Earlier this year I found myself laboring over what to do with my life.Like many twenty-somethings this day and age, I was feeling a little lost and thinking often of graduate school and other ways I might be able to find more direction in my career. My experiences to that point had led me to a fork in the road with two possible but very different directions – business or education.
When I reached out to my friends and family for their advice on this matter, I got an overwhelmingly one-sided answer: business. They told me I had the mind for it, the presence for it, the skills for it. They told me they knew I had an entrepreneurial spirit, that I was an excellent leader, and that my communication talents would serve me well in the business world. They told me to apply to MBA programs, to work for a start-up, and to start networking. And it seemed that every time I brought up the alternative possibility of going into a career in education – of being a teacher – I’d get a similar answer. “I just always thought that you’d do something more,” a friend told me.
The statement grates on me now that I’ve found the clarity I was looking for and have made the decision to pursue teacher licensure. Very few of the people who showered me with encouragement to go into business ever mentioned that my same ability to lead, entrepreneurial spirit, and talents in communication would make me an excellent teacher as well. But I was less angry back then, and I saw what they were saying. It’s not that anyone thought of teaching as a ‘bad’ career. It just didn’t quite meet their definition of ‘success.’ And because these people loved me, they wanted success for me.
So I got to thinking… why would we think of teachers as not necessarily achieving traditional success?
Is it because teachers don’t make much money? Maybe it’s because they aren’t generally perceived as influential? It could be that because many teachers colleges are not hugely competitive, some people feel that it’s not a particularly prestigious title. And certainly there are huge problems today in our education system, only one of which is that there are some pretty ineffective teachers out there.
But wouldn’t that be more of a reason to encourage someone you view as competent and passionate to become a teacher? Because of all of the reasons listed above, schools already have a heck of a time attracting high-quality talent. When I did hear good things from my advisers about teaching, it was generally comments like ‘teaching is a noble profession’ and that it’s a job ‘rife with sacrifice but big on emotional return.’ They told me to weigh the pros and cons carefully before taking that direction. Maybe my loved ones weren’t pushing me away from education because they thought I was too good for it, maybe they were just trying to protect me.
Still, I’m bothered by the assertion that I could ‘do more’ in a career outside of education. I challenged my friends to name the most influential people in their lives, and nearly all of them thought of a teacher or two. No, I will not get rich in a classroom. But there are many types of poverty, and while I know working in a school will present many, many challenges, and that a career as a teacher very well might be ‘rife with sacrifice,’ I also feel certain that I will never be poor in spirit for very long. Making our children my cause is sure to keep me very rich – just not the kind of rich that involves first-class tickets and expensive cars.
This other kind of currency is a wealth I’ve known well over the past few years. It’s the wealth that comes from gorgeous sunsets and clear night skies and a loving, sturdy set of friends and family. It’s the kind of wealth paid out in gap-toothed smiles and massive hugs and, occasionally, big fat tears. I chose teaching because I felt that my skills and personality could affect the most positive change in this way. Maybe I won’t be featured on the cover of the Wall Street Journal any time soon, but making a difference in the life of a child is surely just as prestigious. In fact, I can’t think of anything more important.
I know teaching isn’t for everyone. But it’s a profession that deserves way more credit than it gets. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I haven’t totally erased that as a possibility for my future. But for now, I will teach. And that should be more than enough.