Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Kind of Idiot Becomes A Teacher?

She sat on the other side of my desk, well dressed, perfectly made up. The sunlight slanted through the blinds on a late fall afternoon. Parent-teacher conferences. “Your daughter’s doing well,” I started. “She needs to keep up her effort and study, and she should continue to do well.”

“Yeah, but, I’m concerned about her future. I want her to do something that will make me proud.”

“Doing well in an Advanced Placement course is something to be proud of.”

“No, I want her to do something in the future so I don’t have to hang my head in shame.”

“What would she ever do to shame you?” I asked quietly.

“She wants to be a teacher.”

“What’s wrong with being a teacher?”

The woman smiled nervously.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” she sighed, “but what kind of person wants to be a teacher? I mean you work for peanuts, no respect, no prestige, you deal with kids all day, everyone hates you because you assign homework and grade them hard. I always thought people who teach did so because they failed at other things.” I stared at her, my face as hot as the sun. “I mean, I don’t know if that is the case with you.” She let the words trail off with what I thought was a smirk.

I thought of all the clich├ęs: teachers touch the future; if you can read this, thank a teacher; teaching is a noble profession; teachers become teachers because someone took the time to teach them; teachers become teachers to give something back.

None of that would do.

“Teachers teach because it’s life-affirming, important work, and in a materialistic, facile, empty society like the one we live in, people like you cannot understand why someone like me would choose this life. But there is nothing like watching a child grow and think and feel, and ultimately, come to understand and appreciate his world. All things intertwine, connect. Teaching is a spiritual experience.”

“Right,” she blushed. “I just want her to have a career where she can support a family and put some money in the bank.”

“And not shame you.”

“And not shame me.”

“Hopefully, your daughter is not forced into a life of disappointment because of your narrow-minded parenting.”

The smirk became a cold stare.

She stood to go. “By the way, next year, she needs a letter of recommendation for the university. Would you write one for her?”

I guess teachers are good for something.


  1. And some of us come to teaching after other professions because (here comes the cliche) we want to make a difference, even if it is only to a few.

  2. Some of the most effective teachers I have met in the last few years have come from other professions. They came to teaching for exactly that reason: other jobs felt empty and they wanted to do something to make a difference. It may be a cliche, but it is true. I think being out in the world gives these kinds of teachers a different perspective, a valuable one to share with students.

    Thanks for the comment, Ricochet.

  3. A brilliant response to the "Those who can't, teach" attitude that is way too prevalent. I couldn't even say how many times I've been asked, "Why are you teaching?" in a way that belies some other kind of implication (i.e. "Why are you teaching when you could be doing something else?"), and none of my efforts to explain why I like teaching seem to get through to the ones who ask the question. Those who get it, get it; those who don't, don't.

  4. What I find disturbing is that I rarely encounter people who do get it. It seems most people would never consider the classroom as a first option for a career.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Mr. Martin, Thank you for your excellent post - you made me cry b/c I was so moved. I'm a 24 year teacher. I have taught children who had NOTHING yet they have humbled me with their generosity and determination to get an education no matter what. I'm good at what I do and the light in their eyes when they master a concept is the best reward. Years ago a young girl said "Miss, don't you know it's all good; even the bad it's all good" She was talking about life and I also know she articulated how I feel about teaching - It's all good!

  6. Thank you for your comment. Your students are lucky to have a veteran teacher like you who feels such passion for the vocation. You are so right that when things are working in the classroom, and children are making discoveries about their world, there is not greater feeling. Keep on doing what you do, Veteran Teacher.

  7. People like that person who calls herself a "mother" don´t deserve your time, Mr. Martin. It seems that she WAS many teachers´ lost cause, unfortunately for her daughter. I wish there was a sure way to write her a letter of recommendation that will get her straight into some university´s teaching program.

    Sometimes, and fortunately, teachers make up for parents.

    - Student

  8. The students are the best part of the job, and my inspiration to come to work each day. Hopefully, you will all grow up to be great parents who encourage your kids to follow their dreams, even if they don't come with riches attached. It is very important in life to love what you do.

    Thanks, Student, for your comment.

  9. Not a day goes by that I wont imagine myself as a high school teacher, at my old highschool, explaining the previous mornings sports highlights to my class, or telling them about my childhood. I would love to become a teacher but there a few hurdles in my way. Im a business management student and going for a law and business degree. I love law as well and would welcome the opportunity to teach it one day. But im torn b/w the differences of a lawyer and teacher in todays day and age. The respect one gets vastly varies from the other. A lawyer is more respected in todays society, but in my eyes, without teachers, you wouldn’t have lawyers, or for that matter doctors, or engineers. Teachers are what inspires these individuals to pursue those highly sought after careers. As the saying goes, teachers never leave school they always end up coming back. That’s whats happening to me. Im starting to yearn for my high school days, seeing how simple and easy it was compared to my university days, and im only 19! But I already miss those times.

    Another one of my concerns is about the money. Can a high school teacher really support a family? Money isnt everything, but you need money to survive and raise a barn.

    b/w a law, business, and teaching job, id take the teaching job in a heart beat.

    i would appreciate if you could help shed some light on my situation, thanks.


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