What is it about the profession that keeps some people there for 30 years?
Many teachers would automatically reply “I love the kids”, but after almost 30 years in the classroom, I have a different answer: “It keeps me young.” Not to sound self serving, but I do feel rejuvenated and fulfilled from the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship, and I know that teaching helps keep me in shape both mentally and physically.
I’ll admit that this sounds really selfish, but let’s take a look at this more carefully. Effective teaching requires mental alertness and acuity. Teaching is a demanding mental task.
I think on my feet constantly while multitasking. All of my responses—both verbal and gestures—have the potential to ignite or damage that fire in the classroom. I can turn a child on to learning and help her believe in herself, or I can damage his self esteem.
Someone told me a teacher makes 5000 decisions a day (no wonder I’m tired at the end of the day!) In a short 5 minute interim in my senior English class, I can respond to everything from “Why in the world does Hamlet choose such an unusual tactic?” to “May I go in the hall and blow my nose?” My replies to students must be built upon their comments in order to help push them into higher thinking and reasoning. If Zach’s response to my question about the poet’s purpose is a little off the mark, rather than telling him “No, that’s wrong”, I need to find the way to ask him the correct questions to lead him to a more thoughtful answer. This constant interplay is demanding, but it also helps me exercise my brain. I must plan and organize, I must deliver and receive, I must evaluate everything….and wow, then grading. Grading papers is something I really don’t enjoy about teaching, particularly for an English teacher. However, that part of the job also requires a commitment to mental focus and careful evaluation.
Teaching is an artful craft, and the more I do it, the more I realize how hard this job is. At the same time, the rewards are there. Not the tangible ones, like a comfortable salary or bonus, or even much more than a candy bar for Teacher Appreciation Week, but the satisfaction of seeing your efforts affect a young person in a positive way. Yes, those lightbulbs, those serendipitous moments when the student says “Oh, is she really suggesting that Dr. Frankenstein might be the monster?” The joyful, and often playful, discussions and projects in a Senior English class keep my mind young and engaged.
And staying in shape physically? Oh yes. Not only am I on my feet all day, but being a high school teacher usually involves several good ab workouts every day. In other words, I laugh and smile a lot. As I walk through the halls, I notice the kids. Hoodies, jeggings and skinny jeans, some pants still sagging, ear phones in, back packs. I chuckle and grin to myself. They all think they are so unique and yet there is so much similarity. I overhear comments like “Oh my goodness. You dropped your phone. Your life is over.” So young and so innocent, and yet they think they are so worldly.
Since I first started teaching, students have always teased me about how quickly I move in the halls. Some of that is due to the fact that we only have 5 minutes between classes, but some of my quick pace is because I am reenergized just being in the building with these young people. I feel it when my feet hit the pavement at 6:45 AM..and it continues throughout the day. The energizer bunny gets reenergized.
The ab workouts mainly happen in class. While reading “To His Coy Mistress”, Tommy responds “Is he trying to get her to do the horizontal monster mash?” Of course, you have to laugh. Adam writes “I have learned so much in a warm and neutering environment.” (Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t how we manage classrooms). You can’t make this stuff up, but it is all part of the enjoyment and pleasure of interacting with high school students.
So why do I teach? Of course, it really is the students, but it is an added bonus to think how they are keeping me young and enthusiastic!