I have quite the love/hate relationship with my chosen profession, as some of you know. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years now, and all of those years have been here in the same small suburban town. The frustrations of teaching in the public schools are many, and severe. Especially for someone, like me, whose philosophy of education differs sharply from the status quo. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into detail, but if I had to boil all my complaints down to one sentence, it would be “If we were starting from scratch, we would never purposely come up with a system like this”.
On the other hand, teaching is like no other profession. The importance of education cannot be underestimated, thus teachers are a vital part of our world. The gravity of this truth weighs heavily on me every day, even the days when I hate my job with the white-hot heat of a thousand burning suns. I have influence over young minds. That is a sobering and frightening thing. It is a power I wield, not because I want power, but because I want to teach, and that is the price of doing my job. Even within the confines of the ineptly-run 21st century American public school system, teachers have the opportunity to change the world. Even I, the king of low-self-esteem, can look at myself in the mirror each morning and know I’m about to go do something worthwhile. It is hard to put a price on that.
So this dissonance rages withing me. I want desperately to get out of this job and do something less stressful and more remunerative. I have this stupid law degree hanging in my bedroom, beautifully framed and not doing me a bit of good. I pay my annual dues to the bar association so I can practice law, only to go back, year after year, to teaching. I’m in student-loan debt up to my eyebrows. My house is too small for my new family and I can’t afford to do anything about it. I’m not poor by any stretch of the imagination, and I know I’m in fact richer by far than 99% of the people on earth, but sometimes it rankles me to my core to make a teacher’s salary.
Every work day I’m taunted by the fact that I’m locked in to a system that de-motivates children to learn, and waters down the curriculum nearly to the point of irrelevancy. Surly children rule the hallways while those who want desperately to learn are shouted down. Politicians, the least qualified people in the world to make education policy, constantly throw roadblocks in my way and actually seem to want my kids to fail. I leave my school almost every day of the year in rage and frustration over one stupid, senseless thing or another that has happened to me for the millionth time.
And, finally, I find myself on the verge of going to my nearest fast-food restaurant and flipping burgers at the risk of humiliation and insolvency just so I never have to teach another day of my life.
And then I go to Wal-Mart.
And I see a lady whose children I taught a few years ago. She tells me what a difference I made in her son’s life, and how I was the only one who understood what he was going through, and the only one who really knew what he needed out of school, and how that nobody else has been able to connect with him the way I did. She tells me he’s growing strong, working hard, and loving school. It’s still not easy for him, and there are still struggles, but when he goes to college, she believes he’ll be ready. Not totally because of me, I know, but partly because of me, I’m sure.
Now, all that stuff I hate so much seems less irksome. I’m a little less angry, a little less frustrated. I’m a little more content with what I have and not as hot-and-heavy to abandon ship.
Curse you, Wal-Mart!