During a speaking engagement in New York several weeks ago, I met a mother and a daughter who both teach in the district I was working with. I had goosebumps while I was talking with them — two generations of the same household, enthusiastically serving in the same district.
The image of these two women hasn’t left me, I think in part because of how common it is today to disdain the work of educators or, if you are one, to lament the state of the profession. “I could never tell someone to enter into teaching these days” is a line I hear more and more.
And while I certainly don’t like some of the directions our profession seems to be heading, I would still be delighted if my daughters, for some reason, chose to become teachers. Here’s why.
First of all, teaching is and always will be a noble vocation.
Noble because it is a beautiful, admirable thing to expend one’s working hours in the service of the long-term flourishing of one’s students. I think there’s a special nobility in nearly any kind of work, but I, from an admittedly biased standpoint, find that to be especially true about teaching.
Vocation because that word used to, and still does, mean something more than how you pay your bills. Teaching as a calling (vocar = “to call” in Latin, says my Google etymology search) is something different from how much money one makes or how much prestige the public attaches to your job. It would be a great delight to find that, in any of my children, there lies an affinity and a knack — a calling — for education.
Before we move on, take heart: unlike the points that follow, this first point will never change. The nobility of our vocation is bigger than any scandal, policy, or public attitude; it is bigger than any of us.
Secondly, teaching is still a fine way to earn a living.
Granted, there are states, districts, and schools that seem hellbent on making teaching-as-a-job as unappealing as possible, but even in the toughest states there will be ways for my daughters to practice contentment and live within their means while pursuing the calling of teaching. Mind you, they may need to live near where they teach, or to wear the same outfits more often than they’d like, or to be careful with how they finance cars and college, or to buy less house than they can afford.
But none of these exercises in financial discipline are soul-crushing; none of them mean you don’t get to live a meaningful, joyful life. Much of the latest psychological research confirms what wise people have known for millennia: joy and meaning are inside jobs. The ability to micro-design the circumstances of our lives — our houses, cars, clothes, phones — is a very new and, in my opinion, very suspect human invention. While I want my treasured daughters to have plenty, I pray they’ll have the wisdom to see what the word plenty actually means.
Finally, teaching is still friendly to avocational pursuits.
When I was an undergrad, there was this image in my head that eventually helped me decide that, indeed, I wanted to become a teacher. The picture was Future Me at a desk, writing, with the gold-tinted light of summer streaming through the window. I had wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid, and I envisioned that those long summers off would allow me to develop a writing career, slowly but surely.
Now, with the ten-year anniversary of my college graduation approaching, I can tell you that it hasn’t turned out exactly like that. And yet, sure enough, just before one of those once-envisioned, gold-lit summers several years ago, I did sit down and begin to write. That blog — the one you’re reading now — has slowly turned into a greater avocational journey than any I could have dreamed up.
And while I won’t necessarily delight in my children becoming teacher-writers, I do pray that teaching remains a job where you can pursue other things, too — hobbies, families. The pursuit of avocations — even hard ones — can make us better teachers.
I guess my point is that, even though I believe the teaching profession in the USA is presently in dark times for too many teachers, I swear that there’s light on the horizon. The insanity simply cannot last; parents will not sit idly by as the quality of their children’s education crumbles amidst teacher shortages and testing gluts; educators will continue arguing through their excellence in the classrooms and their voices on the Internet and their advocacy in the public square.
And so I’m optimistic that, by the time Hadassah has her bachelor’s degree, things will be better. Call it crazy, but there it is.
Thank you to my treasures, who make me rich: Marlena, Laura, Haddie, and Crystal. You little girls can grow up to be all kinds of great things.