Blog Post by Anthony Grisillo, PTAC Member
Twelve hours after celebrating with a former student who had qualified for the national finals in the Reebok CrossFit Games I learned that another student had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
This is one of the great challenges of teaching.
This emotional roller coaster takes a toll on you. It keeps you up at night reflecting on why you teach and constantly makes you look for better ways to reach and help all of your students.
In 2014, a study shared that people without children consistently live a happier life than those with children. The study also shared that parents actually experience higher highs and lower lows than people without children. Parents have extreme elation when they see their children succeed and be happy, while they also have more stress and fear when they see their children depressed or dealing with difficulty.
I remember reading this study and thinking that it probably relates to teaching.
Teaching is full of ups and downs. There are days when I finish teaching and I think to myself, “I’ve got this. I’m a rockstar, a superhero, an educator changing lives. Nothing can stop me now.” I go home, sing and dance with my family. I am king of the world.
Then I return to the same classroom, in the same building, the very next day and nothing goes right. “I am the world’s worst teacher. What am I doing wrong? Why are kids unable to understand what I am trying to teach?”
That dichotomy doesn’t stop with teaching. I think many professions can be fraught with feelings of inadequacy and superhuman success. But teaching is different—there is an intense emotional investment.
Teachers are a lot like parents. We are elated when we see our students persevere and succeed. We celebrate all of their achievements, honor their accomplishments, and praise their persistence.
But then there is also the flip side. Our hearts ache when we learn of tragedy and disappointment that our students endure. I am not only referring to academic struggles. Those struggles are often the easiest for teachers to handle.
I am referring to those events and situations we can’t control. I’m referring to the moments in too many of our students’ lives that make them feel worthless: the family dysfunction; the unavoidable tragedy robbing them of their childhood; the unattainable expectations of parents who confuse unreachable goals with ambition.
These moments weigh on us. Teachers love their students like they are their own children. Their pain becomes our pain.
I don’t want to imply that teaching is filled with sadness. It is not. The joys definitely outnumber the pains. The successful people that my students have gone on to become fill me with great pride and satisfaction.
Recently for Teacher Appreciation Week, I asked my former students on Facebook to share with me how they were doing. Their stories brought tears to my eyes, not because of disappointment, but rather for all the incredible things they are doing.
In the 1989 movie Parenthood, the character played by Helen Shaw says, “...when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
This is teaching. Just like parenting, it is like a roller coaster. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
Blog post by Kelly Dougherty, PTAC Member
“I would never want my child to become a teacher.”
This phrase hits me like a sucker punch to the heart. It is one of the saddest statements I hear, and I hear it much too often. I cannot explain logically why teaching is the greatest profession, especially when outside forces with agendas cast our profession in such an unfavorable light.
So, I am not going to explain it logically at all. The things that bring us the greatest joys in life usually aren’t logical.
Instead, I’m going to share the joys of teaching with irrational abandon and unreasonable sentiment.
If your child finds joy in befriending the lonely new kid at lunch, in rescuing house spiders, in spending a cold morning helping an elderly neighbor shovel a snowy sidewalk, and in making tiny but significant differences in her small world, then a teaching career might bring her a lifetime of unquantifiable, completely illogical joy.
These are the qualities we want in our children. Happiness doesn’t come from chasing money, prestige, status.
Helping others. Spreading love. Sharing inspiration. Teaching is one of the few professions that allow these particular personal fulfillments in such a rich way.
Teaching is not a path to fame and fortune. You likely won’t hear about the child who grows up, finds a teaching position in a school where he’s needed, creates an inviting, safe classroom for his students and spends his evenings preparing exciting lessons. You won’t hear about her when she designs global projects for her students and connects them to experts and children in faraway places. You won’t hear about her students’ charity drives and his students’ movie festival. And, there is a reason you won’t hear about these teachers.
They are not unique in this profession. They are the teachers who silently close their doors against the outside noise, and quietly do amazing things for their students. Teachers, as a group, are terrible self-promoters. Most people drawn to this profession are not interested in becoming celebrity teachers or in gaining a big Twitter following. They shine at what they do because teaching kids gives them joy and purpose.
These amazing teachers are not the exception. They stay quiet because they don’t believe what they do in their classrooms is noteworthy. Chances are, they are surrounded by equally amazing teacher colleagues who also are also hesitant to share the incredible things happening in their classrooms.
How do I know any of this? In my elementary school, I teach among the most dedicated and talented teachers. None of them are famous, although they are local celebrities in the eyes of their adoring students and school families. They are too humble to brag about themselves, so I will do it for them.
My school’s art teacher inspires her primary-aged students to stretch beyond their limits and grow as artists. She spent months preparing a school-wide art festival for families to enjoy the students’ showcased artwork. EVERY student was featured in this festival, and many parents expressed the positive effect it had on their children’s self-esteem. But you won’t read about this teacher in the newspaper or see much of her work on Twitter, but she is one of the many gems in my school.
Our kindergarten teachers turn their classrooms into hibernation dens, jungles, and gingerbread houses. Their students put on elaborate shows and start the important journey of becoming readers. All three of these teachers stay long hours into the evening, creating hands-on activities for their wee ones. You won’t hear about these three teachers on the news or see much of their work on Instagram, but the parents in our community love them like family.
Our first-grade teachers are miracle-workers at helping children become confident readers - a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. The second-grade teachers create opportunities for students to pioneer technology through project-based lessons and inspire their students to become writers. The third-grade teachers create media projects, transform their classrooms with flexible seating, and encourage their kids to become math wizards.
Our Spanish Immersion teachers spend hours translating materials, teach lessons exclusively in Spanish to English-speaking students and create classrooms of bilingual students who excel on standardized tests year after year. The instructional assistants in our schools teach intervention groups, volunteer at school events, and organize community outreach programs during the holidays.
My school’s physical education teacher designs and runs an annual school-wide Field Day event, the music teacher creates and directs multiple musicals a year, our librarian organizes author visits and community events, and our enrichment teacher and tech facilitator design breakout projects and create daily school newscasts.
Our Reading Specialist unlocks literacy for kids and is a national expert in her field. Our principal, a former teacher, creates service-learning opportunities, knows every student by name, and makes house visits to families. Our guidance counselor, our Math/MTSS teacher, our ESL teacher, our learning support teacher and every one of our staff members knock it out of the park on a daily basis…but you have never heard of them.
You may never know the names of these teachers, but their names are known by the children they joyfully inspire, love, and give so much of themselves each day.
Someday, you may hear a child - perhaps even your own - tell you that she wants to be a teacher. You will get to choose whether to give encouragement or rejection.
If you believe that we need more people who give of themselves to make the lives of others better and who are committed to making the world a better place, you’ll know what to do.
Because that child who is asking the question may very well end up joining the multitude of teachers who anonymously make a difference in the lives of so many.
Your words of support may help her or him decide to join the world’s most important profession.
As we teachers know so well, sometimes a kind word at the right time can change someone’s world.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee