I’m a newbie to teaching. When meeting new people, it quickly comes up in conversation. I’ve noticed that a lot of people — not teachers — like to share with me their opinion of teaching. Their responses almost always fall into one of two categories:
I could never be a teacher. It’s so hard, to have to deal with all those kids all the time.
You are doing something so noble day in and day out. Thanks.
When they say those things, I disabuse them of the notion that I’m working harder than people in other professions (I have friends in med school, lawyers, professors) or that I’m a self-sacrificing hero working day in and day out for the betterment of mankind.
Not to say that I don’t work hard, or that I don’t think I’m impacting my students.
But those aren’t the reasons I went into teaching, or that I continue to work hard at it.
When it comes down to it, I teach for two reasons. First, I love love love my subject matter and I want to show others why it’s so great. As reasons go, it’s mundane and expected. Also, it’s selfish. I get a rush from the thought that I could be setting my students’ brains on fire, like my math teachers did to my brain when I was their age. Second, I love the challenges that teaching presents. I like creating projects for myself, learning new things, trying something or another thing out. It feels good to have something that I can say “I did” whether it be creating a paint chip wallet or have student X successfully learn to apply the law of cosines. These are small mountains I like to conquer.
I don’t do it for others. It’s nice that others might benefit, but — at least for me, now — I do it for myself.
Recently in the edusphere, there has been a conversation about the nobility of the teaching profession, partially prompted by the US News and World Report that stated teaching was “overrated.” (See here and here to get familiar with the arguments.) Much of the writing deals with tenure, the concept of “profession,” merit, and salary.
As I’m teaching in a private school which doesn’t have many of the problems that many of those blogging write about, I don’t have much of substance to add to the conversation above. But I’m still going to throw out a few cents.
In my experience, teachers don’t rely on the rhetoric of “nobility” when they talk with each other. (Mainly I’ve found non-teachers speak in those terms.) We commiserate with each other on the problems that adolescents pose for us, we complain about the late nights, we gripe about the higher salaries our friends in the financial sector are making , but at least among my young teacher friends (even those in the NY Teaching Fellows), we don’t ever talk about the nobility of what we do.
I’m not saying that my teacher friends went into teaching for the same reasons that I did, or even think of it in a similar way to me. They might even see themselves as working in the “greatest calling of all.” But I think when it comes to our actions from 7:30 – 3:10 (and after), nobility has very little to do with the task at hand.
 I too gripe about wanting more money (living in NYC, one always needs more money). But I don’t wrap myself in the clothing of a martyr, seeing myself as sacrificing the money in the financial sector for the more modestly paid teaching work. I chose teaching.