The inspirational paradox

The teacher life can be unbelievably rewarding, yet extremely unforgiving at the same time. There are so many challenges every day, and although I love my job, my district, and my students, I often wonder if I have made the right career choice.

I come home exhausted every night, but feel badly when I don’t have the energy to grade and plan once I get home. Teaching is a non-stop series of split-second decisions made on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis, followed by meetings, impromptu counseling sessions with students, an endless flow of papers to grade, more meetings, and, oh yeah, teaching your content area as well. Throw in any extra clubs to sponsor or sports to coach, and it seems downright insane. It is a crazy life of service and responsibility, but as much as I sometimes think about the alternatives, I don’t think there is anything else I’d rather do.

However, I’ve found myself recently having conversations with colleagues about retirement. It is entirely ludicrous to be thinking about these things. and really they aren’t serious thoughts. I am a fairly young man, and the thought of retirement is far off on the horizon, but the reality is that even when I could officially retire, it is not like I really want to stop working, or even stop teaching for that matter. The truth is just that teaching makes you tired. Yes, I know that every job makes you tired, and I sound like a jerk for complaining about feeling tired at my job, but there are days where I yearn for a desk job where I could just sit at a computer for 8 hours and have the most stressful decision of my day be what I was going to eat for lunch.

When I say teaching makes you tired, I’m not talking about needing a nap at 4 o’clock and waking up refreshed after an hour kind of tired. I’m talking about feeling like you need to go away on a solo vacation for at least a week, sleeping for 20 of the 24 hours of every day, and going off the grid to just be left alone for a minute kind of tired.

It is for these reasons that I have also found myself becoming self-loathing about my career choice, and internally judgmental towards those who I have inspired to follow me. Over the last couple of months, I have heard from many of my former students who have proudly told me that they have completed, or are currently completing their undergrad education work and will soon be joining the teacher work force. Some have told me that I was one of the teachers that helped inspired those decisions.  I’ve even got one student coming back to our school to student teach, and I helped to get her placed back with us. I smile and congratulate all of them because I truly believe that they will be wonderful teachers, but some other thoughts are also creeping into my head.

“Out of all the things in the world that you could have done with your talents, you really want to get into teaching?’”

“Do you know how stressful this job is? Do you know you’ll not only be taking work home with you, but stressing about all your kids when they aren’t in your room?”

“Don’t you want to do something that will make you some money?”

Maybe it is because teaching was not something that I knew I wanted to do from a young age, or maybe it is because we just had our 16th day of the school year and it already feels like we have been back for three months, but for some reason when my former students come back and tell me that they are going to be teachers my first instinct is to cringe. Of course I don’t tell them any of those things because I know that they will be great teachers and hopefully they can inspire another generation as well, but I really just want to ask them “do you know what you are getting into?”

Of course I end up snapping back to reality as I ask myself those same questions.  I know I’m not wasting my talents as a teacher (although the question has actually been asked by some people).  I get the stress levels, and they are probably more than in some other jobs, but I think I’m fairly equipped to handle the stress.  The third one is tougher to reconcile.  I’m sure I could have gone another direction and found myself in a career that is more focused on financial growth potential, but there is definitely something to be said for enjoying what you do and feeling like you are making a difference.

I also realize that all of my former students really understand what they are getting into as well. I know that for all of the stress and exhaustion that this job creates, there are so many moments of pure joy and fulfillment that await this new crop of teachers, as well as myself, for many years to come.  If they want to share the crazy ride with me and my colleagues, then I’m ready to help make them the best teachers that they can become.

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