Why I’m a Teacher

As much as I can without getting into trouble, I would also like to use this blog to talk about my job as a teacher. But before I get into any specifics, I wanted to explain why I became a teacher in the first place.

1. The inspirational reason: I was not a good student. Starting in sixth grade my grades were bad all the way to my graduation (and beyond that, but that’s a different story). One thing I had accepted early on (in elementary school), was that teachers were not good. In first and second grade my teacher humiliated me, in third and fourth grade my teacher didn’t notice that my classmate regularly beat me and once I went to secondary school bad teachers became the full standard. My class teacher was crazy, my biology teacher a sadist, my geography teacher was unfair and weird and the headmaster once pulled me on my ear in front of everyone. But that was school for me, I did not really question it. In eighth grade I had a social studies teacher who surprised me by being good. It was a revelation. He treated his students as human beings and tried to make the subject matter entertaining. Students felt a connection. That was my epiphany. At some point in his class I thought: that’s what I want to do! I want to be a teacher that’s good! In retrospect, I’d probably say that this teacher wasn’t great, he was just so much better than all the others. Since then, I had other good and better teachers but there weren’t many and they were always the exception, reinforcing my will to become one of the good ones. Because this wouldn’t be complete without a movie and because I can’t escape the cliché, I also have to mention Dead Poets Society as a big inspiration. My social science teacher inspired me to become a good teacher. Dead Poets Society made me want to become John Keating. A teacher who is funny, inspiring, provocative, different. I wanted to stand on my desk (which I haven’t actually done yet). I watched that movie again and again, soaking up its messages. Little did I know that I would also have to fight a system that is not unlike a conservative school in the 50s.


2. The psychological reason: Well, my father is a teacher, so everything under 1) might seem somewhat wrong. And yes, I guess he inspired me too, because I considered him to a be a good teacher. I accompanied him to school often and I could see that he was really well-liked by his students. I often helped him correcting class tests in the kitchen and I loved it. But he never made me actively think: “I want to be a teacher too.” I’d be stupid to deny his influence but since our relationship is very problematic, I hesitate to give him too much credit. A good father might have more directly inspired me, but he wasn’t, so I file him under ‘one reason of many.’

3. The ideological reason: A good teacher is one thing but later I realized I wanted more. I wanted to teach something useful. Something that students could use for their lives. This would not include facts or grammar rules or having written canonical books. This should be about ideas, learning things about our world and our culture that most might be unaware of. This would include posing questions that are rarely asked. And of course trying to find answers together to actually try to improve the state of things. Trying to change something, our school system, our culture. That is one lofty goal! But after 5+ years of teaching I can say that it’s still the most important one. And what I have learned is how well you can incorporate this on almost any level, no matter which grade, subject or topic. Finding new ways to do that is still a huge motivating factor for me. And seeing how you can actually have an impact on young people, a life-changing impact is beyond words.

4. The practical reason: During my final school years I had only two real alternatives to being a teacher. The only other things I wanted to be were a writer or a director. The things I wrote up to 20 eventually convinced me that I wasn’t a good writer (my father’s dislike for my horror stories didn’t help). It took me some years to realize I just needed to change my focus, not the profession – I should have been aware that being a horror writer is not the only available option! So becoming a writer was off the table (besides the difficulty of being a successful writer). Being a director was harder to get rid of but this was quickly solved by my final graduation marks. They kept me from studying anything connected to film and while that saddened me a little, it made it even easier to come back to my initial interest. So I became a teacher.

5. The multifunctional reason: One of the biggest advantages of being a teacher is that it can be very easy to incorporate many of your hobbies into your day job. I can discuss, analyse, recommend and (rarely) make movies as a teacher. I can direct plays (which I have done twice and it’s amazing). I can write plays and direct them (which I have done once and it’s even more amazing – apart from the part where your superiors hate and redline you because you criticized the school system)! I can incorporate songs into my lessons. I can read books I love and discuss them with students. I can sometimes write stuff. And of course I can talk about things I like all the time because no one really cares if I do that or strictly follow the curriculum. There are endless possibilities!

So, that should answer the question why I became a teacher (the question of how is a different and more depressing story). It’s one of my dream jobs, I still love it and enjoy it most of the time, it constantly inspires me to do and learn new things and working with students is wonderful for so many reasons. And yes, I can imagine doing this for a long, long, long time and that thought feels great.