What Makes Teaching Worth It

So as I said in my About page, I am not limiting myself to posting only about writing/author related things. I also said on that page that I’m a teacher, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching high school English at a very small, rural school. We average about 20 kids per graduating class. I get to teach the same group of kids for three years in a row–through their sophomore, junior, and senior years. This set up means that I get to know my students very well, and I get to watch them grow over a long period of time. In fact, this year’s graduating class is the first group of students I’ve had for all three years.

Well, next year I’m moving on to bigger things (better is still up for debate, but hopefully it’ll at least be a better fit for me). Instead of having 150 students in the entire 7-12 school, I’ll be seeing 150 students in my classroom every day. This move was caused by some truly unsavory, and in my view, immoral, adults involved with my current school. Almost everyone was a target. I would say bout 80% of the staff have been experiencing intense negativity, but obviously I feel my own most keenly. These people belittled me, humiliated me, lied to me, and threw me under the bus time and time again to hide their own incompetence.

Honestly, they made me not want to be a teacher any more. They made me question my entire career and life path.

My principal literally told me, “You need to seriously reconsider your decision to become a teacher.”

Which is bullshit.

I’m a good teacher. I make connections with my students. They know I care about them, and I know they care about me. They feel comfortable taking risks in my classroom. They confide in me. They tell me when they’re out living their real lives and see a reference or connection to something we did in class. Students come early and stay after school so we can talk about geeky things like Star Wars and the latest Marvel movie. And–not that this is even remotely the most important bit, but I feel like bragging–their test scores freaking rock.

I am not a bad teacher. New? Yes. I’m just wrapping up year three. Perfect? Hell, no. I am perfectly aware that I have a lot of room for improvement, which is why I snap up PD opportunities. Naive? Yes, but growing less so. Bad? No.

I am a good teacher.

And so are the vast majority of my coworkers. They are supportive of other staff and of the students. They care about students. They go the extra mile. We work well together. I think of them as friends, but I spend so much time in my classroom that we joke that we’re only “Workplace Proximity Associates”.

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But the admin in my building has been so terrible the past few years, that at least three of us (we have a staff of fourteen, so that’s about 21%) have had our confidence completely wrecked. Another three have been seriously considering bailing and finding a new job. I’m number four, and I have my new job.

I could go on for ages about how a bad captain can sink a wonderful ship, but right now I’m finding it difficult to be angry. Yes, the last year or two with this principal have been terrible, but out of that mess, I ended up getting my dream job, an opportunity to coach my sport of choice, and a huge pay raise. So being very angry is difficult.

But being sad is easy, because of all the terrible things I’ve encountered and put up with this year, my students are still awesome.

As I said, I make very strong connections with my students because they are in my classroom for three years straight. In October, after a particularly horrible staff meeting, a few of my students saw that I was upset. They dropped by my house that evening to give me this:

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They know how much I like plants, and wanted to cheer me up.

Just now, my neighbor–who is also a student–walked over to give me this:

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All my students know how much I love all things Marvel. I even have a teaching squad of PopFunkos on my desk. This kid handed me Groot said, “When I went to go buy my new truck, I saw this and thought you should have it. Also, thanks for being my teacher.”

So yeah, this last year has been the most miserable of my life. I doubted my career choice. I doubted my abilities. I doubted my future. I doubted whether or not I was even a good person.

But I never doubted my students. That’s what makes me so heartbroken over the fact that I’m leaving. The boy who gave me Groot? He’s a junior, and if I stayed I would have him in class for another year. I know that whoever they hire as the new English teacher will be amazing and that my students will be in good hands, but it’s still hard.

And that’s what makes teaching worth it. This is obviously not a new realization, but it’s never been clearer to me than it is now. The idea that I can positively affect these young people completely outshines all the regular soul-crushing bullshit that teachers put up with on a regular basis.

I am a good teacher, and I plan on being a good teacher for the rest of my life.

I know I’m not some sage veteran teacher who can speak with authority, give all the answers, and wax poetic about the way things used to me. But I can offer some insight for younger/newer people getting into teaching who maybe need a slightly different perspective. So for anyone out there who is thinking about getting into teaching, be aware: The terrible things are pretty terrible, but the great things are even greater. It might not be clear to be every day, but the good outweighs the bad in the long run.

One thought

  1. That sounds like a terrible situation. I’m glad to hear you’re escaping with your love of teaching intact.

    Like

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