At 29, I decided to become a teacher. I was pregnant with my daughter and needed to do something practical with my Arts degree (silly me for thinking that a tertiary education would open doors! I was even sillier for thinking doors would open for someone with an ordinary Arts degree!). I had always enjoyed school, and I figured the hours – including holidays – would be conducive to being a single parent. So when my daughter was 3 months old – for two and a half years – I studied for my Graduate Diploma in Education.
And I emerged from the cocoon of university as a high school English teacher, eventually specialising in English as a Second Language and Social Studies. I was lucky, because the school where I did my final practicum offered me a job. I didn’t have to actively look for work.
I liked many things about teaching. I liked the structure and creativity of it, the flexibility of my hours and the certainty of holidays every 10 weeks. I liked that I could red pen people and it was allowed, although I was considerate and used a less threatening purple pen. I liked that I could be bossy. I liked the relationships I built up with my students and teaching colleagues. I liked that I was responsible for making a difference in someone else’s life. I liked that feeling of nurturing the love of learning in my students. Or the possibility of such.
But there was a lot I didn’t like about teaching. I didn’t like that not all my students valued education and learning. I didn’t like the number of hours I had to put in and wasn’t paid for. I didn’t like the pressure of having to mark papers and get them back to students quickly (I was teaching senior secondary and there was a tonne of marking; at times I had to other people’s children ahead of my own child’s needs). I didn’t like the fact that I had to teach students how to pass exams, rather than equip them for lifelong learning. I didn’t like the lack of respect from some students just because I was a teacher.
Most of all, I didn’t like that I couldn’t control all the variables in my classroom. Some students just didn’t have the literacy skills to be studying at senior secondary level because of their home life, their stint in juvenile detention, their ADD or depression. Some students were put under so much pressure by their parents that they bombed out, unable to cope. Some students just couldn’t get to class at all. Some students were perpetually late. Some were isolated by their lack of social skills. Some had sexuality issues, and were victims of bullying and harassment. It would be fair to say that in my senior secondary Social Studies class of 15 students, I had only around three students who could learn without impediment. Three. I just wanted to teach, for my students to be open vessels for my life lessons. And it was practically impossible.
So I transitioned into another career. I now work in corporate communication (although I do move in and out of education-type roles as they present themselves), and I feel like I have more control over the uncontrollables in a communication campaign – including social media! – than I ever did in the classroom.
I still find good teachers – really good teachers – inspiring. From the Randy Pausch and his Last Lecture* to Taylor Mali and his insight into what teachers make, men and women like these make the world a better place. I admire them, and wish I could have been like them.
* If you haven’t seen the Last Lecture, you simply must. Randy Pausch was a Professor of Computer Science, who was dying of cancer. His last lecture – which he actually did for his children – is inspirational and truly beautiful. Just in case you do want to see it, I have included it here. It’s long, but it’s worth it. Oh, and make sure you have a box of tissues handy. You’ll need it.
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