Teachers like to Talk

Especially on the picket line. What else is there to do when you have 4 hours to kill while marching on the sidewalk? You can only eat so many donuts…

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My main man Mr. Pugi, who knew he wanted to be a teacher at an early age.

So I started talking to my colleagues. I asked them a simple question:

“How did you get into teaching?”

The answers I got were interesting and as expected, long. I asked over 16 teachers (1 for every day of the strike) and most answers belonged in one of four categories that I’ve created. There were some hybrids but for the most part, these are the four:

Lineage

The family of teachers. With so many “teacher couples” on at school, I can only imagine how many more teachers are ‘created’ through lineage. Are there any other professions where there are so many in the family that are involved? I have heard stories of a colleague resisting teaching for most of her life but still ended up being one! I envy these teachers because teaching is part of their life. I always feel bad for my wife (who’s not a teacher) when I have my teacher friends over and the conversations inevitably veer towards teaching. I love talking shop with my colleagues but I’m sure it my wife is tired of hearing the same conversations again and again. Imagine if all your family dinners have years of teaching experience to draw from? All the questions that can be answered because you literally have hundreds of years of teaching to draw from? This is just what I imagine a family of teachers would do. Who knows, perhaps they hate it when that happens!

Career Change

Most of these teachers didn’t stumble into teaching from a previous career. The colleagues I talked to all had some connection to teaching before they switched. I did find some similarities to the ‘teachers of lineage’ when asked: “Why did you switch to teaching?” The answer from each career changer at my school (albeit a small sample size) was family. “My work would not give me the kind of schedule I want for my family” was a common reason. These teachers who changed careers (I’m generalizing) are the most diligent and “realistic” people in our school. I think it’s because they’ve experienced the ‘real world’ and understands that there are some things in education (and life) we cannot control. They also know that teachers (and any worker, really) are replaceable, so they roll with the punches when they’re being told what to do. I find that the most common teacher complaint is when we’re told what to do. We’re so used to ‘being our own bosses” in our own classroom we forget that yes, the principal (or whoever that has the power)’s job is to tell you what to do. My best student teachers were the ones who have had some experience in industry and treats teaching as a job, not an extension of school.

The Calling

The most noble of the four. “I have always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was (insert absurdly young age).” or “I had a great (insert favourite subject) teacher and I wanted to be just like him/her”. These teachers love what they do and exudes it everyday to their students. Students revere these teachers at my school (They would walk on glass for these colleagues of mine). These teachers knew exactly what they wanted to do at a young age and planned their life to achieving that goal. There was an example of a colleague who quit, then came back to teaching because she hated the (much more prestigious and higher paying) job she switched to. Now that’s admirable.

The Falling

This is the most touchy group of the four. Some other names for this category:

  • Plan B (too negative)
  • I have no idea what I’m going to do so I’ll trying teaching (too long)
  • Those who can’t do, teach (too close to home)

Yes. There are teachers who fall into teaching. No, it’s not because they can’t do anything else. Many found what originally planning to do was not what they envisioned themselves to be doing. There were many different paths: lawyer, veterinarian, doctor, scientists, the list goes on. It doesn’t mean they love teaching any less, or are any less capable. Every single teacher in “The Falling” group already had seeds of teaching in their life: Piano tutors, life guard, coaching, referee… etc. All of these teachers had experience working with younger people, helping them learn. After they ‘fall’ into teaching, they were so glad they found it again.

Of course after talking about themselves, the immediate question my colleagues have is: “Now it’s your turn, how did YOU get into teaching?”

If you’re interested, here’s my story.

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Teachers Fall into Teaching

After speaking with my colleagues during the strike work stoppage, I heard different stories of how teachers got into teaching, and here’s mine.

I didn’t know about teaching as a job, profession, or career. As a student, I only saw the teacher behind the desk probably as my students see me now: Someone who just existed in the school and nowhere else. I don’t know why, but the thought of my teachers getting paid to work never crossed my mind. I had no family members in the profession, and neither of my parents finished high school, let alone university. Most of my older cousins who did have post-secondary experience lived in Hong Kong, where I was born. I had very little guidance throughout my academic career growing up in Canada (I immigrated here at 10 years old). For me, the guidance from my parents was simply, “be educated”. While it gave me a lot of freedom to pursue things, it wasn’t very practical. I had no idea what was out there for me. I just took courses and programs that I thought were challenging (sometimes too challenging), stuck with my interests, and hoped a job would come out of it at the end. I struggled to finish my degree because I didn’t know how to ask professors (or peers) for help. I tried to do everything on my own. It wasn’t until late in my final year of university that I learned that there was such a thing as teacher’s college (A passing comment by a buddy of mine). Not having that information also meant I missed the application deadline! Whoops. After I finished undergrad, I got part time jobs (I had 3 at one point) hoping they would become full time jobs, and one did. I learned so much in that one year of “real work” and it made me a better teacher today. During this time, I also concentrated on researching this new thing I learned called “Teacher’s College”.

Gr9 Sci

A Grade 9 ESL science class during my first practicum.

Once I knew I wanted to become a teacher, it was all or nothing. I applied to every single teacher’s college in Ontario because I didn’t know about the ones in Buffalo/Niagara Falls or I would have applied there too. It cost me almost $1000 to apply and I didn’t get in to most of them, but all I needed was one. I still have my rejection letters from the other schools as my motivation and because I don’t want to forget how badly I wanted to be a teacher once upon a time. Getting into teacher’s college was a dream come true for me, perhaps it was because for the first time in my life, I had a real goal, and saw the end of the academic tunnel. I had found something that I wanted to do, and I knew I had a chance to be good at it (most of my friends told me so).

I’ve been a high school teacher for 11 years now. I was very lucky to “fall” into my calling. I also know of teachers who “fell” into teaching and stayed because it was a comfortable, good job. These teachers are professionals and do their job to the best of their abilities. You cannot be a teacher for very long if you don’t care about students and learning. So yes, some teachers fall under the inflammatory phrase “Those who can’t, teach”. I’m probably one of them, and I will not apologize for becoming a teacher. I’m also pretty sure that many people “fell” into their current job too.

No, teachers are not perfect, but is there a perfect profession? Is there a workplace where 100% of the employees are perfect all the time? I will boldly proclaim that teaching is one of the few professions where the people in it are trying to be better at their job all the time. For most teachers, it is not just a job, but it is a place where we feel we can affect the world around us in a positive way. With the turmoil in Ontario public education due to declining enrollment and an aging workforce, we have to remember that we must invest in education for the benefit of society. The “economy” should not be a factor in education. John Green said it best in an “Open Letter to Public Education”.