It is the end of the day when two former students enter smiling. My eyes are burning. When not instructing, I have been reading thematic essays. I probably need new glasses but my health insurance does not cover much of that expense.
I want to keep grading because there is dinner to make and kids to cart, but these students came to see me — eagerly and optimistically seeking my advice.
Student: “I don’t mean to interrupt you while grading.”
Me: “Please interrupt me!”
Student: “I have been thinking about becoming a Social Studies Teacher, what do you think?”
What do I think? Here are my thoughts: My eyes are burning. My desk is a disaster, overflowing with papers. I have not drunk enough water today. Have I urinated today? What does my lesson plan for tomorrow look like, did I plan it well? How am I going to save those ten students who are at-risk for failure? Why is the number always ten? Did I return that parent’s email? Do I have enough money saved for summer expenses? Am I going to have money for my daughters’ college? What if public education becomes even more underfunded? What will happen to education under the current presidential administration? Will you have a job, kid? Will you have a guaranteed retirement pension? Will you need to move away from Syracuse, only to teach in a place where unions and tenure do not exist? Will you love the job like I do? Will it consume you?
Of course, I keep my thoughts to my own self. Instead, I listen intently while his bright face answers my questions. I search for the best questions because I want to leave an impression.
“Do you enjoy kids and adolescents?”
“Do you love the study of history?”
“Teaching is manual labor, are you willing to dig ditches, clean up after other people, and work?”
“Do you know that you will probably need to work in those summer months, at least in the beginning?”
“Can you break down big ideas so that others comprehend?”
“Are you prepared to feed your students — both literally and emotionally?”
“Can you act? Do you have dramatic skills?”
“How long do you want to teach? Will it be a career or a stepping stone?”
“Do you think teaching is the same thing year after year?”
He answers authentically. He tells me that his mother has asked him similar questions. He is also contemplating becoming a physical therapist. My other student chimes in and announces that he wants to be a physician assistant. It is getting late, so I pack up the ungraded essays into my bag, knowing full well that I will not have the energy to face them after dinner.
As I walk out of the school with these two wonderful young men, I wonder why I hesitated to champion the profession that has brought me so much joy and stability? Don’t I want fantastic individuals like him to become future teachers? Why have some of my colleagues discouraged their own college-aged children from entering teaching? Would I recommend the job to my own daughters? I know the answer to my queries, of course. My hesitation is grounded in the realities of teaching. Especially since the beginning of the Great Recession, teaching has been attacked and stereotyped. Although I still believe in my purpose, I am disillusioned by the system. Although I have benefited from the system, I still want it to change. Although I want the best young minds to choose to teach, I fear the trajectory of their careers.
So, the short answer to my student’s question is: yes, maybe.