I am not what you would typically call a “teacher.” I do not have a regular classroom or a consistent group of students. I meander from city to city, band room to band room, talking to whomever I can get to sit down in front of me. It is a nomadic life and is filled with lots of idle time involving planes, trains, and automobiles. Well, not so much trains. It’s true that I have not been a classroom teacher for over a decade, but I still consider what I do to be teaching. Therefore, in my mind, I am still a teacher.
If there is extra time at the end of a workshop, I will take questions. Last night, a young lady raised her hand and asked, “Why do you do what you do?” I paused for a moment and thought. No one had ever asked me that question, and frankly, it had me stumped. My first inclination was to answer the question with the standard and safe answer: “I do it for the children.” But anyone who has been to one of my workshops knows that I am anything but standard and safe. So I answered her question with the truth, as unconventional as it may be.
I don’t teach “for the children.”
And as long as we’re at it, I should tell you that kids are not why I became a teacher, nor for that matter is music. I didn’t do it to change the world or shape the future, or any of that tree-hugging liberal stuff. Like I said, I don’t teach for the children. So why do I teach?
I do it for selfish reasons; I teach for me!
Yes, I teach for me! I know this doesn’t make for an emotive or evocative ad campaign. It also isn’t likely to be the banner headline on the American Educators’ Association convention, although I think it should be. I would also suspect that you aren’t likely to find “I teach for me!” greeting cards or bumper stickers during Teacher Appreciation Week. But for me, it is my truth. I teach for selfish reasons.
I enjoy teaching! I enjoy going to work in a place where I am challenged on a creative and an analytical level. I like being in a place where I have control of the entire program and can see the fruits of my labor. I like working with young, energetic people who like to laugh. I like teenagers. I like being the decision-maker and the person who gets to make the call. I enjoy the fact that I work with kids and adults, and yes, if I am to be completely honest, my ego doesn’t exactly mind being the center of attention for four hours a day. For you it may be different. For you it may be “all about the kids.” But for me, it’s not.
Teachers are one of the few professional groups that have turned going to work into a badge of honor. Some walk the halls of our schools and the aisles of our community grocery stores carrying the weight of self-imposed martyrdom. Some act as if their jobs and their lives are such a burden, but they willingly carry it so that others’ loads may be lighter, so that our country and its people may move forward.
Not me! Call me a selfish pig. Call me a jackass! Call me immature! Call me what you want, but I don’t do it for any of those reasons. I teach because I like to giggle. I teach because I get to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it. I teach because I get a “do over” every time I walk into a room. I teach because I get to celebrate each and every holiday. I teach to avoid spending large amounts of time with grumpy grownups. I teach because I hate Excel spreadsheets and terms like “360-degree analysis”. I teach because I dislike memos and the people who write them. I teach because my cubicle is 10,000 square feet and I get a standing ovation more often than not. I teach for a paycheck, health insurance, and retirement. I teach for me!
Why is it so hard to admit that? Why do educators go to such great pains to paint themselves in a light that is less than flattering? Why are we so embarrassed to say that we chose our profession because it brings us joy AND it just so happens to serve a greater calling of enriching our community and the young people who live in it? We teach children, yes, but I am not sure we all teach for children.
In an effort to be “child-centered” and “student-focused,” educators often act as if they are making a grand sacrifice for the betterment of tomorrow, which may or may not be true. But let’s not forget, we chose this work. We choose to come to work each and every day and sign a contract year after year. We choose to be teachers.
When your parents raised you, did they teach you to follow someone else’s dream? Did they say, “We just want you to be unhappy?” When you were choosing a major in college, were you encouraged to follow someone else’s passion? Did they say, “Do what is right for them,” or “Find some kids, and follow their bliss.”
No, I doubt it. Your parents probably said to do what you want to do and to follow your passion. And isn’t that what you did?
If it was about “the children,” then think about this. More than likely, you chose to teach before you ever worked with children. You made your decision having never served in this role before. You did it because you thought that an adult you admired enjoyed his job and that you just might enjoy it too! You did it for you just like I did it for me.
I am not ashamed that I’m happy. I am not embarrassed that I like my job. I am not a martyr and you need not pity me. I’m doing rather well, thank you, and your pity would be better spent on someone who doesn’t get to do what they want to do.
I teach because I enjoy it. I teach because it’s what I want to do. I teach because it makes me feel good. I recognize that the byproduct is that I do it for children, but I do it because of me.
I recognize whom I serve in this profession: children. But I am also cognizant of why I serve. I teach for me.
Anyone want to buy that bumper sticker?
“My Dirty Little Secret” is an excerpt from Scott Lang’s Seriously?! Ruminations, Affirmations, and Observations About the State of Music Education, published by GIA Music and used here by permission of the author.