I think I have a difficult job. Most people agree with that assessment. I was talking with colleagues yesterday. One gave up a lucrative career because it was not satisfying in order to do something that fulfilled something in her that her high-paying job could not — she wanted to make an impact on the world. There is an assumption made by some that if one fails at some job or another — let’s say engineering, for example — one can always teach. An engineer can know all the math and science technically required to teach it, but does he or she possess the capability of helping students grasp it? Can he or she inspire? Even control the classroom to the degree that learning takes place?
There are few things that really grab me like teaching. When I have a really productive or interesting discussion with a class, well, I can’t say it’s like I’m on a high, but it feels invigorating. It revives me, somehow. One of my colleages said she teaches because it helps her continue to learn. I agree completely. I won’t go so far as to say it keeps me young. Frankly, right now, I’m not very concerned with that issue anyway. It does keep my mind moving, though. I really enjoy it. I don’t know what I would do if I ever had to give it up. For the few years I was unsure of myself and unhappy in my profession, I still kept at it. It was as if there was this nagging feeling that if I gave it up, I would regret it. And I did give it up for a time. But I came back. I guess I can’t stay away. I think a lot of people would have decided to do something else. I doubt many people in my position would have been so determined to keep at it. That’s not arrogance. There are astonishing statistics to back that up. Depending on which study is cited, anywhere from 20 to 30% of first-year teachers quit after that year. Within the first three years, 30-50% of teachers leave the profession. That is amazing. That means that if you make it past the third year, you have a 50% chance of sticking with it as a career. I guess I beat the odds, but I never would have believed it a couple of years ago, or even last year, when I was at the lowest point in my career.
When I was going through my teacher training courses at UGA, one of the projects I was required to complete was a dialogue journal with my supervising teacher and lead professor. I jotted down my thoughts about issues, my questions, my concerns, my complaints. Whatever I observed, I wrote down, leaving a wide margin on the right. My supervising teacher read this and wrote comments on the margin. Finally, my lead professor read both our comments and added her own. It was one of the most useful things I did in terms of preparation for the classroom, because it taught me to be reflective. I don’t think any teacher can ever be a good teacher if she doesn’t ask herself how things went and how she can improve for next time. It has to be okay not to be 100% “on” all the time. No one is. It is essential, however, to constantly evaluate my performance. One of the best compliments I received as I completed my teacher training came from my professor. She told me that I had what it took to be a reflective teacher for life. On the surface, that may not seem like glowing praise, but in light of statistics, she was basically saying I was one of the few who could make a career of this crazy thing; not only that, I could be a teacher who would constantly learn and think about what I was doing. After watching so many peers stagnate and mark time until retirement, I realize what my professor was really saying. She was saying I could get the hang of this thing. What is really rewarding is getting the hang of it and loving it at the same time. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping students learn something.