Please don’t be a teacher if you’re not going to love your job

At the beginning of the academic year, I noticed a few high school freshmen  getting confused between simplifying algebraic expressions and solving algebraic equations. It took just 15 minutes to get to the root of the problem: they don’t understand the concept of the equal sign. You know, our ubiquitous and seemingly benign friend: “=”. And then I saw the same problem in some sophomores, and then even a junior.

My first instinct was to wonder if they had a learning disability of some sort that’s hindered them from grasping basic mathematical concepts all these years. But then I see that they read just fine, write just fine, count just fine…so what’s the problem here?

Well, I’m inclined to think that if a teenager enters high school not understanding the equal sign, some certified “teachers” out there have been doing them a big — no — monumental disservice (and continuing to do so for many other kids).

They say it takes a village to raise a child. If parents/guardians are the village chief, teachers rank a close second on the hierarchy of influence, considering how much time kids spend in school. The average American child spends 1,260 hours in school per year (let that sink in…). Teachers simply cannot afford to not care about their job.

Well, maybe they can afford to. But kids can’t afford to have their teachers conducting half-assed lessons. Parents can’t afford to have their kids be exposed to an awful role model every day. And our society can’t afford the results of classrooms operating like this:

A 1910 prediction of what 21st century classrooms would look like. We don't have that technology, but this depiction isn't too far from the truth...
A 1910 prediction of what 21st century classrooms would look like. We don’t have that technology, but this isn’t too far from reality. This is lazy, homogenized education.

As a teacher, you cannot afford to not like your job. There are plenty of other jobs where you can excel without being particularly fond of your duties. That’s because Excel sheets/Powerpoint slides aren’t going to be ruined because you whipped them up in an hour when you were supposed to do it in three. You can always print a new set if you spilled coffee all over whatever it is people carry in those leather-bound folders, and your clients will never have to know it happened. But children and teenagers are human beings, for goodness’ sake. You leave permanent imprints in their minds, their characters, their ideals, values, aspirations, their whole lives.

For every dedicated and engaged teacher out there, there are going to be a few who are “bad” just because they’re not particularly gifted at teaching, or because they are overburdened by a bureaucratic and unsupportive system. That’s unfortunate, and should definitely be fixed, but the scarier question is this: for every teacher who does a good and thorough job, how many are lazy, entitled, and uncaring? I don’t think there are official statistics for this, and I’d be too afraid to find out the answer anyway.

I had a 7th grade History teacher who napped at her desk while we copied notes off the screen. 13-year-old me decided I hated history and never took another history class. Then there was an 11th-grade Economics teacher who would roll her eyes at our questions, which made me determined never to ask another question in class. But I was lucky that the number of good teachers I had outweighed the number of bad ones, so I turned out quite okay overall.

I hope all teachers love their job. What does loving your job mean in the context of teaching? I don’t mean you have to feel like sunshine and rainbows all the time, because it’s obviously hard work with many ups and downs. I don’t (yet) have much experience in the education sector, but I believe loving your job quite simply comes down to:

1. Recognizing the responsibility and privilege you have to be able to do life with your students.

2. Recognizing the value of every young person your serve on a daily basis.

And of course, acting upon those recognitions.

If I can have my way and if future circumstances allow it, I’m homeschooling my kids. And if I can’t I pray and hope they never end up with teachers who let them get away with not understanding the equal sign.

23 thoughts on “Please don’t be a teacher if you’re not going to love your job

  1. I’ve been teaching math for 17 years. I love how math expresses the mechanics of life and the universe God created. I know how to translate complex word problems into equations. solve them, and then translate them back into a coherent answer (something an MIT-designed computer ‘learned’ last year). I use SMARTBoard technology. I create games and tournaments where students are jumping up and down and screaming with excitement about solving equations. Most importantly, I know how to help ANY kid wrap their mind around the concepts.

    BUT… none of that matters if a student doesn’t consistently practice the skills because they know they have tacit approval from their parents and the administration to continue having a relaxed, social environment while failing. That is the root issue that NOBODY seems able/willing to address with real action. Common Core? Unions? Standardized testing? They all have something to contribute but all fail to address that root issue…

    My friends and family have told me I need to let it go. My administrators and colleagues have told me I should start counting points on tests at the 50% mark, not zero, even if all they did was put a name on their paper so that I have fewer fails on my roster. I have clung to my love for teaching that was kindled by Ed Isaacs in Alg.2/Trig. back in 1987-88. But I’m afraid I’ve got nothing to offer these kids. Maybe even I NEVER did. So, Karen, after reading your article and hearing you affirm how I feel about myself as a teacher, I’ve told my wife to get her resume ready so that when our 2 year old finally goes off to kindergarten, she will get back into to her ‘zone’ which is an elementary school classroom and I can quit this profession by which I apparently have no business getting paid. Karen, I’m sorry I’ve let these inner-city kids down. I hope they can forgive me for failing to override all of the crap that prevents them from embracing and taking ownership of their education. I hope for the best in your career. I hope AND pray that you’ll be able to override all of the crap and get them to practice the skills unto mastery. (For someone who gets called pessimistic, that’s a lot of hope, isn’t it?)


    1. While I don’t particularly appreciate your needlessly acerbic sarcasm, I do think you sound like an amazing Math teacher. I have a lot to learn from you, especially in terms of incorporating technology in innovative ways. I would just like to reiterate what I mistakenly thought would have been obvious: the purpose of this article is to call out the minority of teachers who simply don’t give a damn whatsoever, independent of whether the students themself care or don’t care (yet).


      1. I apologize for that which I cannot deny is acerbic (bitterness) in my post but I was not being sarcastic. I am really sorry for letting the kids down and I really do hope the things I said I hope for. My best wishes to you.


  2. Teaching. The art of teaching is wonderful. Teaching someone who wants to learn the best feeling in the world. Teaching at a public school, now really do you truly think it is a loving experience. Get real. Stop living a fantasy. Or better yet come teach in the most broken schools. Come teach where I teach (Drop-out Factory Schools) and see if you don’t leave in less than a year. I personally have done it for 17 years now. Most of you rose-colored eyed people say wonderful words and are full of crap to back it up. I hated articles like this because you could not last any time down in the real trenches baby. However, if you are teaching in the worst possible conditions we can talk. I will have respect for you, but stop with the happy 8 is enough speach about loving your job. I love the kids because someone love me when I was at my worst and I mean freakin worst! I give the same long suffering love to my students, but love their action HELL no! Stop it! Just Stop it with this type of stupid rheortic.


    1. Hi E, I commend you on teaching in and difficult environment and sticking with it even though many teachers are driven away to teach in private schools, or at least suburban public schools. I do teach in one of these “drop-out factories” as well, though not for as long as you have. It is one of the lowest-performing schools in inner city Chicago, but I won’t disclose its name to protect the privacy of my students, since I sometimes write about them. It has been difficult, but like you, I also can’t help but fall in love with my students. I am planning to transisition into teaching special needs in urban schools eventually, as I see that it’s a big need within an already big need, if that makes sense. I’m sure you see the same shortage in your own school.


  3. We decided to withdraw our son from our local elementary school to homeschool him. He has an excellent first grade teacher. But she and many other talented teachers are facing a system with more and more flaws. She isn’t allowed to do what she, presumably, has been trained to do. Instead, she is handed a curriculum that the school board decided fits all classes and students. She isn’t allowed to change much if faced with a room full of students that would do better with other curricula. During the students’ free times, like lunch and recess, she is in meetings. So she misses all of the times that the children are absolutely awful to one another. Even if she wants to help them grow and learn how to handle challenging social situations, she’s been pulled away from the kids. As far as I can tell, the picture accompanying this blog is spot on. We could essentially have robots teaching the classes for all the teachers are allowed to do. They end up presenting the material and hoping the kids pass the standardized tests with high enough marks to make the school look good on a computerized report.

    I think I’ll stop now…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Noted educator, Herbert Kohl, came to understand how important it was for him to observe his students during their free time. It not only reveals so much about the personality of each student, it also keeps the teacher abreast of class dynamics: their hierarchies; who is friends with who and who is angry with who; their social groupings; what is important to them in their lives outside the classroom, whether in their home or their neighborhood.
      He would also let the children choose their own seats during the year other than to referee between competing claims for the same seats and to deal with an occasional special situation that he was aware of. It allowed them an ongoing adaptation to the social changes that developed throughout the year. It also helped diffuse potential powder keg situations when friends who were sitting next to each other had a falling out of sorts.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. great post! i have very similar thoughts on the teaching profession, and similar experiences. i was very fortunate that despite the bad teachers who existed along the way, i had many inspiring and incredible educators in my life. ones that continue to inspire me, as i am working on becoming a professor some day!

    the saddest thing is that i know teachers who are teachers only because it was an “easy” job to obtain. the music teacher at my high school actually told me this; he quit his performance major because it was very difficult, and decided to get a teaching degree instead, despite having zero desire teach. and it was very apparent, because no one took music at my high school, because of his reputation as a horrible teacher.

    the best educators not only help you understand the academic material, but also are available outside the classroom. i’ve gotten some great life advice from teachers who also taught me what a tercet is or how to conjugate latin verbs.

    i’ve met great homeschoolers as well. being an educator and being educated are definitely some of the best things in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A few quick comments in response to your excellent post.

    1) I consider myself a good instructor. I am able to explain something in a way that people find easy to grasp. But I don’t consider myself a good teacher. I believe a teacher also needs the ability to motivate people to learn. I can instruct people who are already motivated. But I don’t have the ability to motivate. That is one reason why I never went into teaching.
    2) Some people went into teaching because they had a calling for it. Some people went into teaching because it was their fall back career when other things didn’t work out. Some of the latter catch the fire, but many do not. This is one reason for the disparity in skills.
    3) Some teachers started out on fire, but over time, any number of reasons caused them to burn out. But they were tenured, had reached a decent salary level with good benefits and had no particular alternative in mind. So they finished out their careers going through the motions.
    4) I had the same teacher in the second half of third grade and all of fourth grade. She was fabulous. Once she identified the brightest kids and the ones who were struggling, she assigned one of the bright students to one of the struggling ones. If we were given a half hour to do a math quiz, I might be finished in 10-15 minutes. Then I would go over to the student I was helping. I was not allowed to give her the answers. But I could give her hints on how to solve the problem, perhaps remind her of a similar problem that had been done on the blackboard. (Yes, I go back to the days of blackboards and chalk!) One of my proudest moments was when that teacher called me up to her desk and showed me “my” students quiz paper when she got 100%.
    Move forward to 5th grade. That teacher was a stern woman always in severe suits and only taught to the middle of the class. Helping another student in class was strictly forbidden. By the middle of the year, my A’s were becoming B’s, I was being written up for talking in class (bored to death when I finished my work ahead of the others) and the student I had helped was struggling with no one to help. She eventually was left back.
    My fabulous 3rd & 4th grade teacher got fed up with public schools and left to teach in a private school after the year I was in 5th grade. My mom, seeing my grades slip in 5th grade the way that happened to my brother, took an opportunity to send me to a different private school starting in 6th grade (where almost all the teachers were there because they loved teaching students who loved learning). My first day of going to the private school what did I discover? The son of my 5th grade teacher, a few years older than me, was going to the same private school! She wouldn’t send her own child to public school. I learned a lot in my seven years in that school, but that may have been the biggest lesson of all.
    5) I was floored to read that there are otherwise intelligent high school students who didn’t understand a concept as basic as an equal sign. It makes me wonder about their previous vocabulary lessons as well as their math lessons. It makes me wonder how they could have gotten through math that far at all. It makes me wonder if the confusion comes from the fact that they hit the “=” key on their calculator to get the answer and it makes them think of it as a function key instead of having a real meaning.
    6) As you go through life, always remember that there are three kinds of people in the world: those who are good in math and those who aren’t. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I appreciate that in the midst of your critique, you write, “But I was lucky that the number of good teachers I had outweighed the number of bad ones, so I turned out quite okay overall.”

    I would contend that just one inspired and inspiring teacher can outweigh a gross of lazy ones. All the more reason as an educator to strive to be your best.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am not a teacher. I am a parent of 2, 12 year old twin boys in seventh grade and a 9 year old girl in third grade. They always attended public school, in two different states: IL and then NY. I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with their teachers. Some have been fuzzier or more organized than others, but they all had my kids’ best interests at heart. This also goes for principals and other administrators I interacted with as a parent and as a volunteer. I think teachers along with police officers and firefighters do so much for so little. In my mind, they deserve to be paid more and appreciated more, which I always try to do. Thank you for what you do. It is clear that you love your job and your students.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. As educators how we act and react to our students can determine how the rest of their lives turn out. Especially, our babies that struggle. Some children are not easy to reach but they have to and deserve to be reached. Even if they struggle with reading we need to look at who they are as people.

    Like you said we do spend a tremendous amount of time with our kids. We are an important part in their lives. Everything we do they see and it affects them.

    At the end of the day if you are not willing to fight for your children to get the education they deserve you cannot be an effective teacher anymore. Even if it is hard and they push back. They deserve it. Not all babies are blessed to be born with the greatest families or the smartest. Those children are just as deserving of an education as any other child. I have witnessed the light go out of childrens eyes and they stop caring at the ripe young age of 10. All because their teacher did not have patience to deal with them. If we fight for them and show them that we love them no matter what they will start to come around.

    Teaching is a whatever it takes job and you have to be willing to do that. Your babies deserve it.

    It is such a privilege to be able to teach. I am licensed teacher but I could not find a job for this. I would love more than anything to be able to have the privilege of teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I retired at the end of last school year after 31 years of teaching due to health problems. Your post made me cry all over again. Not being able t o teach seems to be making my health worse, not better. I spent 23 years as a South Texas English Teacher in the middle school of a predominantly Spanish-speaking town. Seventh graders! That’s how you know I belong in a mental institution, because I loved it. I know every bad word in Spanish, what a real Mexican tortilla tastes like, and as a reward for all those years in the Monkey House, I was gifted with a job as an ESL teacher in Garland, Texas, a part of the Dallas metroplex. I got a start on learning all the bad words in Vietnamese, Urdu, Farsi, and some of the Ethiopian and Somali languages that I can’t even begin to spell. And I had to be an advocate for those kids. We are talking about kids who fail courses only because of the language barrier. Kids who make A-plusses in Science Class, Home Economics Classes, Latin Classes (because they need a foreign language credit to graduate, right?), and then fail Math Class because those unique teachers can’t get through the language barrier to teach about numbers. Good science and math teachers are so rare and precious because anybody who is competent at the subject can make so much more money working in the private sector. Good history teachers are rare because at the junior and senior high school levels, almost all history teachers are coaches. If a kid’s learning style is learn the essentials of the subject through watching G-rated movies in class, then they have it made. And any competent teacher can teach those subjects. I taught more math, and history, and science than some of those teachers during some years. And I did it during after school tutorials. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate teachers. Even the bad ones who come and go from a campus in a single school year have their hearts in the right places. Teaching in a poor rural Texas school district is almost as hard as teaching in a big urban high school with drugs, gang violence, mental illness (and not just among teachers, sometimes the students as well) and unreasonable demands from an education-unfriendly State, and compliant brown-nosing administrators. You don’t do the teaching thing for money, prestige, or material rewards. You do it because you love kids… even the ones that hate you in return. And now I’m crying again, dang it!
    I’m sorry for ranting and commenting with more words than you put in your post. God bless you for caring about this problem. And if you actually read to the end of all of my blather, I pray that you find good teachers out there somewhere… Surely that breed of dinosaur is not completely extinct yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I completely agree, teachers should be thankful for the opportunity to educate the youth of the country in which they teach. As an aspiring teacher, I would never allow myself to become one if I knew I was not going to put the effort in. I have experienced teachers that don’t do the job they must do, but I am extremely lucky in the fact that the school I am now in has some wonderful teachers. As with all schools there are a few but by that I mean at most three. Teachers are paid to teach, they are trained to teach and most of all they choose to teach. A lot of countries remain with a pretty bad education system mostly because they can’t afford it, as many people as possible must be educated but how can they be if their educator fails them. Please don’t become a teacher if you don’t love and appreciate your job. Well said, I appreciate your concern on the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Just my two cents. After being a working Joe in the Navy, then an Officer, then retired for about 5 years, I got a Master’s in Education. I decided that teaching is my passion.

    I only taught for 2 months as part of my degree, 2 months volunteering in an adult school while getting my degree, then a year teaching secondary science to 7th and 8th graders. The end result, I love teaching. It is my passion. I did a good job and was offered a job the following year. However, the concept of a school is something that conforms to a businessman’s mentality.

    Staying on topic from this post, I will say it is a multi-faceted problem, but I will only address two.

    1. You started the post talking about math. I also happen to love math. Most people don’t. Why? Because they had teachers who sat up on high and preached down to the uninformed in Doctor-speak.

    When I volunteered in the adult school, I tutored some people on their GED. One woman, who I thought of when I read this post, was 30 years old. She was intelligent. Her and her husband restored cars. She scrap booked. She clearly had a grasp of mathematical concepts. However, she struggled with math. Hmm. After a few minutes of showing her how math applies to everyday life-like you probably did-and can be explained and understood very easily, her life was changed.

    2. Like I said, the school concept is run like a business. Those with a business mind thrive. Those with a teacher’s mind wither and either drone on becoming more miserable and unproductive everyday or they decide they would rather put their energies toward something that can better the world.

    I will not blab on about the challenges. I will just say that I love teaching, but not as a business. Shuffling kids in and out for a truncated 45-minute class is absurd, to me. It is not much more than a daycare.

    Please understand me. There are teachers who are better than me and better than most. They seem to have an innate ability to flow through any situation. The issues just roll right off their backs, leaving them seemingly unaffected. I respect those teachers greater and am in awe of them. However, they are few and far between.

    The educational system should not be a challenge to overcome. It should be a place where learning and teaching are both fun and easy.

    LTjg USN ret.
    MA, BS

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post. As a former teacher and home schooling mom I have experienced both sides in regards to the comments here. Federal and state laws make teachers hoop jump and that is NOT about kids or their education. It’s supposed to be. I’m sure the intent may be, but it does not service the teachers or the students. Our kids have had some fabulous teachers who love their job and the kids and did a remarkable job with them. And yet when we took our 7th grader out of school and brought her home, it took us an entire semester to fill in the gaps of her first 7 years of “education.” That speaks more of the broken system than the educator. It’s also true that some teachers do not like kids. When I did my education program, I was shocked that about 1/3 of the candidates hated teaching and kids, but decided it was the only option for their field of study. How sad for those imprinted students.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I find that shocking that people who don’t like kids and also don’t like teaching would make the choice to follow that career. It does explain a few teachers I’ve had the misfortune to have dealings with, but that is just terrible.

      Glad you brought your daughter home and were able to fill in the missing gaps. She’s lucky to have you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  13. In my composition class, we were assigned to write on problems in the education students, and there were A LOT of students who wrote about teachers lacking the motivation to teach, or having unqualified teachers teaching. Good post to read right now as Im in the middle of writing about education!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve been teaching for 10 years and thank God I love it this year – great support and students, but I had to sue to get it. In the past, I simply didn’t get the support of administrators and staff. Those years, I was a satisficer, not a maximizer, on the job. It was simply about the hustle & survival.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Very good post! I resonated with what you said completely. I see it in my Sunday School class all of the time, and it makes you wonder what they have been doing all these years.

    And the sad reality is, what is going into the hopper (in the cartoon) isn’t what is healthy or wholesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve been teaching for 10 years and I haven’t always loved it, although thank God this year I do. There have been years where I simply didn’t get the support of the administration or staff. It made me a satisficer, not a maximizer, at work. Those times it was all about hustling and survival.

    Liked by 1 person

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