Overworked and Under-appreciated - A Tribute to Teachers
by Don Quimby
The future of the world is in my classroom today.
Dr. Ivan Fitzwater
Not being able to do any outside "stuff" this morning, and not wanting to waste the morning viewing mindless television, I found my way to my basement office. In checking through my email messages, I found a thought provoking message from one of my graduate students. He shared the quote that follows as a way of indicating his appreciation for the "stuff" I had shared with the [graduate level teacher education] class this semester.
Only A Teacher
I am a teacher! What I do and say is being absorbed by young minds who will echo these images across the ages. My lessons will be immortal, affecting people yet unborn, people I will never see or know. The future of the world is in my classroom today and this future has potential for both good or bad. The pliable minds of tomorrow's leaders will be molded either artistically or grotesquely by what I do. Several future presidents are learning from me today; so are the great writers of the next decades and so are all the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy. I must never forget these same young people could the thieves and murderers of the future. Just a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow.
Dr. Ivan Fitzwater
What a powerful and insightful comment about the "job" facing today's classroom teachers. It immediately reminded me of what Hiam Ginott once said: "I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily moods that make the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crises will escalated or de-escalated, and child humanized or de-humanized."
Inspirational and motivating thoughts by both Fitzwater and Ginott. It's such thoughts that have caused most of us to become---and remain---teachers. It's such thoughts that drive our daily actions, inspires us to "keep on keeping on" in an environment that provides us with ever changing and demanding challenges, changes and challenges that carry the potential of having an negative impact even upon those most fully committed to the ideals of teaching.
As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or an instrument of inspiration.
Is teaching today a tougher job than ever before? I do believe that teaching today is a lot "different" than teaching was in the "old" days. Notice...I said "different," I did not say "worse." Today, the hurdles teachers face in their effort to encourage young learners to become all that they are capable of becoming are far more stress producing than ever before. This has become extremely clear in the last few years as research continues to show that nearly fifty percent of those who begin a career as a teacher are choosing to leave teaching within five to seven years!
Why do they leave teaching? It's the reality of the classroom. It is far more demanding a job than anyone can describe or prepare them for. Those new to the profession quickly discover that knowledge of content alone will not lead them to achieving a satisfying experience in the classroom of today. Man does not live by bread alone and neither do teachers who want to teach only their content! Teaching has been, and will continue to be, all about being "overworked and under-appreciated."
Those who cannot learn how to teach toward and achieve mastery of desired standards, to manage their classroom in a positive and productive manner, who fail to understand that they are teaching young humans who need to be understood and appreciated, those who cannot learn how to motivate young people to want to become all that they are capable of becoming, those who cannot find satisfaction from helping others or discover and realize their unique talents and abilities, those who cannot stand the pressure of "second guessing" and "hindsight," teaching is not for them.
Too many people in the general public continue to think that teaching is a job that anyone can do. Wrong! Teaching is a special calling. Teaching is a mission. Will teachers ever reach the point where they will be properly rewarded in their efforts to make a difference? I don't think so, but…so what? People don't become teachers because they know they will make a lot of money and live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. What matters most is that teachers have an opportunity to touch lives in ways that can make a difference in the futures of thousands of people. I believe that from the efforts of teachers all careers spring. In my mind, the two most powerful "future shapers" continue to be parents and TEACHERS!
Teaching today is not for the faint of heart.
Yes…it is depressing to hear again this Spring how "tight" the state budgets are going to be. Yes…it is depressing to hear again how local corporations will have to "cut" teaching positions in order to remain within budget constraints. Yes…it is depressing to hear national "experts" say the key to "leaving no child behind" is to make the teachers work harder. Yes, it is stressful to be told again and again that achieving student mastery of content goals is the major goal of a school while at the same time being told, "Oh, by the way, in addition to having your students do well on the state test, you must find a way to do that with less resources. You must manage the needs of a growing and changing student population, handle individual parental concerns, or perhaps no parent support at all, while implementing the latest wave of state required drills, effectively address student developmental issues, etc, etc. etc."
Teaching today is not for the faint of heart. But…I said teaching today is not worse…just "different." Teaching today is far more demanding that anyone outside the classroom realizes. To me, the question quickly becomes, "Can you become successful as a teacher and achieve both the desired learning results as well as the inner satisfaction and happiness that will allow you to continue to be effective, while trying to maintain a satisfying life of your own outside the classroom?" My answer is absolutely "Yes, if you focus your attention on developing and maintaining the traits and characteristics that will lead you to become an outstanding human being." My suggestions are:
In the classroom:
- Know your content and be enthusiastic about that content. Learn to "invite" your students into the learning process.
- Find ways to convince every student that they CAN become a successful learner.
- Find ways to encourage, to motivate your students to WANT to become all that they are capable of becoming.
- Define and explain your expectations. Maintain fair but challenging expectations.
- Seek to model the kinds of behaviors that you want your students to model…respect, honesty, persistence, perseverance, cooperation, positive self esteem, etc.
- Be a learner...and…keep learning.
- Seek to be creative in your teacher/teaching approach.
- Demand best effort…everyday.
- Seek to extinguish "I can't" thinking and replace it with "I will try."
- Maintain a classroom environment that is nurturing, one where you and your students enjoy being a part of everyday.
- Teach your students not only how to learn but why learning how to learn will be the key to creating a positive future for themselves.
- Teach your students how to develop their goals as well as a plan of action to achieve their goals.
- Teach them about life and how to live a life that will bring them happiness.
- Teach them not to use their current circumstances as a means to excuse failure.
Outside the classroom:
- Maintain a positive attitude…about everything.
- Seek to see the positives in others.
- Live a life that will serve to inspire others.
- Seek to handle the issues of stress before they handle you.
- Seek to avoid worry. Learn to attack problem situations with a positive plan.
- Achieve respect by giving respect.
- Share your smile with everyone you meet.
- Be enthusiastic about living life's special moments.
- Seek to widen your cultural horizons and understandings.
- Keep your promises…to yourself and others.
- Do for others in a caring manner.
- When opportunities lack, create them.
- Seek to live a life of few regrets.
- Seek to live everyday like it's the best day of your life.
Achieving happiness and satisfaction in the classroom of today is up to the person you know best…YOU
Achieving happiness and satisfaction in the classroom of today is up to the person you know best…YOU. For those who feel they are underpaid and underappreciated…they are right. So what? That's been true of teaching from the beginning. I did not go into teaching because of the money. I became a teacher because I wanted the chance to do special things for others. Why let concerns about money or your workload develop to the point of having an negative impact upon your attitude and outlook? Life is full of choices and the choices we make, make us. The choices we make determine the quality of both our lives and our efforts.
I feel every person on earth has two basic choices: you can choose to be a positive person or a negative person. Yes, there are plenty of situations that a teacher might have the "right" to complain about. But we became teachers with full knowledge that perhaps we might not make the money that could be made in other careers. We became teachers because of one basic reason—we chose to become involved in a career in which we could directly impact the future through the feelings and attitudes we might be able to instill in our students. Few other professions have the opportunity that teachers have to literally "touch the future" through their daily thoughts, attitudes and actions.
Should you stand up and be counted about professional and personal issues of importance? Absolutely! But, sadly, I believe that teaching as a career will most likely never achieve the true respect it deserves.
Teaching has been my life. Teaching is the career I chose and would choose again as my life's work in a heartbeat. The workload, at times, was nearly unbearable-- but it was tremendously satisfying work. Through the work I did, I was able to create situations where others could achieve success, where others could begin to realize their potential as learners and human beings. The pay I received in my forty years of teaching may not have been the biggest sum of money anyone ever saw, but I was well paid every day by the positive achievements, by the appreciation I received from those I served. I had the greatest "job" in this world…I was their teacher and mentor!!!
I close my humble writing effort with what I feel to be an extremely powerful story. After reading a book about careers to her second grade students, the teacher asked the students to think of the careers they might wish to pursue in life. Hands and voices exploded around the room…..fireman, pilot, doctor, engineer, pro football player, nurse, astronaut, etc….excepting the hand of one little boy. The teacher asked Johnny what he planned to do as his life's work. Johnny replied that he wanted to become "possible." "Possible?" the teacher asked. "Yes," Johnny said, "because my Mom is always telling me that I am impossible."
Go for your beliefs about teaching, about learning, about life, about young people and never worry about being "overworked and underappreciated." We, as teachers, have the greatest opportunity of any profession…we are "possible makers."
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