Once upon a time, many years ago, I was at a gathering of educators and was involved in a group discussion with several veteran instructors. We were discussing all manner of education-y things when one senior instructor said to us, “you need to stop letting this be SO important to you. This is your job. It’s a job. It’s not who you are.”
I disagreed then. And I disagree now. Because, I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, teaching is not just a job. It is, in fact, who I am. Or at least a very big part of who I am.
I’ve often thought about doing other things for a living. I’ve thought of leaving public service for the private sector. I’ve thought of making more money. I’ve thought about going to work for 40 hours a week, no more, no less. I’ve thought of giving up the late-night grading sessions, the constant e-mail checking, the daily insults to my intelligence and dignity.
But I can’t. And I don’t really want to. Because even though there are days when I hate my job, I love it. And it is me. I can’t do anything else. My students try my patience and shred my last nerve…but they also challenge me. They make me want to slam my head against the wall, but they also inspire me to try harder and be better. They make me try harder and be better (because if I slack off even a bit, they will eat me for lunch).
I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to get them to figure out whatever it is I’m teaching that week. Sometimes I come up with a new idea the day or hour or five minutes before class. And when it works, the payoff is amazing.
And knowing that, understanding it, and being willing to work towards that (as opposed to a nice Christmas bonus) is not just what I do for a paycheck. It is who I am.