By: Annette Evans
2018-2019 Chair, McKay School of Education Alumni Society
Several years ago, I casually asked a colleague about her weekend. “You won’t believe it,” she said, “but I ended up going to St George with my husband to buy a horse.”
She lived on acreage with corrals and a barn in Utah County, but with their children grown and gone, they no longer had large animals. “A horse?” I replied, “I thought you sold all your livestock years ago.”
“We did,” she said, “but my husband saw this ad for a gentle horse, and he just had to buy it.”
She continued, giving me a recap of her Saturday. “We drove all the way to St George and back in one day. I knew she was a good horse the minute I saw her. The owner cried and gave her a big hug before letting her go. As soon as we got home, my husband took her out of the trailer and called all our family. By the time he got a saddle on her, we had a yard full of grandkids wanting to meet her and take a ride. One little guy was so excited that he had to run home and get his cowboy hat and boots. We laughed and took pictures of our new horse, who gave rides until after dark. As everyone was leaving, I turned to my husband and asked, ‘After all these years without a horse, why did you have to buy one now?’ Watching the taillights of the last car, he simply smiled and said, ‘I just wanted to be their hero.’”
As a teacher, this conversation resonated with me. Like many educators, I have an inner heroine that went into the profession because of a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.
The “teacher as a hero” theme abounds in quotes and posters:
“Real heroes don’t wear capes, they teach.”
“To the world you may be just a teacher, but to your students you are a hero.”
“Teacher? I prefer the term ‘Educational Rockstar.’”
Like most teachers, I had countless moments when I felt like a granddad giving pony rides to kids, and I basked in the rewards: personal notes (which I still have), gifts of lotion and candles and muffin mixes (which I do not still have), students who wanted to take their picture with me on the last day of school (made me feel like a celebrity), smiles, jokes, chocolate bars, or a simple “Thanks, that was a great class today.”
Despite these rewards, I must admit that I didn’t always feel like a hero when I was in the thick of teaching. The daily pressures of parent emails, classroom management, lesson planning, grades, extracurricular assignments, new initiatives, etc., often left me exhausted and discouraged. Often I felt underappreciated, underpaid, overworked, and even resentful. Negative comments fueled my discontent, and I must admit that sometimes bought into the dialogue, thinking, “I’m a smart person. I should have chosen a better career—something that isn’t this hard and pays more.”
Now that I’m retired (after 25 years), I look back at my days as a teacher with such fondness, and I wish that I had been more proactive about promoting education and encouraging young people to choose teaching as a career. Here are my personal top four reasons why there is no better life than the life of a teacher:
- Although teachers don’t make as much money per year as many professionals, benefits such as health care, generous sick leave policies, and pensions are incredibly valuable and underrated. My husband and I were both educators, and because we both have a pension, we can enjoy traveling and serving others without the financial worries that many retirees have.
- Teaching is a great career for parents who want to be home when their children are home. We not only had every holiday off with our children, but we also enjoyed spending the summer gardening, fishing, camping, watching baseball games, going to the library, and sleeping in after staying up late. Yes, I attended a workshop now and then in the summer, but for the most part, teaching gave us the most irreplaceable benefit of all—time with our own children.
- Teachers work with incredibly nice people—other teachers. Over the years, we celebrated each other’s triumphs and shared each other’s burdens. We laughed and played practical jokes, published a cookbook, took students to the 2002 Olympics, played faculty/student football games, and socialized outside of school. My teaching colleagues are to this day some of my dearest friends.
- Working with young people is perhaps the most rewarding reason to choose teaching as your life’s work. I may have entered the profession with heroic aspirations, thinking I would bless the lives of students with my passion for learning and my caring heart. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the students gave me more than I gave them. I learned from their insights, marveled at their resiliency, and was inspired by their random acts of kindness. In countless ways, they are my heroes.
It’s time we change the dialogue about teaching as a profession. Yes, it is important for educators to be proactive and advocate for positive improvements, but it’s also important for us to be cheerleaders for education as a career and encourage aspiring teachers. If they could see the end from the beginning, they would run towards that path.