This is the time of year when the stresses and strains of teaching can lead educators to contemplate making a change. Certainly, the experiences of the past two years have not made the work any easier or less stressful. Consequently, we can lose perspective, forget what led us to teaching, and overlook the important reasons to remain in this profession.
In the coming weeks, you may be approached for advice by a colleague who is having a “stay or leave” debate with themselves. Without lead time and opportunity to reflect, you may miss the opportunity to remind your colleague of some of the most compelling and enduring reasons for choosing to remain despite the pressures, distractions, and frustrations. If you should find yourself facing this challenge, here are five important truths about teaching you can share.
First, teaching positions us with a front row seat to learning. Learning is among the most complex, magical, and inspiring of human endeavors. It is difficult to imagine more compelling and rewarding experiences than to see “a light go on” as a student makes an important connection, discovers a new insight, or applies a challenging new skill. The “mystery” that is learning challenges us to reflect, imagine, inquire, and even improvise in real time. Few other professions offer such meaningful engagement multiple times each day. Nurturing the learning of students invites us to be learners with and for them.
Second, teaching reminds us that we are needed. We may be the one smile a student will experience in their day. We may be the only consistent advocate they have. The compliments and encouragement we offer may the only support they feel. We have the power to make a student’s day. Often, we are the one person who will make it a day to hope, persist, and celebrate.
Third, teaching positions us to influence the future. Our engagement with students is early in their life trajectory. When our influence leads to even a small change today it can have a life altering impact over time. Some people are experts at predicting the future. Teachers are experts at creating it; one student at a time. We may not know which of our students will discover a cure for a dreaded disease, solve an important world problem, open a local business that keeps a community vital, or serve their community in other important ways, but we know they will. In the words of astronaut Christa McAuliffe: “I touch the future. I teach.”
Fourth, teaching offers pure entertainment every day. In the words of former radio and television host Art Linkletter: “Kids say the darndest things.” His words offer in insight into one of the special treasures of teaching. Students are funny, creative, imaginative, surprising, unscripted, and always bring a fresh perspective. If we need to laugh or smile, we can always recall something a student said or did that was so surprising, unpredictable, or humorous that we cannot help ourselves. It has been said that if teachers do not see humor in their day, they must not be paying attention.
Fifth, teaching allows us to work with friends and kindred spirits. Teachers make great friends. They care. They are dedicated. They work hard. They also are funny, loyal, and dependable. They are ready to offer support and share insights and ideas. Teachers are quick to understand when colleagues are worried or struggle to solve a teaching and learning problem. The fact is that good people tend to be drawn to teaching. They want to make a difference and they understand that one of the best places to contribute is in the lives of young people.
The reasons why a colleague may contemplate making a career change will likely be varied and complex. However, you may be able to provide what they need to be convinced to stay when you remind them of what teaching has to offer and what it means to them.