There was a day last year when I had to miss school because of a conference I was attending. I came in early the next morning to check on how things had gone while I was out, and I found one of the best notes from a substitute teacher that I had ever received.
“I wanted to let you know how the day went,” the note read. “Some students were talkative and did not want to get to work at first, but eventually settled in. Almost all of them have finished and placed the assignment in your tray.” That was better than what I had expected, coming from a sub. What came next was the real surprise.
At the bottom of the paper, she had gone on to write a final line: “After talking to your students, is clear that you make learning fun for your students while still maintaining their respect. That is certainly a tough balancing act. Congratulations on your success with this remarkably tough job.”
I had to read those two sentences over and over again before those words sank in. My natural tendency was to disagree. Even now, two years later, I have days where I question if I’m cut out for this job.
And that’s the one part of that sub note that I 100% agree with — teaching, and especially good teaching, is a tough, tough job.
Behind The Scenes
There are long hours and low pay, and rarely do teachers actually have “summers off.”
Teaching is certainly not like the movies make it seem, where each activity and transition flows seamlessly into the next. Good teachers might make it look easy, but the real challenge is the work that goes on behind the scenes.
Most of us wish the public knew more about the constant planning and self-reflection that teachers do, how we monitor our students’ progress with data and strive to tailor our teaching to fit our students’ needs and interests.
Not only do we work ridiculously hard to capture our students’ attention and keep them engaged, but also ensure that they’re learning at the same time. We play a lot of different roles, from counselors to nurses to social workers, and we’re expected provide socioemotional support for our students while still maintaining high academic standards.
I’m not complaining, because it’s totally worth it. It’s the best and only job I could ever imagine myself having. But it’s also brutal.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve seen students with tears streaming down their faces, just needing to talk to someone they could trust. Only a teacher can describe that sinking feeling in your gut when you find out that the twelve-year-old boy you’ve been coaching at basketball has been homeless for a month, or when you learn that a favorite student just lost everything they owned in a house fire.
How many educators have witnessed a beloved student escorted out in handcuffs for making a dumb mistake, or discovered that a student was suffering in a broken home, abused or abandoned or without food?
I would say just about all of us have.
This job isn’t all about solving two-step equations and diagramming sentences and identifying parts of a plant cell. It’s a whole lot tougher than that.
That’s why it boils my blood to hear that famous quote that’s so often used to disparage teachers: “Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.”
There’s nothing farther from the truth.
Teachers are the most significant factor in a student’s academic success. And in many cases, they’re the only role models that a child may ever be exposed to.
Let’s honor the teachers that work hard everyday to help kids get ahead. Teaching is tough, but they’re even tougher.
Photo from Darin McClure, CC-Licensed.