Why do we teach?

I was in a teaching-related discussion the other day (for a change!) in which one (non-teaching) person implied that teachers could broadly be divided into the “dedicated” teachers who are passionate about the job and would do it in almost any circumstances, and those who were in it because they couldn’t get another job.  Now I don’t recognise myself as being in either of those categories – I do enjoy my job, but I could definitely envisage doing other things (and would do them if I hadn’t got a job at a school I liked) – and people outside education have been prepared to employ me, honest!

I also got a bit grumpy because the implication was that the good teachers are invariably those super-dedicated souls for whom teaching is their first, their last , their everything. It’s undoubtedly true that there are some exceptional teachers in that category. But not all the “teaching is my life” brigade are outstanding – some of them work like crazy but find the relationships with pupils hard to get right, for example, and some may find it hard to be flexible enough having put so much time into preparation.  Whilst obviously you can’t be bone idle and do a decent job as a teacher (marking is inescapable, for a start), some of the best teachers I know have a range of other interests, previous careers in other fields and don’t take the “more is necessarily better” approach to preparation and marking.

So what does attract us to it, if it’s not that supreme sense of vocation or a cynical enthusiasm for the long holidays?

Well for a start, I think I must like the actual teaching process. I always tend to take any opportunity to explain anything to anyone, if they don’t run away fast enough! Amusingly, my mother is exactly the same, even though she’s never been employed as a teacher.

Then there’s the variety. Kids sometimes ask me if I get bored teaching the same thing each year – and indeed I’d admit there are a few odd topics I don’t much enjoy delivering.  But whilst there’s not much variety in what I’m teaching, the actual lessons, and even how I approach it, vary hugely depending on the class I’ve got, even now after so many years in the job. I don’t think I ever teach something exactly the same way twice.  Different classes have hugely different dynamics (which can be good or bad!) and even a class you teach for several years on the trot evolves and develops.

There’s a fair bit of autonomy too. OK, whatever work you do, if you’re an employee you’ll have someone on your case sooner or later, and deadlines to meet (and if you run your own business, there’s always someone on your case!), but we really do have quite a bit of control over what happens in the classroom, planning our workload etc.

Colleagues are a real plus point. No, you never like them all equally, and there’ll always be the odd person who gets on your nerves – but unless you are very unfortunate and they are, for example, your head of department, you can usually avoid it getting to be a real problem.  Expressing it more positively, I can honestly say that I’ve actively liked the vast majority of my teaching colleagues at the places I’ve worked, and have converted a lot of colleagues into friends. I’ve been particularly fortunate in that respect in my current job – an exceptionally friendly and supportive staff room.

Then you have the satisfaction when you see the light bulb go on in someone’s head. You also, of course, get the frustration when they don’t remember something you thought you’d taught them, and the desperation when however you explain it, it doesn’t seem to go in – but they are actually outweighed by the feel good moments.

It’s enjoyable (mainly) spending time with the kids too. Again, you’re never going to like them all equally (though of course you don’t show that). But a lot of them can make you laugh, or make you think, or make you feel alive.  I have a lot of fun in most of my lessons!

Oh, and then there’s the holidays of course… we’ve got one of those coming up this week! (for which I am very grateful, however much I enjoy my job)

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3 Responses to Why do we teach?

  1. Jesse Owen says:

    “I always tend to take any opportunity to explain anything to anyone, if they don’t run away fast enough!”

    Love this line – I’m exactly the same! hehe 🙂

  2. sarah evans says:

    I totally agree that good teachers have other interests in their lives too and I think it is often hard to separate what is work and what is personal interest. Having recently left teaching, I am astonished how often thinking when I read a newspaper, for pleasure, I find myself thinking ‘that will be good to talk to the sixth form about’ or when I go and see a play again thinking ‘ that will make a good assembly’. So I think a lot of what we might be doing anyway, can be used to enrich lessons and school life generally.

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