What Does it Mean To Be a Teacher?

Allen Platter NEW-

“I hate this stupid job!”  I cursed after my elementary students left the classroom. It was the end of another agonizing day at work.  The children had brutally taken advantage of me – just like they had the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that.  I’d been a schoolteacher for a little over a year.  I was a fledgling neophyte: fresh out of college, timid in demeanor, lacking in confidence to project an imperious “teacher-voice,” and devoid of experience to implement effective behavior management.  I wanted out of this Godforsaken career. A year as a teacher was one year too much.  But alas, it was only the end of the first month of school. I leaned back against the chalkboard wall.  My legs buckled with fatigue, and I solemnly slid to the floor.   Burying my face in my hands, I let myself go completely, and cried.  I chose my fate to be a teacher.  And now I would reap the punishing harvest I’d sown.

Then I heard a knock on the door.  Randall, the school director and kindergarten teacher, was standing over me.  He watched me in silence for a few moments, then pulled up a chair to commiserate.  “You want to talk about it?” he asked softly.

I could have expressed so many raging feelings of stress, pain, resentment, and fear.  But instead all that came out was a peculiar question. “What does it mean to be a teacher?” I muttered between sobs.  And immediately I felt stupid for asking it.  I wished I could take it back and exchange it for a verbal onslaught of woeful complaints to illustrate to Randall just how shitty my day was.  After all I wasn’t in the mood to have a philosophical debate about education.  But it was too late.

I didn’t know that this question – “What does it mean to be a teacher?” – would alter my life forever.  I didn’t realize that by asking it, I would activate the first turning of the wheels that would carry me through a prosperous and rewarding teaching career. Randall began: “Deciding to become a teacher to educate school children is like deciding to become a doctor to cure sick people.  You would have to be utterly insane to endure the pain and heartache that come parceled with both professions.”

I felt even more hopelessly defeated, completely let down by Randall’s response.  How could he say such a thing?  Was it really true that teachers’ lives always suck?  Were teachers really destined to forever endure the punishing stress of their career?  I felt a wave of anger surge across my face.  My head trembled with frustration.  I wanted to cry out, “Then why the hell am I here?!  I want to go home!  I’m tired of this shit!  I’m a failure! I can’t do this anymore! I made a mistake!  It was all just a big mistake!”

But Randall just smiled at me with sterling affection.  “You would be crazy to be a teacher,” he repeated.  “Unless…” He paused again to let it sink in.  “Unless what?”  I wanted to whine, but I kept my mouth shut.  “Unless you truly do it out of love, compassion, and care for the children.”  His empathic smile turned into a victorious grin, as if he was already convinced that that was all he needed to say to change my mind.

He was right. Five years later, I am still a teacher.  I love my job.  And I already know that I will love it more and more as I continue to innovate my craft.  Since the episode with Randall, I’ve done a lot of personal reflection, tackling all kinds of self-inflicted inquiries such as: Why did I react to the students in that way? What did or didn’t I do well today, and why? How did students respond to the lesson today? What evidence do I have that my students are learning?

The point I am making here is simple: reflect on your actions and…oh the places you’ll go!  I’ll let Dr. Suess finish it for me: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting,  so get on your way!”

7 thoughts on “What Does it Mean To Be a Teacher?

  1. Al,
    For some time, I have been wanting to ask you if you are familiar with one of my favorite “teacher” books. The title is “Crow Boy” by Taro Yashima. Do you know it? The story underscores the difference a teacher can make for a student by listening, being respectful and caring.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    1. Monica, I will definitely check out this book. Hopefully I can find it in Bangkok. Thank you for the recommendation. And thank you for following my blog. It’s the first time I am really taking blogging seriously, so I’m still working on finding my teacher-blogging voice. Thank you for your support! 🙂

  2. Even though I’m a kid I still enjoy reading your posts.
    I can’t wait for the next story. 🙂

    1. Next story is here! You can subscribe to my blog and receive emails when I make a new post. Click the “follow” button and then enter your email. Then when you get a confirmation email from wordpress, open it and go to the link to confirm your subscription

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