Why Teach? By Yumna Kassab
I never meant to be a teacher. I, in fact, categorically 100% in no absolute way wanted to teach. My complete prejudice was the result of an adult once telling me I should go into teaching because it is a good profession for a girl after having stated I wanted to study science more than anything else.
I declared I would never ever be a teacher. Over my dead body. Not if it’s the last job on Earth!
Fast forward a few years and I was at a career crossroads. A friend nudged me towards teaching but I bristled at the idea of entering the profession because of those words from the past.
I finally decided to study education because it would give me the flexibility to write and I wanted to travel more which was difficult to do with the job I was stuck in and completely sick of.
So much is made about the benefits of the holidays. Teachers are said to have a sweet position in the world because they get so many holidays and it is difficult explaining to non-teachers the workload, the burnout, the sheer demand of energy each day in every single classroom. And it is an incredibly demanding job and I wonder at the people who manage to find the energy for it for the thirty or forty years of a career. My trick has been to take breaks, to travel, to teach casually, to avoid the burnout we all know about but no one is entirely sure how to address.
The question is why do people become teachers in the first place? There is the flexibility but we also want a degree of job satisfaction. We want the feeling of making a positive impact on young people’s lives, and most of us had teachers who were important to us across our schooling years. I believe we become teachers because we wish to teach more than anything and what drains us are the commitments within the profession that divert attention away from teaching and the class.
Why continue teaching?
Because we do make an impact on the lives of the students that pass through our classrooms. I know this because later, down the track, I run into students from the past. Often I have forgotten their names and I always apologise for this but at the end of each school year, the brain resets in preparation for learning hundreds of new names for the year ahead. These former students are always grateful and their memories of the classroom often differ wildly from my sense within the class. There is nothing in their recollections of the doubts that one grapples with every day, the internal questions about relevance. Have I taught them anything that will help them, will this lesson do anything for the lives of these students, have I said anything that has registered and that a single student will remember in a year’s time?
The truth is they do remember, and they also remember my name even if I have forgotten theirs, and they remember tiny details that have long been removed from my memory as if those students and that classroom never existed at all.
I never pretend this is an easy job and anyone reading this will know precisely the difficulties involved in trying to teach. They do not need to be mentioned here because they are discussed whenever teachers meet but sometimes I wish that in all the professional development we need to complete, we could have a conversation about why we teach, what helps and what does not in a very relaxed way. I don’t mean this as an additional item to be done that is then typed up in the meeting notes but a space and time to reflect, to converse, to have a view of the forest again when often it feels like we’re lost amongst the trees. Perhaps it can recall to us a joy of the best moments of what it is like to teach. We need these reminders so we don’t forget why we became the teachers amidst the challenges and difficulties especially of these pandemic years.