Teachers Know – a personal application letter

Dear Sir or Madam,

Sometimes it’s hard to be a teacher. You have to deal with stressed out parents, students, colleagues, and administrators. At times it’s a completely thankless job, and you feel undervalued and under-appreciated. It’s like that most of the time, in fact.

Yet, for all of those moments where you find yourself sitting on your couch crying after a really difficult day, there are those other moments that make it all worthwhile.

Those moments are why I have been a teacher for fifteen years. When I see a student’s face light up like a pinball machine, I know I have reached him or her. The kind of joy a teacher feels at those moments can’t really be described, but teachers know. Only teachers know.

When it comes down to it, teaching is about the students. It’s not about meetings, and exams, and statistics. It’s about helping students to see, and to understand, and to think, and to learn, and to create. If I have only the slightest effect on the future of young people, then I consider it a job well done. I take that responsibility very seriously.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a teacher. You have to really want to do it. You have to care. You have to realize that nothing is more important.

Yours sincerely,

Gwen Maddy

Teaching is hard. Teaching well is even harder.

The 1969 side describes what I endured in school.

Whenever I suggest that teaching is a difficult job, there’s always someone who says that being a teacher is nothing compared to, say, being a police officer or a firefigher or a soldier. Fair enough. Those jobs are more definitely more difficult than teaching. Though, I do find it oddly satisfying that the only examples of occupations they can think of that are more difficult than teaching are those which involve dealing with criminals and junkies, running into burning buildings, and fighting in wars.

The “1969” side pretty much describes what being a student was like for me. I remember  how awful and humiliated I felt when I had to present my parents with substandard grades. Yet, they would never dream of blaming my teachers for my poor academic performance, even if it was partially their fault. And whist it is true that today’s students are more narcissistic than they were in my day, the issue is not as black and white as the above image indicates.

Now that I am a teacher I know that teachers, parents, and students are all responsible for a student’s education and results. Getting students through school is a team effort, and each member has to do his or her part. Therefore, all the blame for poor academic performance cannot be placed solely on the teacher or the student.

Having said that however, it’s true that there are “bad” teachers out there whose jobs are protected, and who keep on working long after they’ve burnt out and should have retired. They get to keep their jobs because of seniority, and the younger teachers are often let go, even if they have union protection. The unions can’t always protect you if the school can convince them that they don’t need you anymore and can give your duties to another teacher.

This happens all the time. It has happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to colleagues, many of whom are extremely capable and popular teachers.

Whenever someone suggests to me that teachers have it too easy, I tell them that they should consider becoming a teacher. If it’s that easy and you get off work early and get all those vacations off, then what are you waiting for? It sounds fantastic, right? Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Most people, actually, because teaching is hard. Teaching well is even harder.

Not to belabor the point but…

I wrote this as a response all the unenlightened comments on this photograph posted on the Occupy New Brunswick page on Facebook.

I’m sure he saved as much as he could (as he mentioned) but, being a teacher making crap wages, it wasn’t nearly enough. Don’t worry, though. Teachers are used to taking abuse from everyone. We’re used to being held accountable for bad grades and never thanked or appreciated for good ones. We’re used to hearing about how our jobs are “easy” and how overpaid we are because we get summer and Christmas vacations off. We’re used to being hated by students, criticized by their parents and undervalued by everyone.

We’re used to it but we do our jobs anyway.

We stand up in front of a room full of distracted kids and somehow manage to engage their increasingly elusive interest for a few minutes. We ignore the eye rolling and the clock watching and get on with our jobs.

I work as a high school English teacher in Sweden. Maybe conditions are different here but I normally start work before eight in the morning and finish after five. Working ten or twelve hour days is a frequent occurance. A minor percentage of our working day is spent actually teaching. The rest of the time we spend in meetings, marking essays and making lesson plans. The students get week-long breaks in fall, winter and spring, but I (and the rest of my colleagues) work during all of those. I get a few days off around Christmas, and I get the standard amount of time off during the summer to which all Swedish workers are entitled by the government.

Yeah, I’m stressed out and tired. I’m exhaused. But I cannot let my students down. They are the reasons I get up in the morning and go to work everyday. I do my job for them.

I’m a teacher. That’s what I do and I’ve never wanted to do anything else.