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 clichés: 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.