When I first finished grad school, a phrase that I often used to describe my career choice was that I was “only a teacher.” It wasn’t something that I was proud of, and at the time, I could also say that it wasn’t something that I was passionate about. I played the game well, did well in all of my classes, enjoyed working with the young people that I worked with, but for the first three years of my teaching career, I was only a teacher. And, honestly, I wasn’t that proud of myself.
I had always wanted to be a professor of literature. I wanted to travel to Ireland and England, to study at Oxford and write academic papers that would be published in journals and read by other snooty academics. What ended up happening, though, was that I finished my undergraduate degree in three years and I was exceptionally burnt out. I didn’t have a plan for what would come after, but I realized after two months without using my degree that my nonplan was no longer a plan.
So, without any other ideas, I decided to get my Master of Arts in Teaching. It was a relatively new degree plan, but instead of a Masters in English, a Doctorate in English, and a thesis, I would be able to go to school for a year before going directly into the classroom. I took the path of least resistance and ended up teaching grades seven through nine English my first year, then grade nine English and Oral Communication my second. My third year, I went to New Tech, and that’s when everything changed. Eight years at New Tech and “only a teacher” isn’t how I would say it at all.
I’m a grader. A feedback giver. A pep-talker and cheerleader. I’m an advocate for equality, a reminder that what we say and think and share matters. So, I don’t think about being “only a teacher” anymore. Now, I’m much more focused on what being a teacher truly is.
Being a teacher is writing recommendation letters at midnight because a senior who you taught two years ago asked you to and didn’t realize how close the deadline was.
Being a teacher is teaching young people to love themselves while still growing themselves. It’s a complicated balance that most adults struggle to get right.
Being a teacher is listening to a president and a secretary of education talk about how much the education system, and how much I, am failing our students.
Being a teacher is grading until late at night and early in the morning because you have to grade sometime and your plan is given to so many other tasks.
Being a teacher is listening to your toddler ask you again and again if you are done working because he wants to play. You’re not done working. You might never be done working.
It is nights and weekends of worry. It’s caring about their education, yes, but it’s also caring about their hearts, their self-esteem, their self-respect. It’s reminding them that they are smart even when they are convinced that they aren’t. It’s them visiting weekly to check in because you have asked them to do that because you worry when they don’t.
When I was in college and graduate school and even during my first couple of years teaching, I would have told you I was “only a teacher.” Maybe I am only a teacher, but that only has a lot more meaning to me now.