Everyone has heard those jokes about the allure of teaching: summer vacation, holidays, short work days. To the uninitiated, these apparent “perks” have come to define our profession. Those of us who teach, however, know better.
I found my way to teaching via the scenic route, by way of a BA in English, a brief stint in the world of print journalism, and the lifetime committment to motherhood. With the support of my husband and with two small children at home, I enrolled in graduate school and earned an MS in Teaching, finishing with a 4.0 GPA. Back then, teaching secondary English represented a chance to combine what I already knew I loved– kids, school, reading, writing–into a career. And almost as soon as I addressed my first class of eleventh graders, I knew two things. One, I really might enjoy teaching. Two, teaching well was going to be so much more challenging than I ever imagined.
The first year or two were simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Some days, my high school classes were a series of wild fires that I was barely able to contain, much less extinguish. I forgot to assign/collect/correct homework. Classes were interrupted by (pick one or more): assemblies, fire drills, band lessons, play practice, class trips, the occasional lovers’ quarrel or fist fight. Planning lessons and correcting an endless supply of essays instantly became a second full time job. But then, something about Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy or Atticus Finch’s courage in the face of blatant racism would evoke a sigh or a cheer and then, the class and I collectively soared.
Eventually, I mastered the planning, managed the pacing and became more optimistic about my chances of being a five year survivor, the point at which my more experienced colleagues said they had become somewhat better at this very demanding and very complex job.
In the years since, I have taught AP Literature and now share my love for language with seventh and eighth graders whose energy and angst keep me on my instructional game.
Though the rules of the game have changed, it helps me each day to remember that I love what I do. I still belive what I believed on my first day on the job: next to parenting, teaching is perhaps the most important job on earth and just like parenting, the only way to get good at it is to do it.