As tomorrow starts another beginning to another school year, I can’t help but reflect on how I ended up in the teaching profession. The following phrase has been repeated multiple times over the years in the different school districts that I have worked, “No one teaches for the money.” Or something like that is phrased to give everyone pause in Professional Development about the true meaning of teaching and why we do what we do. Every time I hear that phrase I wonder if my colleagues in the room can see the heat rise to my face or can sense my hurried breath as I actually think, ‘yes, I am doing this for the money.’
It sounds terrible to admit such a truth, but it is time. After 11 years as a teacher it is long time that I acknowledge what I really think about my job, and what I chose to do.
After my ex-husband and I were married it became very evident that someone needed to make some real money. We met after college and had a whirlwind love affair, married way too soon, and reality started to bite us in the ass after a few months. He had left a great job after 10 years, and I was working odd jobs as secretaries (which ironically is still my favorite thing that I have been paid to do). It is no surprise that my art history degree and extensive knowledge of Italian Renaissance and Mannerist art was not going to pay the bills.
So as most members of my family before me chose to do, I decided to become a teacher. I had no fear of the long hours, heartbreak for students, or stupid regulations that the State imposed. I enrolled in a course that met several times a week for a year that would put me on the fast track to becoming a teacher.
After 11 years teaching various things such as first grade, art, gifted and talented, special education, and reading, I can honestly say that it is not what I want. It is hard to be good at something that I don’t love. I have been very successful with my students, parents, and fellow teachers. I went back to school to get my Master’s degree in education and studied for multiple certification exams. I did all of this because I needed to fill my time. I needed money. I never did it because of love or passion.
Oh sure, I can fain passion to just about anyone who wants to talk about education. I can speak to testing, laws by the federal and state governments, or the disproportionality of minority students in specialized programs. I can reference research that is both meaningful and relevant. But my heart is not where it should be. My heart was interested in finding something to do that I could be good at, to help a future generation of Americans was not part of the gig.
I feel like a terrible person that I don’t love my job. Why have I stayed in the profession so long? Because I am great at what I do is the simple answer. I am not trying to be self-inflated or cocky. I am good at getting kids to perform when no one else can. I can get Special Ed kids to pass state assessments. I can get gifted kids to give a shit about someone else’s existence other than the ideas rolling around in their minds. I can teach kids how to read. And while, yes, there is some satisfaction in doing what I do, the satisfaction has never been enough to keep my heart from longing for something else.
I really don’t have a good idea of what I would like to do with my life. Thoughts swirl in my mind as quickly as someone passes through dating profiles online. Perhaps, I would like to live in the mountains and paint, or in the city and write. That is part of my problem, I can’t figure out anything better to do than teach.
I have forged meaningful relationships with young ones, and I can tell funny and heart wrenching stories. It’s not that I have no feelings or emotion while I am at work. I do. And until I can figure out what I really want to be when I grow up I will continue to teach with a smile on my face. I will love my students. I will always be an advocate for them, no matter who I need to stand against. I will impact them, get them to think, and make a lifetime of memories all while my heart aches for something else.