Becoming “This One Teacher”: How to Know You Are in the Right Profession
Are you struggling to make it to the end of the school year or feel like your life as a teacher is pure craziness? Do you sometimes even wonder if you are in the right profession?
Recently, I went to a friend’s baby shower. I sat with a group of ladies making small talk and, naturally, everyone shared what they did for a living. When I told them I am a high school math teacher, I received predictable responses: “Oh. Um … wow,” and “Good for you,” as their eyes averted and their awkward expressions told how they truly felt.
I will never forget the response from one older lady who said, “But you seem so normal!”
I know they were trying to be nice, but in a situation like that, I wish I could’ve lied and said something like, “I am a deep-sea yoga instructor.” I am sure then people would not look at me like I’m crazy.
However, one person said, “Well I used to hate math in school but I had this one teacher …” She went on to tell a story of a teacher who made the subject relevant, approachable, and somehow come alive for her. And in my head I silently asked,
“God, are any of my students in 10 or 20 years going to say about me, I had this one teacher?”
In the teaching profession, especially when you are a new teacher, there is such a need for validation. Particularly when you have evaluations, observations by administration, and a long list of state standards constantly reminding you that you should be doing better. When you feel blame from all directions, when some are pointing to schools as the “root of society’s problems,” it is hard not to feel a little underappreciated and misunderstood.
Other professions often have instant validation. If you are a lawyer, you know right away if you have won or lost a case. If you are an architect, you can look at something and say “I built that.” If you are a doctor, you know you have succeeded because, well, your patient is not dead.
Teachers get to the end of a long day, take home a pile of grading and hope they have energy to do it all over again tomorrow. Somewhere you hope there is a kid going home and telling his parents “I have this one teacher, and she really taught me something cool today.”
If you have ever watched professional skiers, you might see them bouncing through moguls or making a high jump. The main thing that makes the difference between a successful run and a complete wipeout for a skier is expecting the bumps and also gracefully flying through the highs. You simply must stay flexible to the ups and downs that undoubtedly come.
If you are a new teacher, realize that no gold medalist skier earned that award in a year, or even two years—sometimes not even ten years.
But if you feel it will be worth it to someday have a student say about you “I had this one teacher …,” then you know you're in the right profession.
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