Slice of Life - The One Where I Get on my Soapbox

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

Seldom have I felt completely comfortable in my skin or who I am. There are always insecurities that eat away at my self-confidence or my mood.  However, there are moments or situations that I find myself in and everything clicks. I question a lot of my abilities but one thing I never question is my ability to teach. I am a really good teacher.  True there may be some who are better or who can teach certain subjects better than I can, but I know I am a good teacher.  What makes me a good teacher may in part be natural abilities, but my desire to be a reflective teacher and to always improve is what really counts. And even when I might question other abilities, what I never question is that I am a teacher.

Recently on twitter there was a question posed by Sarah Mulhern Gross (@thereadingzone):
Is it unrealistic or unfair to expect teaching to be your passion? Can/should it be "just a job" or fallback? 
I was almost going to say I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, but this is my blog and my slice of life and I am not apologizing for my thoughts on this.

Teaching should never be seen as just a job. It better darn well be your passion or calling or the thing that you love more than anything. Teaching is hard. Teaching is often unappreciated. Everyone thinks they know how to do it better than you and freely offers their opinions of how it should be done even when they have never stepped in front of a roomful of children in their life.  There are very few careers where you are expected to have a high level of education and training and still not receive the respect that you deserve. And yet, it is the best career, if you are truly a teacher.

In high school, I read several books by teachers working with children with special needs.  This was after the time that P.L. 94-142 had just been passed.  These teachers were pioneers in the field of Special Education.  They portrayed stories that were not for the faint of heart. Despite how difficult it was, I was inspired by their stories. Maybe because I expected it to be challenging and at times hard that what I encountered instead seemed more exhilarating than tough?!

In my senior year of high school, I managed to locate the Special Day Class on my campus.  It was located in some hallway that I did not even know existed.  I asked the teacher in that class if I could give up my study hall to volunteer in her classroom as a peer tutor. She was thrilled.  Other than whatever pass she gave me to miss my study hall, I was given no extra credit, no community service hours, no special recognition. Sure, volunteering got me a letter of recommendation that I could use in my college application, but other than that I did it because I wanted to learn what it meant to be a teacher.

In my first year in college, I signed up for volunteer hours with one of the local elementary schools.  By the way, I went to college in New Hampshire. I had no car. I walked a mile to the school and a mile back to my dorm three days a week so that I could volunteer in two different classrooms. Unless there was a conflict with a class or an exam, I did not miss my days at the school.  Even though I had to walk there in all kinds of weather and we had a really snowy winter that year, I went every time I was scheduled to be there. By the time, I reached my junior and senior years, I had volunteer hours in a variety of classrooms working with children with all types of disabilities and also in all kinds of settings.  

Fast forward a few years past college, I was trying to figure out where my career was going. I knew I was a teacher but where should I be. I heard a speaker in Amherst, Massachusetts talk about the needs of urban school districts. I literally do not remember who it was or whether it was at Amherst College or UMass.  What I remember was his challenge. He clearly stated that children in urban schools needed the best possible teachers.  At that moment, I made a commitment to urban education and to students who might not have access to the educational opportunities that students in more affluent communities would have.  Education and teaching had never been just a job to me but it was always more than a career. It was truly a calling.  One that took me 3000 miles from my family and to a community that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced. As a fully credentialed special education teacher, I was asked multiple times by people why I chose to work in an urban school district when I could work in another district with less challenges and for more pay. After awhile, I stopped trying to explain that I was exactly where I should be.  It made no sense to most people. I just knew that every student who walked through my door would receive the same quality of education as I could provide any child in one of those more affluent districts.

When I become frustrated with all of the crazy initiatives and idiotic decisions of those who think they know what they are doing I always ask myself what else would I do if I was not in education?! I literally become sick at the thought of not being in education and not working on the behalf of children. There is not a single other career that I can envision that would have the same meaning for me.  It isn't that I do not think myself capable of doing other jobs. I just cannot see myself receiving the same level of joy and fulfillment from those other jobs.

There may be teachers, administrators or parents who over the years did not always like me or the decisions I made, but one of the greatest insult anyone could make was that I was not an advocate for a child or concerned about children.    

So Sarah, my answer to your question is that anyone who chooses to step through the doors of a classroom and presume to be a teacher better darn well be passionate and willing to go the distance. The lives of every child who crosses the threshold of those doors depends on the teacher being someone who is passionate and capable. Just as I would not want an incompetent surgeon who was just showing up for a paycheck to perform surgery on me, I do not want an incompetent teacher who just wanted a paycheck showing up to teach children.  If someone just wants a paycheck, then they should find another job, teaching isn't for them.