I Don't Even Know Why I Became A Teacher (Anyone with Me?)
I hate it when people ask me why I became a teacher. I never know what to say.
I always feel like these other teachers are out here talking about how they want to change the world, how they love the youth of the nation, how they knew they would teach when they were still pounding back fistfuls of creamed carrots.
And then I start scrolling through Instagram. I have to say, this week was the first time I had really engaged with the Teachers of Instagram community, and what I saw made me angry. As I looked at page after page after page of classroom decorations and worksheets and self-care advice and adages about the importance of our work, I felt like I was looking through the window of a social club to which I had not been invited. Every page I encountered carried the unmistakable aroma of confidence--these people seem to know they were destined to be teachers. They chose this. And this seems to carry them through the tough times. It freaked me out that I don’t share their certainty, and my fear quickly turned to anger.
I had to take a run to cool down.
Me? I never thought I would be a teacher. I grew up thinking I would be a big-shot. I literally thought, for a long time, that I was destined to become the President of the U.S.A. and get to ride in a limo and grandstand on TV and shit. In fact, real talk, I still sometimes think that.
If you were to x-ray my mind when I was considering a career in the classroom at age 21, here’s probably the real list of thoughts that you’d see bangin’ around in there:
Teaching is a good thing to do
Dad was a teacher, and I love and respect Dad as much as anyone, so maybe I’ll try it, too
The plan has always been to be a political influencer, but I don’t know how to do that and I’m scared to try. Teaching seems safer and easier (lol)
Maybe teaching will help me get into education policy somehow?
$46 grand straight outta the gate’s not bad for a newlywed couple with two damn-near useless social sciences BAs between them
Help me I’m scared
Or something like that. I pretty much never say any of these things when the question comes up though. How could I, when I’m sitting in a circle of people rehashing their childhood traumas and waxing rhapsodic about the Long Moral Arc of the Universe? (For the record, I do not mean to sound dismissive of my colleagues’ rationales. These are all honest, legitimate reasons given by people I’m lucky to work with--I just wish I shared their confidence.)
And boy, do I wish I had more confidence in my answer, because teaching is hard. If you’ve ever set foot in a classroom, I needn’t say more. In case you haven’t, just trust me. This is a job in which I feel like I exert a herculean effort just to muster the patience I need to work with twelve-year-olds. It is as thankless as it is hard, so it would be nice to have an unshakeable confidence in my career choice to help me through those difficult moments.
But my lack of adequate reasons for becoming a teacher is not even my real problem. I have a hard time answering the question mainly because it’s the wrong question to ask. Rather than asking, “why did you choose this career?” I wish someone, just one time, would ask me, “why do you think this career chose you? Why has your life led you here?”
The truth is, I didn’t opt into teaching for reasons of moral certitude, or as a part of some twenty-year plan. I did it because I couldn’t not do it. It was the thing to do. Call it the Lord’s plan, call it destiny, call it Karma, but it didn’t feel like any of those things at the time. It was just the thing to do, so I did it. That’s as satisfactory of an answer as I can provide.
I’ve actually got some answers to the question of why the classroom called me: teaching healed me of some deep emotional wounds (more on that in a future post). My job teaches me patience and compassion and humility every day. It teaches me how to let go of my need to control. (You see, middle schoolers do this cool thing where they refuse to be commanded by anybody, so the best you can do as a teacher, if you’re unwilling to rely on fear or manipulation tactics, is convince them that this class is worth their time and attention.) And maybe most important of all, this career and some special people in it, including my co-author, have taught me how to ask the right questions. How to look at the path of my life and ask why, and be okay with the tension of not always hearing an answer.
This is why we started Classroom Calling. We didn’t do it to convince anyone to become a teacher. We didn’t set out to add to the chorus of dedicated super-teachers who have known all along this is where they’d end up. We launched it to ask ourselves, and anyone, in any career, who feels like their path has chosen them rather than the other way around: Why were we brought here, and what does this job require of us? Who must we become to answer the call?
Anyone got any ideas?