Dear Future Teacher,
I am so happy to meet you. Looking in your eyes, I see the same excitement and enthusiasm that I still have in mine. You are ready to make a difference in the lives of young ones, to teach them how to think, how to problem-solve, create, and how to draw conclusions. You are ready to be a faithful, trustworthy, and consistent mentor in their lives. You are ready to love these children almost as much as you love your own and invest every particle of your being into making them successful, which will make you feel successful, too.
I am so happy you chose this rewarding career, that you are doing something God made you to do. You won’t ever regret it. Teachers are a special breed of people, and I know you are up to the task. But before you embark on this journey, you need to know a few obstacles that you will have to overcome:
1) You need to know that no matter how hard you try, how much of a difference you try to make, sometimes you will feel like a failure. But know deep in your heart that this is not true. Although you may not feel like you’re making any difference in the lives of the students you teach, you are. Your job will be thankless at times, and that’s okay. Your “thank you” will be told to you someday, whether it’s at a graduation or at a grocery store when you run into former students. Love them dearly, try your best, and invest every cell of your body into this field you love so much, and you will see them blossom. And their success will be your greatest reward.
2) You will never be able to keep these students at a distance and run your classroom like a business. It’s just impossible. If you’re a good teacher, you will leave a little part of your heart in that classroom every day. You cannot “fire” those who aren’t doing their job and “hire” those that will. And you won’t ever want to, because believing every student can learn will be part of your innermost being. It will be what keeps you going when all you want to do is give up. There will be people who will say – probably with good intentions – that your salary should solely be determined by the outcome of your students’ performance. Don’t hate them or even roll your eyes. Stand up for yourself. Show them that you know best practices, but also inform them of the obstacles you face.
3) You cannot ignore the outside variables that will affect the outcome of how you teach.
Some students will come to you without any food to eat at home, or after a sleepless night listening to their mom get beat up. Make sure your heart and ears and eyes are open to their ugly reality.
Some students will come from another country, where they feared for their lives on a daily basis. Do the best you can to make them feel safe.
Some students will come from a home where you are belittled, and because those students love you, they will feel torn. Love them, anyway.
It will feel impossible to teach them because of what is going on in their lives, but teach them anyway. They desperately need what you are giving them, the hope that there is a future away from the fear that they have always known.
4) People will think you do this work for the early retirement, great benefits, and summers off. They will justify your less-than-meager salary with these things, but take note, dear teacher of children: you don’t get to retire early. Maybe there was a time where teachers did, but that retirement model wasn’t sustainable so that is no longer true. The benefits are also dwindling. Every year, they shrink in size, rather than grow more robust, a consequence of changes in our country’s healthcare system. Teachers pay out-of-pocket for more things now than they did a few years ago, just like most careers.
And this is especially important, future teacher: you don’t get paid for your summers off. Your salary is based only on the 187 days you work. Your school district will find your daily rate and multiply it by 187 to get your annual salary. Then they will divide your annual salary by 12 so you get paid throughout the year, rather than miss a paycheck during the eight weeks you have off in the summer. And this is a tough pill to swallow, too, teacher: your daily salary for teaching thirty students for only five hours (not including your lunch or planning periods) will be less than it would if you were charging only $3 per hour/child to run a day care, and that’s if you’re the highest-paid teacher with the most degrees and the most experience. In fact, over half of all teachers will earn less than $1 per hour/child if they have a classroom of thirty students. That’s much less than what day cares charge. Or even teenage sitters. And you will be responsible for much, much more.
5) You will never take advantage of the breaks you get. You will grade papers and develop lesson plans. You will organize and prepare your classroom and buy supplies. And even if you put in the extra hours days before a break to get all of that done so you can relax, you won’t. You will close your eyes and think about those sweet cherubs you teach. You will call colleagues and ask for advice on how to best get through to a certain student. You will wonder if they’re doing okay, even when you are supposed to be taking time off. Liken it to being a parent: even though you’re away from your kids, you think about them and want to do what’s best for them.
6) You will feel guilty. You will be grading papers at your own children’s games. You will ignore time with your spouse so you can grade papers and collect data. You will feel like you are putting your students’ needs before your family’s, and if you choose to “leave work at work,” you will inevitably feel like you are cheating your students. Recognize that guilt and rectify it. You are only one person trying to please too many. Do what you can, but acknowledge your limitations.
7) Stand up for yourself. You will be told that you deserve the pay you get and that your job is easy with amazing benefits. But you are an intelligent, capable person with the same schooling most people have in the business world, maybe even more. You may be told to spend ten to fifteen thousand dollars of your own money (sometimes half of your yearly salary) to get an additional degree so you become more knowledgeable in your field. And sometimes, the promise of a pay raise that goes with that investment becomes an empty one. Sometimes the raise your district offers you will be a slap in the face for the years you put in and the money you invested in perfecting your craft. You will agree to a pay cut so students’ needs don’t go unmet, only to be accused that you put your own needs before theirs when you ask for a raise.
Don’t buy it. Not for one second. Because you are teaching students something outside of the curriculum, teachers. You are teaching them how to value your own hard work, how to be proud of what you do, and stand up for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be demonized for knowing you deserve more for doing a job well done. Part of a person’s character is recognizing every person’s worth, and that includes your own.
Future teacher, you will make a difference in students’ lives. Every day.
You will worry yourself sick over at least one of your students. Every year.
And you will feel guilty for wanting to earn a living doing what you love to do. Every second.
But take heart, and be courageous. Because those smiling faces with proud eyes are the best reward, and your efforts will not go unnoticed. Your courage will be a model for all students who feel hopeless and lost at times. Your confidence will show your students to take pride in whatever work God asks them to do.
You, future teacher, will do much more than “just” teach for summers off. You will change lives at the expense of your own, just as parents do. And you’ll be okay with it. It’s what you were born to do.
A Lifelong Learner and Fellow Teacher
Source: Amanda Deich