My granddaughter says she would like to become a schoolteacher. Why? “I love to teach,” she says. With two younger sisters, she gets lots of practice.
That’s great, and it’s probably the fundamental reason anyone goes into teaching. However, I wrote back to Leah with a list of 10 additional considerations she should take into account before deciding on the teaching profession. You will think of additional matters and as always, we invite you to leave your comments and suggestions at the end of this article. Leah reads it each week (she’s almost 16 now) and will appreciate your input.
1. Do you love people? Here and there on this planet you will encounter people who love to teach science or math or history, but they do not love to teach people. Remember, it’s not lessons we are teaching. It’s people.
2. Do you enjoy learning? Good teachers devote themselves to a lifetime of learning. Without that, they fossilize. The old joke goes that a teacher claimed to have twenty years of teaching experience and someone replied, “No, you have one year of teaching, twenty times.” The only way to stay fresh in the ministry or in the classroom is to be continually growing and studying and learning.
3. Are you willing to work hard for inadequate pay and insufficient appreciation? You live in a country where a running back for the New Orleans Saints gets eight or 10 million dollars a year, but the men and women who teach its children earn slightly more than the minimum wage. This is improving, I hear, but as the cost of living increases, the pay of teachers will probably never be what it should. Is that all right with you?
4. Can you do your job well even while seeing little visible evidence from day to day in the students that you are doing a good job? I recall sitting in some outstanding classes where professors were giving incredible lessons, but where most of the students were sleeping or daydreaming. I wondered how the teacher got up the strength to continue with such negative feedback. I think the answer is: it comes from within.
5. Can you handle discouragement? These days, you will sometimes encounter school administrations and boards of education that feel the parents and children are the customers and your job as the teacher is to please them. You dare not give a child a failing grade; you might damage his self esteem or keep her from getting into college. Can you keep going when no one around you seems to value what you are doing?
6. How do you deal with interruptions? Teachers’ days are studded with interruptions, everything from announcements from the principal’s office over the p.a. system, to children’s problems, drop in visitors, distractions outside the window, and a hundred other things.
7. Can you handle interference into your classroom work by those who claim to know a lot more than you do about the work you have given your life to? Parents and supervisors and other experts will be telling you how to do your job. Can you smile and take it, and respond in a sweet spirit? Can you do it several times a month for nine months a year and keep it up for thirty years?
8. Your principal has some extra work she would like you to add to your teaching load. A committee to serve on, a project to lead, some products to sell, a club to sponsor, another group to advise. Can you keep secondary matters in perspective and your life in balance?
9. Can you see teaching as a higher calling and work for the Master rather than for the headmaster? Can you offer up your labors as an offering of love to your Heavenly Father, instead of working for the children or the money or the esteem or the satisfaction or the school or the school board or the community or for yourself?
10. Can you do all of these things and still see teaching as the noblest of all professions? Can you get your satisfaction from knowing you are shaping the minds and lives of tomorrow’s leaders, whether they have a clue on that or not? Can you stay focused on your calling and your ministry and give yourself to it year after year?
If so, then you are “called.”
I still recall as a tenth grader the day the principal called me into his office and asked me to help a classmate with his math. We sat in the outer office and worked a few problems when suddenly the student looked up and smiled, “Joe! This stuff makes sense the way you explain it. You ought to be a teacher.”
That’s where it all started with me. I’m grateful to Jerry Crittenden for being used of God to plant that seed in my mind and heart. Yes, I did become a pastor, but teaching is a big element in that. Any minister who stands to preach without teaching people is missing a key portion of his assignment. You may recall that Jesus was often called “Teacher.” It’s a high title.
Leah, I hope you do become a school teacher. Your uncle Neil is a teacher. That surprises a lot of people who knew him in his school days. He was a major test to almost ever teacher he ever had and the rumor is he gave one of them a heart attack. In fact, he was 28 years old when the principal of our Christian school here in New Orleans suggested that he consider teaching. She put him to work in the junior high and he began taking courses at night for teacher certification. After a few years, he resigned and moved across the river to Northrop-Grumman, the defense contractor that manufactures ships here in New Orleans, where he has been teaching workers and supervisors ever since. Hey, if you can teach junior high, you can teach anybody.
There’s a wonderful reminder to would-be teachers in the New Testament letter of James. “Don’t be in a rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us are perfectly qualified.” (James 3:1-2)