Shortly before I turned five, I announced to my next door neighbor, a fourth grade teacher, that I planned to be a nurse. The decision undoubtedly rested on the fact that I had recently spent six months as a polio patient at a hospital 50 miles from my home. Without missing a beat, Mrs. Goldsmith fired back, “But why not be a teacher? We need good teachers.” Quite a convincing proposition, apparently, for I never considered another profession!
I loved being a wife and mother, but in every fiber of my being, the soul of a teacher held steadfast. Ask my husband about the time I snapped my fingers to get his attention in our kitchen. He kindly, but quickly, reminded me that he was not one of my pupils!
What secret powers draw a person to the teaching profession? Money, hours, power, and fame do not attract most pedagogues I know. My first teaching job, substituting in inner city Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1968, paid a whopping $12.00 per day. As an outsider (not born, raised and educated within the state), I did not land my first full-time position (annual salary: $5950) until the end of November. For a year’s experience, I received a $100 raise, resulting in a salary of $6050 for my second year of teaching.
The hours, often glamorized by those who think teachers work from 8am to 3pm for a mere nine months, translate into evening and weekend grading and planning. Summer vacations usually include taking advanced college credits and developing new courses, not to mention the financial needs that require most head-of-household teachers to secure full-time summer employment. Power and fame come to a few teachers who get into administration in well endowed schools or wealthy public school systems, but we all know that, in the current economy, not many school systems enjoy such economic stability. So why teach?
Good teachers love, in equal amounts, the students and the content. Perhaps an illustration will shed light on the question.
One weekend when our sons were in elementary school, they saw me quietly weeping at the dining room; this spot served as command central for most of my grading and lesson planning. That particular night I had just read a student’s note of thanks for making him/her memorize lines from The Merchant of Venice. Do you remember Shakespeare’s “The quality of mercy is not strained…” speech?
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
What a treatise on mercy in these 14 lines! Anyway, the year before, this same student, author of the note I now shed tears over, had proclaimed the memorization of lines from Romeo and Juliet “a pointless waste of my time.” This note confirmed my love of teaching. It explained why the time, effort and student complaints did not matter, not more than learning. However, my tears confused our older son.
Brent: “What’s wrong with Mom, Dad”?
Dave: “Let’s just say that if the school forgot to pay your Mom next week, she wouldn’t notice.”
There you have secret number one for those of us who choose and love teaching. I’ll share some other teacher insights in the days to come. I hope you return for class!