The voice comes from the center of your chest. “You should become a teacher.” As it settles in, warm and satisfying, a counter-voice calls from the surface of your brain: “Are you sure you want that as a career? I mean, is it worth it?”
For you, this question, with its conflicting answers, hovers, a haunting phantom of past, present and future. To teach or not to teach?
Perhaps most of all, what you are truly asking yourself is, “Will I earn enough money to make teaching worth it?”
No. You won’t.
There is not enough money to make it worth it.
There is not enough money to make it worth it to question a call to report a child’s crisis, not knowing if, when you click to hang up, the trip from CPS will just whip another fist to the kid for opening her mouth at school.
There is not enough money to make it worth taking that accusatory finger to the chest—the media, the parents, the politicians, the writers, the thinkers, the movers, the shakers—wanting better, faster, better, faster. To know the crushing feeling of society shoving you to your knees without a hand to lift you up. A raised bar without a raised budget. Because everyone has had a terrible teacher—a teacher bad enough to shroud the millions of micro-moments that dozens of great ones gave to us from the time we stepped into the classroom.
There is not enough money to make it worth seeing the wolf of a false prophet called “accountability” feasting on profits from texts and tests—weeks of real learning lost in preparation for more weeks of Scantron bubbling just to create bell curves to serve up on news feeds—every school, every child, ranked and filed in homage to King Data.
There is not enough money to make it worth the sideways scoffs about “teacher luxuries,” eternally assuming that those sweet summers are paid, that salaried work is measured in days, not hours, that all jobs are the same. “Because my unrelated job is treated thusly, yours should be too.”
There is not enough money to make it worth spending unmeasurable hours designing a flawless lesson only to see it fail because one student is in no mood, or technology crashed, or it’s Monday, or it’s Friday, or “my parents never had to do this,” or a fight just broke out, or you’ve been told to announce that a classmate has just died—or the other thousands of moments on which every lesson’s success hinges.
There’s not enough money to make it worth feeling like there’s always something that could have been better, that every day you will make countless mistakes, that every class has at least one student who wants you to fail because he hates you just because you are a teacher.
There is not enough money to make teaching worth it.
You may sit on college loan debt, fighting for a livable salary in a society that slashes educational funding. You will question your decision yearly to stay in the fray.
But I hope you teach. I hope you stay. I hope you choose to make the sacrifices daily because teaching is worth something more than money—greater than salaries and steps and raises and 401ks.
Teaching is worth being trusted to make that call to CPS, potentially stopping the abuse that is ruining a child’s future. It is worth the responsibility that, no matter what, you will be there as a statue of stability for a child living in chaos.
It is worth the unspoken honor of being on the front lines of society’s intellectual revolution, being smart enough, strong enough, resilient enough, and patient enough to bare the blizzard of blame and support-less expectations of society. It is worth the honor of rising to the occasion of education in the 21st century.
It is worth earning that unpaid time off from pushing your talents to their peak—understanding levels of exhaustion and work ethic beyond most jobs. It is worth the confidence to not need someone else’s understanding to validate how hard you work.
It is worth standing for something greater than test scores, teaching a love of learning above a life of guessing bubbles. It is worth providing an education of academic rigor and an education of self-respect, character, and personal passion, and doing so without breaking your beliefs to teach to the “mighty” test.
It is worth making lessons anew to turn a student’s mood, to defy technology, to inspire on Mondays and captivate on Fridays, to change a child’s history, to teach resolution with words above fighting with fists, to cultivate the gravity of life’s tragedies to ground us to what really matters.
It is worth the fuel you funnel from failure—knowing that there is always something to learn, to change, to fix, to keep—some challenge awaiting in the form of an angsty child poised for you to fold, oblivious to the fact that you never will.
So, when you decide between the two voices debating your choices, decide why you really want to teach. Teaching is not worth the money you’ll make and pay. It is worth something more.
Chase Mielke is a learning junky who happens to have a love affair with teaching. A book addict by night and a teacher and instructional coach by day, he fantasizes about old libraries and fresh Expo Markers. His obsessions with psychology, well-being and cognition often live on his blog, affectiveliving.wordpress.com.