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- Stop Censoring Our Classrooms - March 7, 2016
- Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences - October 16, 2015
- My Experience with TNCore - the Tennessee State Standards - September 15, 2015
- Tips for Choosing a Novel to Study - June 9, 2015
- Choosing the Right High School Reading Intervention Program - April 30, 2015
- Four Things Teachers Should Try Before Removing a Student - April 6, 2015
- Dear 'Bad Students': Prove Us Wrong - March 12, 2015
- Improving Education: Response to Joel Klein - February 26, 2015
- Writing Hacks for Grades 9-12 - February 12, 2015
I have encountered many a person who believes that all teachers teach for summer vacation. Or fall break. Or spring break. Or Christmas break. Or snow days.
Sadly, it is true that some choose to teach for that two-month hiatus, usually because they mistakenly think teaching is easy and summers are completely free.
They soon find themselves rudely awakened upon entering a classroom. Some learn a new respect for their fellow educators; others leave as quickly as they came.
I am a teacher, and I wish to enlighten you. I do not teach for summer vacation. Or fall break. Or spring break. Or Christmas break. Or snow days.
I’d be a liar if I told you that I did not enjoy those days off. If desiring a day off is a crime, then I’d be locked up with the bulk of you – who doesn’t like time off? However, I kid you not when I tell you that vacation time had nothing to do with my decision to teach. In fact, when I finally realized half-way through college that I actually wanted to teach, those days off were not factors in my decision. I did not even think about them until I nearly had my diploma in my hands. When it hit me, I simply thought of those days as a nice bonus.
Moreover, I did not become a teacher because I failed at something else. Aside from publishing a novel one day, I simply did not want to do anything else. Rather than write for a living, I thought I’d share my passion for the written and spoken word with others. I might get around to writing that novel someday, but for now, I enjoy teaching too much to take time for my own writing (educational articles being the exception, of course).
Now that you know why I did not become a teacher, I’d like to share with you why I did decide to become a teacher. There are several reasons.
My mother became single after enduring years of a bad marriage. She had three young children to care for, and care for she did. She worked long days in a factory, enduring harsh working conditions and uncaring supervisors. She dragged her tired, broken body home at the end of every work day to clean and cook for an ungrateful family. She looked down on herself because she was not as educated as she would have liked, and she never praised herself for being a loving and working mother. (Mom, you did not need a college degree to take care of your family. You did right by us.) Whenever we found time to talk about school, she would always encourage me to do better by warning me, “Don’t be like me, Daisy. Don’t be like me…” in reference to struggling like she always had. She still pays for all the stress she put on her body; the damage is so great that she faces the possibility of paralysis. I teach for her.
My dad was considered the most intelligent among his peers, but he dropped out before he even reached high school so he could work and support himself and his family. He struggled with many demons and did not realize his full potential. Though he caused us great pain, he still loved us. My mom and he separated, and it was most definitely for the better, but one thing those two did agree on was that they should encourage us in school ventures. “Do well in school, Daisy. Do well in school.” I teach for him.
My oldest brother was a joker, burying his pain by cracking jokes left and right. He was as smart as any other student, but his real talent was in the vocational field. I don’t feel like his talent was appreciated as much as the talents of his academic counterparts; he is just as important to society as anyone who pursues academic ventures. I teach for him.
My older brother was brilliant and identified as gifted early in life. Out of all three of us, he was expected to go far. To our dismay, he let his studies slip. Some of it was out of boredom (the curse of the gifted child), and some of it was due to struggles he kept to himself. (I am glad to say that he did earn a college degree. Had he tried in high school, he would have earned a scholarship very easily.) I teach for him.
My best friend became my best friend the day she approached a lonely school girl new to her school and invited her to play. She was sweet and kind, but she was also adamant that everyone receive fair treatment. She may have struggled through math (and I struggled along with her), but she was by far the nicest kid in class. Any teacher would tell you that they’d rather have a polite, caring student who is willing to try over one who is an academic genius but rude and stubborn. I teach for her.
My sixth grade teacher knew a little about my family history – lots of the good, little of the bad, and just enough of the ugly. She looked past my family name and saw me. If it weren’t for her recognition, I would not have realized that I had a talent for writing. She made a point to praise me in front of my classmates. Usually, teachers only pointed out that I was nice (if they said anything at all). Until that point in time, no one had anything to say about my academics. This one did. Were it not for her, I would have never realized my potential. I discovered that I did have a talent and that I could earn good grades if I simply applied myself more. I went from struggling to excelling in such a short period of time that I can hardly believe it myself, thanks to the kindness of a teacher. I teach for her.I went from struggling to excelling in such a short period of time that I can hardly believe it myself, thanks to the kindness of a teacher. Click To Tweet
My freshman English teacher also knew about my family history, and she didn’t care. Like my previous educator, this one looked beyond surnames and looked directly at her students, seeing them for who they really were. She was fair and consistent. She, too, spent extra time saying nice things about students who tried to fade into the background. She, too, noticed the effort I put into my writing. Had it not been for her continuing to propel me along, I may not have graduated with honors. I teach for her.
My husband grew up in poverty and dysfunction as I did. He also had to contend with epilepsy, a condition that is misunderstood by all but those who either have it or love someone who does. His seizures frightened his fellow classmates, and he was made to feel like a pariah by the less understanding. He refused to allow his affliction or his terrible home life stop him from finding success. He was reading at such a high level by kindergarten that he made the local news. All he needed was compassion and encouragement. I teach for him.
At the conclusion of my first year of teaching, a student approached me to question why I nominated him for an award in my class. I was taken aback. He had earned the highest grade in my class, of course, and he deserved the award. Not to mention, he was the most eager of the students to learn. He looked at me sincerely. “I never received an award like this before,” he said. “This is the first time I ever got an award for anything.” I was shocked. I did not know him aside from what I saw in class; I would have bet that he earned high marks in all his classes. I do not know who was happier about that reward – was it he who was pleasantly surprised, or was it his teacher who did not realize how much she could affect a student, and a teenager at that? He would come by and visit me from time to time, up until the day he graduated. He is one of the students I remember whenever I have doubts. I teach for him.
Other times I have doubts, I remember where I came from. Statistically, I should have been a failure. I was at-risk in more ways than one. Drugs were easily accessible had I wanted them, and my mom could not stay on top of me to do my work every single night as she was a full-time working mother. I did not start applying myself until well after the third-grade tests probably indicated that I would amount to little. I give credit to God for sparing me, for putting people in my life to push me and for igniting that fire in me to gain knowledge. Although I did not truly know Him until later in life, I feel like He was always there; He had (and has) a plan for me. I teach for Him.
It bothers me greatly when I am accused of teaching for summer breaks. It offends me when I see my dedicated colleagues commit their precious time to all the students, sacrificing evenings and weekends to create lesson plans, perform duties, or sponsor extracurricular activities, belittled by an oblivious critic who comes along and scoffs, “Teachers don’t really care. Why are they always complaining? They get the summers off, after all.”
There are some teachers deserving of that contempt, some who violate the sanctity of the profession, just as there are bad employees in every other field. Before you open your mouth, though, please stop and consider that we are not all like that. If you meet one or even ten bad teachers, you still haven’t met them all. Many of them come to you with stories of my own, if you are just willing to listen. Many of us do not teach for the vacation time; we teach for you and your children.