I’m a school teacher, and I have taught in private Christian schools for all my nearly 30-year career. I have a front row seat to teaching as a profession and the high calling it represents.
Yet as I see many of my fellow teachers get wrapped up in the “calling” part of our profession, the one I seem to admire the most is Mike. Mike started teaching a few years before I did, and has been in and out of our profession throughout his career. He gives it his all, then takes a break to do something different. He’s back from one of those hiatuses and is currently teaching in the same school as me.
Mike gives 100% at his job. For all my emotional attachment to teaching and concern about how to provide a better experience for my students, Mike strikes me as the better teacher. Where I look for the next cool/fun/engaging idea, Mike is throwing down some good, effective, old-school education in his classroom. And unless he is wrapping up his grading for the week or attending a staff meeting, Mike is usually out the door at his contractually obligated time of 3:30.
In another time of my life, I would have judged Mike as not “passionate” enough to be a good teacher. He just doesn’t “get” the “high calling” of teaching. Watching him pull out of the parking lot at a time I deemed as “too early” would have had me shaking my head, wondering why he even teaches if he can’t take it seriously enough to stay later.
Nowadays, I look at my more passionate colleagues, and I raise my eyebrow a bit at those who stay late or take their work home with them. I wonder why they give their all to a profession that doesn’t give that much back.
Yes, I understand the intrinsic and intangible rewards. I’ve been fortunate to have former students come back and say kind things about their time in my class that all teachers love (or would love) to hear. I get that we don’t do this for the money or the glory.
Those intangibles, though, sometimes pale in comparison to the hours lost from family or from our own personal time. They pale in comparison to the giving of our health. Working when we don’t feel well–or are just plain exhausted–because showing up to work is easier than dealing with the prep and cleanup of having a sub. Eating takeout because we’re not going to get home in time to make a good dinner. Having to be on blood pressure medication because of the combination of stress and poor health choices.
Then the unwritten expectation to keep up those behaviors by people who have bought into the same thought process.
And for what? As educators we do it because we think we are changing the world for the better. As parochial school teachers we believe that we are giving our students a solid foundation for a life that reflects Christian values. Yet so many of our former students go on to post on social media how excited they are to be a single parent, or to be “out drinking” tonight, or promoting their brand of fervid atheism with various memes and status updates. All those foundational ideals we Christian teachers provided seem to fall by the wayside on the day those students leave our classrooms.
The ones that do okay, did okay back when they were in our classrooms. Honestly, I think they’d have turned out just fine even if they hadn’t been in my classroom. I just helped encourage them to keep doing what they were already doing. And those who changed for the better, I may have helped….or they may have made that change anyway as they matured. It seems arrogant to insert my influence in their elementary years as the leading factor influencing their positive adult choices.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not judging my former students who have stepped away from our ideological expectations, nor am I downplaying the role of the teacher as a values educator. I do have to wonder, though, if giving those extra hours and that extra stress really has a the “eternal” payoff that we tell ourselves it does?
I think we educators may have become elitists of sorts. Maybe we work so hard for long hours and relatively low pay that we feel the need to justify it all by assigning more “purpose” and “meaning” to what we do. And sometimes we look at other professions as far less noble and eternal when we just need to do our jobs. Perhaps we’ve assigned so much meaning to our profession that we miss our real calling as parents, husbands, wives, church members, volunteers, etc.
“No, I can’t do that other thing. I don’t have time. I’ve given all my energy to my job which has such a high calling. You just don’t understand.”
And then there’s Mike. Who does his job and goes home to live Mike’s life. Mike seems to enjoy his life, because Mike seems healthy and happy. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him stressed out.
Maybe Mike hasn’t falsely assigned some noble sense of meaning to his job, but as his co-worker I can tell you that his job has meaning. I’ve also noticed, though, that it has its boundaries. I admire that.
As my wife and I ate supper last night, I shared these thoughts with her. She grinned at me and–doing her best Horatio Caine impression–said, “Maybe you should…..Be like Mike.”
Maybe I should, babe. Maybe I should.