I explained what sucks about being a teacher two days ago and today, right before school starts again tomorrow, I want to look at the other side and explain why it’s great to be a teacher.
1) The students: By far the most inspiring and enjoyable aspect of being a teacher is to work with young people. Listening to their ideas and thoughts, seeing them change over the years from kids into adults, to hear their questions and interests, to see their view on life as shaped by society on the one hand but also free of many things that will shape them later. Yes, they can be loud and annoying and restless, but if you sit back and really listen to them, you can hear the most wonderful stories. And if you get their attention and see how their faces change when they understand something, when something clicks in their minds and you made a difference – it’s a really great feeling. On the one hand you feel yourself getting older as you understand less of what they’re talking about, but on the other hand it helps you to stay young, as long as you are open to their ideas and aren’t annoyed by anything that’s new. “Young people are our future” – it’s the oldest cliché politicians use to claim they care about them, but it’s true. And this is the reason why I enjoy working with them so much, because it seems so important to me that they turn out well and aren’t fucked up any more than it’s inevitable in our society.
In general I enjoy them, but there are always students that are special, more open for new things, more creative, more willing to ask important questions. And they often inspire others, so that finding them is always very unique. Encouraging and supporting them (and everyone else too) is one of the most important tasks a teacher has (and probably the one that is neglected the most). Young people are challenging, yes, but challenges keep us going and prevent us from standing still. And we as teachers have the potential to change their minds! This potential is one of my favorite parts of this job.
2) Teaching: Yes, a great aspect of teaching is the actual teaching. If you just blindly follow the curriculum and ignore your own interests, teaching is mostly frustrating. You try to make kids understand things not even you care about, so that no one really sees the importance besides the obligation to teach it. But when did obligation ever motivate anyone? But if you find just one aspect that is inspiring (more on that in 3.), you can inspire the students as well and once that fire burns, it can be pretty addictive.
But teaching is also a challenge of getting them to listen to you, getting them interested and getting them to stay focused for the rest of the lesson. If you solve that challenge, it’s extremely satisfying. If you don’t solve it, you can try to find out why and try it again. I even like that part of the process and if you want to stay motivated, you have to go through it. You cannot accept that your lessons fail (in that they don’t motivate their students) and just go on like that, without getting really frustrated, as evidenced by many frustrated and eventually resigned teachers. You have to keep challenging and surprising yourself to be able to challenge and surprise your students. And I really enjoy that dynamic of standing in front of the class, having a plan but also being spontaneous, making them listen and laugh and think.
3) Preparing: I told my students once that planning and preparing lessons is an art. They laughed, as they should have, but I’m still serious in the sense that you can really use your creative potential for it. You have to design something, start with an idea, make an outline, create concepts, add materials and finish the lesson or at least the sequence. But most importantly you need a vision. That is the key to good teaching, in my opinion. Without a vision, you will never be a great teacher. And from that vision stems all your lessons. In a way, if the vision of what you want them to learn or understand is strong enough, you don’t need a strict plan, your vision will carry you. Still, the process of preparing yourself, of building a roadmap is always amazing for me. Trying to find ideas and concepts, trying to figure out how to best start and continue, which texts and images to use. To work through new novels and plays instead of just repeating the old ones and to find the narrative and thematic threads in them that will keep the lessons going, is such a stimulating (and time-consuming) process. I love finding movies and songs and comics and movie posters for talking about history. I love finding images of actors to illustrate characters. I love working through chapter outlines and highlighting key passages. I love of all of this. And when I’m done I’m always super excited to see how the students will react to it.
By the way, I apply a lot of the things Mark Rosewater, the lead designer of Magic: The Gathering (which I love playing because of its complexity and I don’t hide in a closet for it), talks about in his articles and podcasts about game design. It can be applied to any creative endeavor, no matter if it’s writing or teaching, and it has been very helpful to me when I make plans for each year.
4) Feedback: I don’t want to add much that I haven’t said already, but again, feedback is what keeps me going at the end of the day (or year). As long as students tell me they enjoy my lessons, I’m motivated to do more of them. And if they criticize something, I can try to improve myself. It’s pretty simple and effective and I always look forward to it.
And that, in a bit more than 1,000 words, is what I love about teaching. Which, in conclusion, comes down to: I love teaching! Convinced?