, you worked hard for them; don’t teach Animal Farm as the class novel every year, you’ll become depressed.
Finally, the notion of ‘doing it for the kids’, will get you so far. But being too selfless will leave you emotionally drained. Follow your own dreams and passions, and if that’s teaching, live it – at least until it becomes a nightmare. Then it’s time to wake up.
Featured image: BSFinHull