So you want to become a teacher.
Passionate about your subject matter? Filled with a desire to change the world? Looking for a feeling that your job is going to give you the ultimate self-satisfaction? Well, that’s nice. But it isn’t going to be what’s really important to the profession.
In the end, you have to really care about kids.
You have to care about them a whole lot. You have to listen to them and realize that stupid problems that are shallow and lame to us are probably very important to them. And you need to really listen when the problems they face are unimaginable to comprehend in our own minds. You need to be the shoulder to cry on. You need to be there when a student needs to vent, to blast, to totally go off because of the numerous things that make kids out-of-their-mind frustrated. You need realize that what you are doing is beyond simple academics, beyond tests, beyond the simplicity of coming to school every day. It’s complicated, and good. You need to go to the hospitals and see your students broken and be the support. You need to feel them fight against drug abuse, cancer, homelessness, poverty, and you need to listen and support them through the battles that make academics like ridiculous.
I don’t know what credential programs do about this part of teaching. It surely wasn’t part of my instruction. I highly doubt that it is a strong point of emphasis in Teach For America. In fact, the exact opposite is one of the focuses. We learned what happens if students become too close; what happens when students of the opposite sex become too attached, when the job becomes too much of a liability. But in the end do you really deny the hug to the crying 17 year old that just watched her friend die in a car accident? Do you honestly tell the student that is pouring out his heart over divorced parents that you need to stop because it is better if they go see a guidance counselor? Of course not. You are there to care, and if a student trusts you enough to come and show that kind of powerful emotion you need to embrace that and realize that it’s part of what you do.
That’s not to say that teachers shouldn’t take precautions; keep doors open with opposite sexes, watch the age, watch the dress, don’t engage in flirtation, notify your admin or police if you suspect any “mandated reporter” information, and remember that you are not the parent. But you are important. You are there for the kids.
There is obviously a point to this rant that I can’t get into because that would be bad. I’ve had two emotional exchanges with students within the last three days. All of them have me wanting to take parents out back and do my best Jimmy Conway impression. Something like, “Are you fucking stupid? Whatsa matter with you? WHATSA MATTER WITH YOU?” Alas, that would be bad and my New York accent isn’t that good anyway. So I remain committed to just being there and listening.
But if you are thinking about the profession, think about your feelings about kids. I know, at 22 you are hardly going to feel like you want to go back to a high school setting that might have just left. In reality, you just might. I really loved History. But when I first got the teaching bug, at 17 years old no less, my thought process revolved around the idea that I could do this better than the person that was doing it at the time. I wanted to do it for someone else. When I started coaching it was partly about the love of basketball but also about the realization that basketball (and competitive athletics) was something that was good for other people. It’s about people. It’s about kids.
In its most important function, teaching is about caring for kids. Be ready for it. Embrace it. Thank God for it.