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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:17 pm

'Some of the best people I know'

Becca Downs

Teaching has a bad rap these days. The hours are long and the constant push to test our students and standardize their learning is draining. So why would someone, fully aware of this, leave a respectable job to become an English teacher?

There was a time when I dreaded the sound of my phone buzzing or pulling up email – when I couldn’t find any joy in my job at all. It was time to reconsider my career path. I made a list of my values, and when education and helping others were near the top, I decided teaching might be for me.

I don’t know of many jobs where you could be treated immediately as an equal. My ideas are appreciated and even implemented. Having been in my shoes before, veteran teachers have taken me under their wing. In my first few months, teachers have brought me treats, gift cards and advice. When I was sick on a Sunday and wasn’t sure how to call in a substitute for the next day, another teacher came to the rescue. When I had a particularly bad day, another teacher brought me chocolate. Teachers are some of the best people I know.

People have asked me: Isn’t teaching monotonous and repetitive? Actually, every day – every class period – is unpredictable. Teaching has challenged me creatively, mentally, even physically. In one class I could have 30 students with reading levels that range from grade 2 to grade 12. They all need to be taught and motivated in different ways. They need to master the same concepts and pass the same tests, in spite of their differences. Some students need constant attention; some students are nearly self-sufficient. Sometimes students are tired; sometimes they’re fired up. Regardless, I still need to motivate all of them. Sometimes, I fail. Occasionally, I succeed. Together, we’re constantly learning and growing.

I have yet to go a single day without laughing. Teens can be goofy, witty and weird. They do a lot of weird things, and often they’re the kind of things you’re allowed to laugh about. They ask strange questions, they teach me their lingo (because at 25 I’m kind of old now), and they lift me up when I’m having a bad day. They offer me their last cookie. They ask me how my weekend was. They see me and smile.

In one semester I’ve already seen growth in my students. Not the kind of growth we measure in our data, but growth as human beings. It’s a beautiful thing. The teenage years can be kind of terrible; teens balance schoolwork, extracurricular activities, social lives, family obligations and jobs. To top it off, a teen’s brain isn’t yet fully developed to handle the stress. Life can be especially difficult for those who do not have a lot of support at home. Students come to me for help analyzing a text or citing sources, but they also come to me to talk about problems. Sometimes, they have even told me about serious issues.

Those are the times when being a teacher is the hardest. It’s during those times there is an instinct is to run away and never look back. However, those are also the times when I feel so overwhelmed with care that I could never consider any other calling. 

My first-year teaching experience boils down to this: No matter how rough my day is, nothing has made me regret the decision to teach. Every day I watch my students grow – not just as learners, but as people. Teaching can easily become all-consuming. While I may not have the free time I did when I worked 9 to 5, I still meet up with friends, I still run road races, I still read for pleasure. I haven’t lost myself completely. I feel free and fulfilled.

There are plenty of challenges in the field of education. Have those challenges caused a teacher shortage? It seems so. These challenges, however, aren’t a death toll; they are a call to action.

Teaching is for the brave, the caring, the quick-witted and the thick-skinned. If that doesn’t sound like you, then stay away. As for the rest of you, we have some openings.