Earlier this week, while I waiting for my students to line up after lunch recess so that I could dispense a small dollop of hand sanitiser on the hands of each of them before we entered the building, one of my students asked me why I don’t use my skillset to get myself a job that’ll probably pay me more. I don’t remember how the conversation went, exactly, because I was preoccupied with getting the class sorted so that we could start our afternoon. I remember telling him that I used to work in IT, and he told me that because I know about so many different things, I could probably do better if I weren’t a teacher. It was at about this point that another student joined the conversation by telling me that he didn’t want to offend me but he did want to tell me that I am a loser.
If there was ever a year that I questioned my decision to become a teacher, this is the one. Within the first two months of this school year, I was thinking about an exit plan. I’ve been dreaming about a life that doesn’t involve waking up in the morning and going to work with a bunch of students. What would my life be like if I could make enough money some other way? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a less stressful job that didn’t require asking preteens to sit down and be quiet? Wouldn’t it be amazing to show up for a nine o’clock start, get two coffee breaks, an hour-long lunch, and then just leave at five o’clock? Oh, and if I needed to pee at any point during the day, I could.
I used to have that life and I was no good at it. It wasn’t rewarding. It was exhausting. It made me miserable.
I’ve never sat down to think about why working in an office wasn’t a good fit for me. Thinking about it now, maybe it had something to do with how artificial it all felt. It seems to me, so much of what I was working for was for the benefit of someone else. Someone else had defined the objectives and their value. It was never up to me to make a value judgement on any of the work that I was doing. Indeed, it wasn’t my place to do that sort of thinking.
In many respects, life was a lot easier without that responsibility. I had enough money and time to do things that I wanted to. I didn’t ever have to take work home with me. I didn’t even have to think about work once I walked out of the office. I could use my evenings however I wanted to. I could go fishing, go take some pictures, go for a nice dinner, do some writing, go shopping, or just waste my time.
Teaching doesn’t offer this lifestyle in the same way. Being a teacher hasn’t prevented me from trying new things or pursuing different interests. My approach to those things is different, though. I’m not looking for a sense of purpose or meaning in those activities in the same way as I was when I worked in an office. All of my extra-curricular activities used to be an attempt to give myself a sense of value. I wanted to find that thing that made my days worthwhile. Now, though, things are different.
I’ve always liked school. Learning is important to me. I constantly have something on the go. The direction I’m heading in is always changing. I like pursuing an interest and seeing where it takes me. Teaching enables this. In fact, it encourages this type of behaviour.
For me, it’s easy to invest in my teaching career. I find the challenges interesting and I like looking for novel solutions to problems. So many different approaches can be applied when teaching and learning. You can look at any industry, take a lesson from it, and apply it in the classroom. As a teacher, it’s my job to define the objective and value of each lesson. I can work with students to ensure that their individual objectives are also met. There’s no single, best approach to teaching and learning.
One of the challenges that I face now is defining who I am apart from being a teacher. My extra-curricular activities are my way of exploring interests that I could potentially attach myself to. I don’t like that I’m always a teacher. I want to be able to understand myself as someone who is also Mr. Gulamhusein.
One thing that I’m trying to do is reframe my thinking about my teaching career. I think that the discussions about teaching need to be refocused so that the students aren’t seated squarely in the middle of them. We need to talk more about “learning communities,” or something like that, which includes the teacher not as a facilitator but as an active participant. What I want to do for myself is start thinking about my teaching practice as something that works for me, instead of as something that I work at for others.
Teaching shouldn’t be a one-way profession. Teachers should feel as though they are growing and developing as people, that their work is rewarding in the sense that it is benefiting the rest of their life. Those moments of pride I get when I see a student succeed feel great. I think, though, that there should be more opportunities for teachers to feel great about their accomplishments, their successes. Bonuses would be nice but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about is making personal growth a supported part of the profession. In the same way that students are encouraged to pursue their own interests while learning, teachers should be encouraged and supported to pursue an area of interest to them. This shouldn’t happen outside of the teaching day but as part of it. This isn’t a one-off PD session that teachers attend but something that is embedded in the daily schedule.
I’m pretty sure that Google does something like this. I think their employees get 20% of their time for personal pursuits. Google’s done okay for itself. This is only one lesson from industry that be applied to teaching and learning.
The value that teachers bring to the classroom, to their students, is tied up in who they are and what their interests are. Affording them the opportunity to further explore this aspect of themselves can only benefit their practice. Imagine a school filled with contemplative and self-aware teachers. Imagine the learning that would take place in such an environment.
Learning is a necessary part of teaching. I don’t know that I could do anything else at this point in my life, but I am looking for different ways to make it all work for me.