Reasons People choose to Teach.

There are a stack of different reasons why people go into teaching, especially teaching English.

Between 1950 and 1978 in Australia, Secondary Teaching was one of the few things you could get government funding for to go to University. It was competitive. You sat for the studentship exam and if you scored well enough the government paid for your studies. In exchange you agreed to teach for three years  in government schools. This was a key motivator at a time when University education in Australia was not publicly funded.

However, financial considerations aside, there seem to be 3 main reasons people choose a career in English teaching.

Reason 1 – It’s Your Calling.

During my Dip Ed I got to know a fellow student called Andrea. Andrea was young and from what I could remember, had always wanted to be a teacher. That was her calling and she was gifted. Unlike me, who would have been useless as a teacher at her age, Andrea was born to teach. I am sure she has shone the light in many dark corners in the past 25 years.

For many great English teachers this is the case. They have known since an early age that engaging students with the wonders of literature is what they were born to do.

They have a deep commitment to serve and an understanding that they have the chance to change the world one student at a time.

Reason 2 -It’s in Your Genes.

Despite the fact that almost every teacher I know actively discourages their offspring from a career in education, a surprising number of teachers come from generations of teachers. A friend recently told me that her daughter has no memory of the hours of marking and prep at night or on weekends and holidays. All she remembers is the good stuff. The energy her Mum had when classes went well, that Mum was there during the holidays and after school most times.

If we ever need proof that our kids don’t notice what we are doing as long as we are around, this has to be it.

Because no matter how hard, no matter how exhausting, no matter the ridiculous decisions made by people who have forgotten what it is like to be in the classroom, on a good day it is still the best job in the world.

Reason 3 – No-one Else is going to Pay You to Read.

The issue of teachers’ pay is and has been debated extensively. Apart from possibly Finland, no country has got it right. I always found it amusing that as a full time teacher I was paid for 5 hours a day while I was actually in school for at least 8. I have always wondered whether this was a tacit admission that the government knew that the system was screwed but didn’t know how to fix it. At least they weren’t pretending.

However, let’s be honest, you can live on it in Australia, if not in other countries, and no-one goes into teaching for the money.

As an English teacher I got paid to read and to share my knowledge and love of literature. And share it I did, with succeeding cohorts of young minds; active young minds that were wired to learn, even if they didn’t realise it.

The Desire to Make a Difference.

No matter what the outward reasons for becoming an English teacher, the philosophical reason that is common to most is the desire to make a difference. This has been most famously presented by Taylor Mali in his response to the question ‘What do teachers make?’

You can watch it here.

A Gifted Teacher Inspired Us.

Often the decision to teach comes out of a personal experience of a memorable teacher who made a difference in our own life.

For me it was Helen Howells who I have spoken of before. I have always loved poetry, however, when Mrs Howells introduced a unit on love poetry by bringing in a boom box and playing a Meatloaf song, my appreciation and understanding skyrocketed. To this day I always introduce poetry units with music and lyrics.

I don’t remember her ever raising her voice (the same can’t be said about me) but for some reason you just knew that anything less than your very best was not going to cut it.

The most important lesson that I learned from Mrs Howells though was the real meaning of ‘cool.’  Helen Howells was herself.  I don’t know how old she would have been at the time. It was the late 70s, but she looked conservative, she dressed conservatively and she did not try to be ‘hip.’  There was another teacher at the time who tried to be very ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ and the students had little respect for him. Mrs Howells did not try to be your friend, she did not try to speak your language, she did not try to fit in. But somehow you knew she cared, that she wanted the best for you and she would do whatever she could to help. From her I learned the real meaning of respect.

When I became a teacher, the thing I most wanted was to be like her.

Was there a special teacher who inspired you in your choice of career?  Someone who made a difference for you?  Please pop over and add your voice to the conversation on our Facebook page. We need to remember and celebrate these remarkable teachers.

Till next time

Teach Well