Let’s be real: working in education can feel at times like a thankless job. Ever-increasing demands, lack of time, resources, and support can easily lead to bitterness if an attitude of gratitude is not developed and maintained. However, there is a lot to be grateful for this holiday season when it comes to working in education. Many times the most purposeful work isn’t connected to financial paychecks, but what I like to call the “million dollar paychecks.” These paychecks come from knowing the work you are doing is potentially impacting the trajectory of young people's’ lives each and every day. It is knowing that the world was possibly made better because of your influence. Henry Brooks Adams once said, “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” As educators across our country finish up what can be an exhausting stretch before the holidays, let’s remember these reasons to be grateful for the important role they play in the lives of students and families.
1. The Job Of An Educator is Never Boring
One of the best parts of working in education is that no day is ever exactly the same. Students bring their different personalities, their moods that are sometimes up and sometimes down, and their hopes and dreams - whether spoken or unspoken, known or not known. There are times in teaching when everything seems to click, and you feel the new learning bulbs lighting up everywhere. There are other times when you feel the weight of carrying the adversity your students are dealing with and teaching your content area seems so far from what your students need. The master teacher embraces the dynamic nature of their classroom and can find joy in realizing that there are so many fun and meaningful moments that can come from working with young people.
2. You Will Be Remembered
It is important to realize that, as an educator, it is not a question of whether you will be remembered, it is just whether it will be for a positive or negative reason. Although servant-leadership has been around for a really long time, it was Robert Greenleaf who coined the phrase in the 1970’s. Greenleaf noted that the ultimate test of a servant-leader is whether people are better off because of your leadership, especially those with the least amount of power. I think the same ultimate test should be used in teaching. Teachers influence students every day. What a gift to know that you are thought of and spoken about each week by so many students in so many families. Not only will you be remembered in the present, but also in the future - decades after you’ve taught them as students. Your name will be mentioned at future high school reunions or even when your students are telling stories to their own children. That is both a responsibility not be taken lightly and a gift to carry you through the difficult times. Students are always watching and learning. Everything you do is a teachable moment.
3. You Get To Be a Constant
Research has shown that school leaders and classroom teachers need to be consistent in their approach each day if they want to see positive results. Consistency develops trust in your school and individual classrooms. Developing trust includes having high expectations and high support in the relationships educators build with their students. At the foundation of an educators work, it is all about relationships. Of course this relates to the systems that we create in our schools and classrooms related to academics and behavior. But the most important constant is unconditional love. The reality is, for many students, an educator may be the one constant demonstration of unconditional love that they experience all day. The number one way we are going to teach strong character and emotional intelligence to students is to role model it as adults. The key reminder with unconditional love is that you don’t have to “feel like it” to do it. In fact, when you understand that you can love someone and not even like them, you are beginning to learn what real love is. What a gift to give students each day. To receive them with patience, open arms, forgiveness, and commitment.
4. Teaching Humbles You
Why would someone be grateful for something that humbles them, especially when it is through difficult situations that sometimes rock your core - the ones that cause you to question if you were even meant to be a teacher in the first place? The reason is that it tests your ability to persevere. Teaching pushes you to stick with things, even when it is hard and humbling. Educators are responsible for the learning and well-being of so many young people’s lives each day. Unlike many other professions, educators don’t really have the choice to take days off, (especially when it is more work to be gone than it is to show up when it comes to writing sub plans). When you are humbled, you grow in ways you don’t always realize. You learn not to take yourself too seriously. This creates the ability to respond to undesirable behavior in more creative and positive ways. You learn to cherish little things because you realize it is a lot of little victories that lead to the big results we are hoping for. This creates the ability to focus on the whole child, even when it seems like the pressure of getting results seems overbearing. One of our favorite speakers, Tyler Durman, likes to say, “A commitment to growth is a commitment to pain.” Joy in teaching is a gift wrapped in a lot of humbling moments.
Ask a majority of people around you what their ultimate goal is in life and many will say it is to be happy. Maybe the key to finding happiness is actually in striving for clear purpose? Why do you do what you do? When you know your WHY, your WHAT becomes much more powerful and effective. Education is an incredibly purposeful profession. Anybody who has ever done anything great in our world can thank some teacher in their life for helping them along the way. The key is staying in touch with that purpose, even when times get hard! What a gift to be working in a profession where you wake up each day and know that what you do matters beyond what can be measured.
There is a lot to be grateful for. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and notice it. As educators head into the holidays, let’s not forget the incredibly important role each plays in the lives of students and their families. When thinking about all the different types of professions in the world, there are few that are asked to balance both being skilled at their profession and skilled at loving and supporting each of the people that they encounter every day they show up to work. Teachers don’t get to choose who their clients are, yet are required and willfully choose to relentlessly love their students in order to accomplish their goal of educating them. This is no easy task, but incredibly rewarding.
John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.