Remember What Compelled You to Teach

January 8, 2018
David J. Adam

Remember what compelled you to teach.

It’s often said that teachers are under-appreciated. I tend to agree. We put our best foot forward, set the tone for our classrooms, push our students to do their best, stay late and come home tired. On top of that, we continue our work where we sleep. It can be overwhelming, particularly if we’re stuck in a rut and feeling like we’re just going through the motions.

I get it. It’s perfectly normal. Office politics, restrictive agendas, standardized testing and whatever else life throws at you can severely hurt your enthusiasm. In my case, it all became debilitating after a while. I felt like my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

I went so far as to leave my teaching job to relieve the burden. Needing to find something else to make ends meet, I took a job in the retail industry. It was fine; not glamorous, not particularly regimented, but I’ve always enjoyed being on my feet and interacting with people. The staff treated me well enough. Few complaints, really. But I noticed there was a new heaviness I carried in my chest during the day.

The feeling wasn’t the result of academic constraints, workplace drama or a lack of enthusiasm, but something deeper. It took me some time to realize that I was lacking personal satisfaction in my life. More specifically, it was the satisfaction that came with teaching.

In retrospect, it had always been there while I worked in the classroom. Years into my career, I’d become so bogged down in the minutiae that I’d started taking the process of engaging and molding young minds for granted. I never stopped working and cheerleading for my students; I always understood how important that was. But I stopped taking pride in my work.

I eventually took a job at a new school. I assure you it’s no “easier” than the last one, but every morning I take a moment to remember what compelled me to teach. I think of my old high school English teacher, and how I wanted to give back to those like her for understanding my potential at a time when I was feeling weak and downhearted. She showed up every day and took the time for me. I never imagined I could be a leader; Ms. O’Brien encouraged me to run for editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. I did, and I managed to succeed. Her encouragement and enthusiasm changed the course of my life.

If you’re feeling tired or stuck in your current teaching situation, make some time to remember what brought you there. You owe it to yourself. Remember: Times can change, but good teachers will always have the noblest of intentions. We love knowledge. We want to see everyone win. We want to make the world a better place. Never forget what a privilege it is to play a large part in changing young lives for the better.

Yes, a little struggle will always come with the territory, but if we can do so remembering that this was and continues to be our purpose, we’ll make it work. Heck, if you can do that without changing careers… well, I recommend it.

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