But You Get Summers Off
The holidays are always an interesting time. Family and friends come together all at once. Idiosyncrasies surface and flourish. Politics, religion, and job boasts present themselves. It is also a time for people to remind me that I get summers off.
As an educator, I have always found it intriguing to hear "how the other half lives." I sit in awe, my jaw slowly widening as I listen to people talk about their 2-hour lunch breaks off campus. The game of ping-pong they play at random times throughout their days. The choice to work from home just because they can. These normalcies are luxurious when you're an outsider looking in, and they simply take it all for granted.
When family and friends remember I am a teacher, a weird look of envy and pity takes over. I relish in these moments. You see, even though they may have more "freedoms" throughout their work days than me. Even though they make more money than me. Even though they get bonuses of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that I cannot even fathom receiving, they do not have the daily experiences that I do. Nor do they have the abilities that I possess. And they know it.
As a teacher, I have a multitude of opportunities that I get to embrace every single day. I have the opportunity to pump kids up and engage them in the act of learning. I have the opportunity to validate and affirm adolescents in the most trying times of their lives. I have the opportunity to share my passions in life and inspire and motivate the people around me. I have the opportunity to make opportunities for others. All the while, I will be singing and dancing, giving people high-fives down the hallways, using ridiculous slang words of this generation just to make the kids laugh or bury their heads in embarrassment.
Teachers don't need 2-hour lunch breaks or ping-pong in the teacher's lounge. As nice as it would be, it is simply not a necessity for anyone. What teachers need is what they bring to the table:
I have written about initiative fatigue and the dwindling resources of time and energy that educators badly need. However, I have recently begun to consider whether or not that very daily grind that educators face is an essential ingredient in what makes them incredible. Education attracts a specific population. A certain type of person that is equally motivated as they are crazy. A person who knows the little respect, overwhelming workload, and low pay they will receive and still pursue the career. The ingredient of the grind teaching demands is something that sets it apart from everything else. We are not working to make money. We are not kissing ass to gain a bigger bonus. We are motivated to make a difference, not just in others lives, but in ours as well. Our pursuit for a career in education was a journey of self-exploration and a deep understanding that beyond all the adversities we will face, this is a calling. A selfless, soul-calling duty that has to be fulfilled.
Nearly every educator you come across will gladly lend a hand with anything you need. They would stop to snap a picture for you and your family without you needing to ask. They would see a wandering child in a mall and take it upon themselves to find the parent. They would offer to help you box your belongings up and move you to a new house, even. This is all because teachers are able to empathize with others. So readily are they willing to be at the service of others. From the students they've cared for to the personal obstacles they have overcome, teachers have stories. Once you know someone's story, you cannot hate them. Teachers know this truth and live by it.
So, why is it that teachers get bad rap? Why is the one comment people say to make themselves feel better about the perks of not being a teacher, "But you get summers off"? As I am making my way through Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, a part of me is wondering whether the teacher preparation programs in America are to blame. Maybe it is the way we are evaluated. Maybe it is the fact that we have tenure.
Maybe teachers are the scapegoat for all that is wrong in today's society.
In the end, I am not placing teaching on a pedestal, nor am I trying to acquire pity from anyone. Rather, I simply believe that the realities of the education system and the teaching career need to be known by the general public. There are a multitude of facets that must be recognized within the art of teaching and the education system as a whole. We work with human beings who have a variety of needs and must figure out ways to inspire and motivate them all.
This is why teachers need opportunities. Opportunities to reflect on the good they are putting out into the world. Opportunities to learn without the burden of more work placed upon them. Opportunities to bask in the fun of their job and not the stressors. Opportunities to feel empowered in unconventional but meaningful approaches. Opportunities to feel as though they are making a difference.