Recently, I saw a post here on Open Salon where the writer lamented having to settle for a job as a teacher and described it as a soul-killing occupation where dreams go to die. This post is a response to that one.
It's terrible to be stuck in a job that you hate, just to pay the bills, but perspectives vary. For me, the soul-killing job was data-entry. I could go back to doing that if I had to, but the thought of it makes the top of my scalp feel tight and reawakens knots in my shoulders that should have disappeared long ago.
For me, the dream job turned out to be teaching.
When I was 17, I went to school with my dad one day (he taught psychology at a different school than the one I attended). I sat in on his classes, and after his first period class, I said, "Hey, is your next class the same?"
He said, "Yeah, why?"
I said, "Can I teach it? I took notes."
He looked surprised for a second, and then said, "Sure, why not?"
So we pretended I was a student teacher and I taught the class. Mind you, I was the same age as the students in the class. After the class, he looked a little taken aback. I said, "What?"
He said, "I just can't believe that after hearing the material once, you were able to teach the whole class. I didn't have to correct you even one time."
I had never taken psych, but I did, after all, grow up with my dad. So it's not like it was completely foreign territory. Still, though, pretty cool, huh?
Sometimes the universe is trying to tell you something.
I resisted it at first-- I became a broadcast journalist. But after a while, it lost its glamour (and let's face it, that was the main reason I was in it). There's a lot of drudgery and repetitiveness in broadcast journalism.
So I became a teacher, and I'm here to tell you, this is the job I was born to do. I have a gift for seeing things from different angles, so if a student doesn't get a concept, I can usually explain it in a different way that will make more sense. I have fabulous examples and stories and I teach a subject that applies to the students' lives in real and immediate ways.
My students sometimes come up to me at the end of class and say, "Hey, I just wanted to thank you for telling us about (that concept we talked about last week). It's so true! It's helped me at work, in my relationships, everywhere!" I get letters from students years later. They say, "I hated your class when I was taking it (ouch!) but now, I realize it has been one of the most helpful and relevant classes I took." Comments like this make me feel good.
I also have a different perspective on the saying "Those who can't do, teach." I used to suck at math. I just did not get it. At one point, my algebra teacher called my mom to request a conference, and said, "Something is very wrong when a student leaves every class crying." There did come a turning point eventually, where I actually started to get it (thanks to a teacher who was very practical and very patient). As a result, I was able to pay some of my college expenses by working as a math tutor. Honestly, I think my old algebra teacher would faint if she knew that. She despaired of me.
(Math is not the subject I currently teach. The subject I currently teach is one at which I kicked ass from day one.) The thing is, I was a better teacher for math students who were struggling than their professors were, because for their professors, math made perfect sense effortlessly. The professors couldn't understand the problems their students were having, but I did because I had the same problems. I couldn't do, and it made me better able to teach.