The other day, I was driving and started thinking about my previous post. For some reason I thought of my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Forrester. I’ll admit, I genuinely loved most of my elementary teachers, but Mrs. Forrester stood out. I was attending Leon Valley Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, in the mid ‘70’s, and Mrs. Forrester was in her final year of teaching. She was a small, grandmotherly type woman who started each morning with a devotional (yes, times have changed). I wondered how satisfied with her career Mrs. Forrester was, and if career satisfaction was a concern back then. I assumed that all of my elementary teachers loved teaching. After all, they were the people who inspired me to become a teacher.
Schools were very different in the Bible belt in the ‘70s. We had a rock pile near the back of the field where students might get sent if they were disruptive to burn off energy throwing rocks. My principal had a wall of paddles (no, I was never paddled at school). He would paddle a student in the hall with a teacher present. It seemed like the entire wing went silent and held one collective breath waiting for the thwack of the paddle, wincing as it struck some poor kid’s rear end. We all tried to avoid looking at the paddled student as he returned to class, red-faced with tears streaming down his face and holding his rear end.
Looking back at the past 40 years, I’ve seen changes in the behaviors of students, teachers and administrators as well as changes in the roles or perception of roles of students, teachers, and administrators. I think it’s safe to say that school discipline has moved from punishment to learning experiences, that teaching has moved from preaching to facilitating, and that discipline issues have increased as teacher satisfaction has decreased.
One thing that hasn’t appeared to change is a person’s motivation to become a teacher. People teach because they love students, because they love helping or inspiring or shaping young minds. I chose to become a teacher because I knew it was something I could do well and it was something I enjoyed. I started teaching Sunday School when I was in high school, and people would always say, “You should be a teacher!” I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in Kindergarten. I wrote it in my School Days memory book (I still have it!). I also knew that I loved going to school, and I wanted to help others feel the same way about school. I loved learning and I still do, so I wanted to show others that learning can be fun. More than any reason I can think of, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a teacher from an early age. It’s more than a career or profession, it’s a calling. Cliché, I know, but it’s something you feel deep down in your core that you want to and want to be.
Some teachers lose that feeling or that passion when they become frustrated with the politics and red tape of teaching (hello, high stakes testing!). I was one of those teachers for a while. I felt defeated by the mounting pressures and politics of education. Other teachers are able to see through the tasks to their purpose as a teacher. For those teachers, the positives outweigh the negatives. The intrinsic rewards they get from teaching outweigh and are reinforced by the occasional issues that get in the way of teaching. (Morgan, Ludlow, Kitching, O’Leary, & Clarke, 2010).
I think it’s important to note that there is a difference between satisfaction with the career of teaching and satisfaction with the job, or day-to-day functions, of teaching (Perrachione, Rosser, & Petersen, 2008). This was the major focus of my dissertation research. Many people assume that teachers are not happy with their jobs because they are unhappy with the red tape or bureaucracy (have I mentioned testing?), but that’s an inaccurate assumption. Teachers will happily tell you what they like about teaching—the students. Ask them to tell you what they dislike, and they will often list things that get in the way of their day-to-day duties or responsibilities.
Looking back at Mrs. Forrester and some of my other elementary teachers, I wonder what they would think of education today, and if they would still have the same passion for teaching they had in the ‘70s. I knew they loved teaching and being a teacher by their smiles and the joy that seemed to flow from them. I’m happy to say that my love of teaching has returned and I love what I do. Next time I feel frustrated with something about teaching, I hope I’ll think of Mrs. Forrester again so that I’ll remember that my role as a teacher is much more than that temporary frustration.
Morgan, M., Ludlow, L., Kitching, K., O’Leary, M., & Clarke, A. (2010). What makes teachers tick? Sustaining events in new teachers’ lives. British Educational Research Journal, 36(2), 191-208.
Perrachione, B., Rosser, V., & Petersen, G. (2008). Why do they stay? Elementary teachers’ perceptions of job satisfaction and retention. Professional Educator, 32(2), pp. 25-41. 9-25-10.