My husband and I joke a lot about our fears that our son will go into teaching when he grows up. He shows some signs of it; he’s kind of a bossy little know-it-all like his mama. When my own school was closed last week due to a power outage, I went and ate lunch with his kindergarten class. As we walked back to the room so I could be the Mystery Reader, I noticed that he was the only kid who consistently kept a finger on his lips all the way down the hall. I mentioned it to him that afternoon, and he told me, “Yeah, mom. We do that to remind all the other classes to be quiet in the hall.” He basically thinks he’s on the school’s payroll as a rule-enforcer.
This boy is the boss of the universe.
So we tell people that we put him in time out any time we catch him playing school. We claim that although we’re saving for college, we won’t pay for him to get an education degree. We say we’re pushing him toward air conditioning repair because we want him to make a living wage. (Although, actually, the money there is really good. That part’s no joke.) But last week, a colleague said to me, “You joke a lot about how you don’t want your son to grow up to be a teacher. But how would you feel if he really did?”
Plenty of glib answers sprang to mind, but I had to think for a few minutes about my actual response. Would it be my first choice for him? No. I do want him to make more money than I do, honestly. We get by just fine thanks to my husband’s job, but I’m one of the only teachers at my school who can afford luxuries like, you know, living in a good public school district. Having dental insurance all the time, instead of getting it every other year. Signing my kid up for T-ball without breaking the bank. I want all that for my kid, and I don’t want him to have to rely on someone else to provide it.
And, like every parent in the world, I want my son to be happy.
I spend a lot of time awake at night worrying about other people’s children. I’ve seen—many times, at many schools—how a bad administrator can make your life sheer hell at work, and I know how impossible it is for teachers to leave work at work when they come home. Teaching is stressful and sometimes impossible, and somebody’s always yelling about how you’re doing it wrong. My kid’s sort of a perfectionist, and there’s precious little perfection to be found in the classroom.
That only tells half the story, though. Yeah, I spend a lot of my time pulling my hair out in frustration because I don’t have the tools or freedom to do my job the way it should be done. But I also look around at least once a day and have to shake my head in disbelief that I actually get paid to do this. I mean, I don’t get paid much, admittedly. But there is no job in the world that is more entertaining and inspiring and freaking hilarious than teaching children.
In the end, I think I’d be pretty damn proud if my son grew up to be a teacher.
Because more than money and happiness, I want that boy to have a sense of mission in his life. I want him to work toward something bigger than himself. I want him to be continually challenged, and I want him to always keep the compassion that is my favorite quality about him. And I want him to be successful, but I want him to define success as more than financial gain. My kid’s a born performer, and I never want him to lose that. Honestly, teaching pays terribly and is full of frustration and heartbreak. But it can bring fulfillment like no other career I know.
I won’t lie; I’d love it if my son found a path that could bring him all that and some money, too. I’d like to see him in a career path that is generally respected rather than reviled. But if, like me, teaching is what he feels he was put on earth to do, then I guess I couldn’t be prouder.