I used to dislike children. I won’t sugarcoat it; I did not know how to interact with them; neither was I interested in doing so. My closest relationship to kids was the fact that I have once been one myself, but that is as for most of us something of a distant dream. My maternal instinct was awakened solely by cats (sigh) and my uterus was basically shrinking into my body every time I saw a child.
So, if you had told me in December 2016 that I would be a teacher, I would have laughed sarcastically in your face. And probably made an evil joke about how kids ruin their parents’ lives.
Now, fourteen months later, I am eating my words. A friend of mine works in the administration of an elementary school on the very eastern side of town, and in early January 2017, she asked me if I would like to be a music teacher substitute, knowing that I had just quit my full-time job and was currently unemployed. I obviously laughed like described above, but being in need of the money and having already decided that 2017 would be the year I challenged myself and did stuff outside of my comfort zone, I said yes.
I arrived at my very first class, smiling awkward smiles at the little humans passing by, while being absolutely mortified. It went horribly, and I thought to myself that it was just a confirmation of what I already knew; kids are like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, – just oh so very able to take down a blue whale-sized dinosaur like myself. They are many, they attack without mercy, and there is just no help in the fact that you are way bigger than them.
However, I did not like to be defeated, and when I was asked to substitute the following week as well, I complied. It went better. And better again.
Back to the word eating. Don’t get me wrong, I have no pedagogic education, and I am not planning to become a full-time teacher. But I don’t think I have ever felt so appreciated in a working place. I know I have never received so many hugs and so much love, and I have never done something that feels so meaningful.
Then to the whole point of this post; I have gained a completely new respect for full-time teachers, one that I am ashamed not to have had sooner. But although teaching is very rewarding when it goes well, it is very hard work. I teach thirty percent, and to me elementary school teachers are heroes, and if we are not going to pay them well (which is another discussion), we should at least cherish them for the amazing and exhausting job they do. Here is why;
Teachers that teach kids from six to nine (and even ten) are not just educators. They somehow magically combine that role with the role of parents, nurses, police and diplomats. People who have never taught might think that it’s about one plus one and learning to spell from day one, but the fact is that in addition to that, there is a whole lot of stuff most six-year-olds don’t know how to do. Like tying their shoelaces, opening their milk cans, or putting on their mittens correctly. Take all of this and multiply it by twenty-five, and you know what elementary schools have to deal with.
In addition, most elementary school teachers teach almost every single subject, which means they have to know both languages (often two), maths, gymnastics, science, religion, and sometimes even arts or music. Then add the fact that in a class of eight-year-olds, there are usually pupils with the mental age of four and other pupils with the mental age of eleven. You have the responsibility of making sure the former doesn’t fall behind and that the latter is not under-stimulated. Just. How?
I don’t claim to have gained these myself, but the good and experienced teachers I sometimes witness in action certainly have. And I’m talking full-scale Inspector Gadget arms, reaching to absolutely every corner of the classroom no matter where they are positioned. As if that weren’t enough, they have psychic powers or maybe just the skills of any top-trained CIA interrogator, being able to pick up every little sign and predict and prevent any future nuclear blast.
This is a forever struggle that I have yet to attain, unfortunately. I sometimes nail it, but it depends on the class and the lesson, and I never really know when I will achieve it and when I will fail. So I truly admire my fellow teachers’ ability to balance being warm and safe, with being strict and maintaining their everlasting authority. I’m not sure how they do this, but they do.
Their beside teaching-duties
These days the teaching itself is only a part of what teachers do. They are continuously bombarded with courses, meetings, new strategies, analysis, statistics, planning and you name it. Not what they signed up for (I tend to think), and not ~really~ what they want to spend their time on, although obligated to do so by today’s system.
Their lack of breaks
Fine, teachers might have long vacations, but the fact is that they spend a lot of that time on the things mentioned above. And, if you have never taught, you have probably never thought about what privilege it is just being able to pee whenever you want. So take a moment to appreciate that. As well, your half-hour lunch break is very likely to get cut in half by the time it takes to prepare your next lesson or the fact that one of your pupils is refusing to leave the classroom.
Thank God I have a decent memory for names. It was quite a challenge for me to learn 130 names for my first couple of weeks, where most of them were names I have never heard before in my life, much less knew how to pronounce, as I work in the very culturally diverse elementary school. But, when it comes to full-time teachers, they also (I imagine) try to remember the names of their pupils’ parents, so if you have a class of twenty, that will multiply by three, and you don’t even have the yearbook to help you connect names with faces. Good luck.
Their diplomacy skills
I know I already mentioned this, but I feel like I have to emphasize it. The first kind of diplomacy teachers do, is the one between kids. That can definitely be challenging, especially because small children tend to not really listen to reason, and be controlled by their own stubbornness. This kind of conflict, however, does not put your job in jeopardy, and most of the time they resolve themselves. The second kind of conflict teachers deal with is one that I as a music teacher have yet to experience, and it is the one between the teacher himself/herself and a parent. These days it is quite common (emphasizing that this experience comes from teacher friends of mine, not from my workplace) for parents to blame the teacher when their children don’t succeed at school, and in a lot of cases that is just unreasonable. I even know teachers that have received anonymous complaint letters, telling them what a shit job they are doing, when they are actually quite successful with the majority of their pupils.
Teachers can make a huge difference in a person’s life, for better or worse. A teacher can possibly save a pupil’s life by just seeing and understanding him or her, or simply discovering how to help. On the other hand, not doing so, not seeing that a pupil is a victim of bullying or is not coping socially, can be fatal. It can be the difference between a good life and a bright future, and falling out of the system and ending up as what society so gently defines as a failure. This is what they take on.
What am I trying to say?
If you haven’t realized sooner, it is about time we give teachers a huge cheer and tell them that whether we have kids or not, they matter. They educate our future colleagues, the doctors that might end up taking care of us when we are old, they teach that kid that will once find the cure for cancer. They make sure our future population is as resourceful as possible, and that future generations keep the world functioning. All the while genuinely caring about every little individual.
So, THANK YOU!
(And thanks to @boredteachers for providing me with FB’s best teaching memes)