This is the twentieth and last part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.
Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to be a teacher if you could go back in time and make the choice again?
Such a loaded question, with so many implications. The last one should be the hardest, but for me it isn’t. There are many things to consider to answer it properly though. After all I’ve shared on this blog, the answer might surprise you.
I’m about to enter my fourth year of teaching. It seems like such a small amount of time – saying to people that I’ve been teaching for three years makes me feel like a complete baby in the profession, and I guess that’s right.
A wise professor told me at the end of my Graduate Diploma in Education that you should work in a field for 3-5 years before attempting a PhD, because before that you really can’t know anything about it. I was arrogant enough to disagree at the time, but in the time that has passed since I couldn’t agree more.
I came out of my degree with wild enthusiasm and a sense of self-righteousness, confident in my ability and sure of my to-be success. I think I have been very successful since then, however I always knew there was more to learn, and I still haven’t stopped learning.
I think if you get to the point with teaching where you feel like you know it all, you probably shouldn’t be a teacher any more. It is an ever-changing field, full to the brim with people in a way not many other professions are. I can’t think of any other profession that requires you to get to know so many individual people in order to provide for them. Sure, there are many many professions that deal with a hell of a lot of people on a daily basis (I’m looking at you retail and hospitality, and even medicine), but not ever person in those professions needs to understand so many of their clients.
As a high school teacher, I’m dealing on a personal level with up to 150 individual human beings each day. I am expected to understand them on a deep personal level (but not too personal, that would be unprofessional) and provide an education for them that is suitable for their individual needs all at the same time. Learning how to do that is an incredibly hard education in itself. You learn so much about psychology, economics, emotions, warfare strategy, negotiations, conflict resolution, and even comedic skills, just to arrange a ‘simple’ seating plan.
Teaching is a job I can do that allows and encourages me to continue learning myself. We try to navigate this swirling ocean as best we can, within the constraints we are given, and we are constantly learning how. And boy do I love learning! I grow in so many ways each year, and most I don’t even realise until I sit down and do a reflection like this.
I am glad to say that I have grown out of my arrogance, and instead grown into a real appreciation of the complexities of the profession. The more I experience of it, the more I understand how little I know. Somewhat of a curse that comes from being mildly intelligent – I’m not ignorant or uninterested enough to learn the basics and do a good job within that, I need to learn more and do more to get better. And also because it’s fun!
I am now even considering a PhD, but I have a proper focus and true experience to back it up and lead it in a worthwhile direction. I still have more learning to do this year though, so it is a 2018 or later prospect, but one I am looking forward to.
Teaching is what I do, it’s what I’m good at and I enjoy. I love so many aspects of this job, and I do it for the students as much as I do it for myself. I definitely started out for myself because I thought it was something I’d be good at, but the more I do it the more invested I get in the students and I have recently realised that they are the reason I keep doing it. I’m sure I could be reasonably good at any job I did, probably even happy, but the kids keep my heart in it.
I can put up with a lot of the bureaucracy and crap, the long hours, the thankless tasks, the temper tantrums, the horrid parents, the unforgiving admin, the unattainable expectations, the endless ‘data’ and ‘reform’ ideas. I can put up with it all because I know that I can help the students to learn stuff, I can be a positive influence on their lives, I can be a steady and reassuring presence, and I can help them move toward whatever they want to be in the future.
I love interacting with my high school students on a daily basis, watching them discover their adult personalities and growing into their potential. They are developing a real sense of humour, and can hold adult conversations about the world they are inheriting. They are beginning to understand their likes and dislikes, and working their way through the tangle of teenagehood to emerge as their own selves on the other side. I’m so privileged to be part of that journey, and to share my knowledge and love for science.
I have made so many incredible friends in this profession, so many I am thankful for. I have learned more from my colleagues than I ever did in my teacher training (part of the reason I think teaching should be more of an apprenticeship and less of a coursework degree, but that’s another story). Not just about teaching either, but about life. They have helped me through my darkest times, and celebrated with me in my brightest.
If teachers didn’t support each other, the entire system would fall flat on its face. Of course not everyone gets along, sometimes teachers drive each other up the wall more than the students do, and sometimes it is just impossible to work together. The unprofessionalism I have witnessed in some parts of my career so far have been absolutely astounding, especially when we’re supposed to be setting an example for the students.
But when teachers do get along, when they just click and from friendships (no matter how shallow or deep they are) it is a truly special thing. The students can see through all the false faces we put on, they can see which teachers get along and which ones don’t. They see just as much about us as we see about them, so it is a great thing when they see that teachers are humans too and can be friends with each other.
We support each other with difficulties, amuse each other in endless meetings, provide the ever-needed snacks and drinks, share fantastic ideas and warn off things that aren’t working well. We are connected in a unique way, because we are all working toward the same thing – the education of young people. When we can remember that, we are a powerful force indeed.
On the flip side, it has easily been the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. If you’ve been reading along since the beginning a year and a half ago, you will know well my struggles and I won’t delve into them again here. I have been diagnosed with the whammy of depression, stress, and anxiety – all because of this job. I feel like I’m out towards the other side of them now, but they sneak up and attack unannounced every now and then. I don’t think they will ever truly go away, but I am dealing, and the mindfulness is definitely helping.
However, even when times got really rough and I was super stressed out, I don’t know that I ever truly considered leaving the profession. I thought about leaving the various schools I’ve worked in, I’ve thought about taking time off, but I never really thought about what I would do if I wasn’t a teacher. Sure I could go back to working in an office or a lab, or hell even go back to retail/hospitality and the different challenges there. But it just didn’t seem like an option to me.
So, Would I Still Do The Same Thing Over Again?
I have fantasised about what I would do if I never became a teacher, much in the same way that I have fantasised about life if I’d never met my husband, or never had brothers, or was born in another country, or the sky was green instead of blue and everyone had magical powers and aliens visited all the time.
That is, I’ve thought about it a great deal in such a way that it was never really an option. I am comfortable imagining those lives because I know they would never be, and I am so happy and content with my life now that imagining them poses no threat to my mental state or my relationships.
It gives me great satisfaction to tell others I am a teacher, even when their reactions border on contempt. It is a damn hard job that I work damn hard at. I had a pretty standard path to getting here, and it definitely wasn’t because I ‘couldn’t get a job in my field’, as many people seem to think of all teachers. I think I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it was never the right time, until it was, and here I am.
I recently had someone reply to a comment I made on an article, telling me that it was obvious I disliked the job so much, had been in it too long, and that I shouldn’t teach any more. All that quite personal negativity because I shared my observations about how many students aren’t taking responsibility for their own education and the blame is falling ever-more on the teachers for every negative thing to come out of students and their parents lives, not to mention the blame we are receiving for whatever social failing the media wants to focus on that week. That response really upset me because I really do love my job. I see these negative things happening all the time, and I speak about them publicly because I believe in our profession. I know that makes me a target, and many would argue borders on being unprofessional, but there is so much misguided media attention and teacher-bashing that I just want to share the realities with people. There is a hell of a lot more to teaching than it seems, and so many people feel like they have an expert view of the education system because they went through it as a child and have children going through it now. But I digress. The point I’m trying to make here is I’m very passionate about our profession, and that passion is driven by a real enjoyment and sense of purpose. I just love teaching ok.
Will I still feel this way in a decade, or even in a few months? While this job is a definite roller coaster of emotion and experiences, for now I love it and I would not be anything else.
So knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time would I still make the choice to be a teacher?
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.