Each year I seek clarity for my teaching career. There are no easy answers here. Know this. The question is serious,
“Should I teach another year?”
As I ponder my own path, let me take you on a journey of thoughts.
Dancing with Snakes.
The Indonesian pop star, Irma Bule died at age 29 of a cobra bite she got while performing. She performed with pythons. In April 2016, the conference organizers provided a cobra. She thought it was de-fanged. It wasn't. After a full performance with it draped around her neck, she put it back in the bag. As she performed, it slipped out of the bag. She stepped on its tail. It bit her. Not thinking she was in any danger — she kept performing. Forty-five minutes after she received the bite, she stepped off stage and died.
I'm not sure why the snake handlers who knew the slithering performer was full of venom (and fangs) didn't stop the show. Surely, they knew what was happening.
As teachers, we deal with difficult people. Sometimes we even deal with people dangerous to our health. There are several times sharp-fanged people have wounded me. Once, I wasn't sure I could recover as a teacher. The venom of a hateful person poisoned me so much.
Thankfully, my family recognized the signs of my injury. They helped me heal and prepare to teach again.
Sometimes teachers are too wounded to perform. We help so many. But sometimes we're the one who needs the help. Those who love us or work with us should help us get help before we kill our career. (or even worse, do permanent harm to our bodies or those precious children we teach.)
Injured in the game.
I'll never forget the sight that had the whole sidelines gasping and gagging. The young man's thumb dangled down to his wrist. With three minutes left in the state semi-finals, he begged to be taped up. He wanted to go back in.
“Give me a shot and tape it. I can play,” howled the quarterback.
He didn't even look at his slick, white bones sticking out of the gaping wound. Or the blood. Or his pale face. He was in shock. He wasn't thinking.
The doctor said,
“If you play, you will do permanent damage to your hand. You cannot go in. Your high school career is over.”
He cried. He begged. The doctor stood firm. With these injuries, he could not play.
Sometimes things can happen to us and we break. We cannot function. A death of a child. Or spouse. Or parent. A divorce. A hardship. A terrible loss. A traumatic accident.
Like the broken hand, things can damage us and our ability to teach. We can become unable to do the job for now or indefinitely.
As a teacher, we have to be sound in mind and able to hold our patience. We have to have healthy minds because our minds are attached to our hands. If we’re angry at the world, we cannot let ourselves inject our anger at our circumstances into an innocent child's world. It is not the child’s fault.
We all need colleagues we trust. We need truth-tellers. When we are injured by life, someone who loves us should tell us we are not at our best right now.
Oh, places that understand the value of a sabbatical bless our profession so much! Sometimes teachers have burnt out or broken down. Sometimes a sabbatical can salvage a career. She needs time to heal. She has to stop dancing. Pull her out of the game.
He retired too late.
The glory days were glorious, but they were a decade ago. People shake their heads. He used to be great. He isn't anymore.
I pray that I retire from working with kids when I can no longer give them my patience, love, and belief.
Children are children. They are difficult. Hard to handle. They need patience. Sometimes I’m so tired I put my head down on my desk after the students leave.
The things that make me examine my thinking and work as a teacher:
- The moment I am starting every class period at the end of my rope. I need help.
- When I can’t reach up and touch bottom. I need help.
- When I say things in the teacher's lounge starting with the words “kids today are so…” and I finish the sentence with some stereotype or blanket statement that is unworthy and untrue. I need to either adjust my attitude or remove myself from teaching.
- When I refuse to believe in a student because some kid fifteen years ago that I poured my heart into let me down. When I start recycling yesterday's faces without giving the kids today in front of me a chance – it is time to go.
Retiring from teaching is not bad when it is time to retire.
Teachers are wonderful, and I appreciate every single one of you.
- Sometimes we should stop dancing and get the antidote for our injury.
- Sometimes we should come out of the game and have our wounds tended.
- And sometimes we should retire from the sport we love because we can no longer play the game.
Your break from teaching might not be permanent. You might need to retire. Or, you might need to coach others in the profession you love! (Anyone know a 50-year-old football players? I know coaches, though.)
4 Things to Remember As We Consider Whether We Should Teach
1. We all get broken sometimes.
We all have hard things happen that make us unable to dance. While I need a job, a suffering child is too high a price to pay for me to draw a salary.
2. Some teachers have had a great run.
Time has run out because they no longer love the kids. The kindness is gone. The spark of genius and love that ignited their greatness is extinguished. A different phase of life beckons. Or they are broken and need healing.
3. Seasons are part of life.
You can't stop them. We must learn to enjoy each of the seasons for their beauty. The tragedy of life is that we can make more money, but we can never make more time.
4. There are no easy answers.
Nothing easy to say. No formula exists saying ‘this' plus ‘that' equals retire. Or ‘that' plus ‘this' equals a return to teaching.
I can tell you this: teaching is serious business. Lives are at stake. Futures. Generations.
I know you love it. I do too. But I pray that when I either become broken or have a new calling that I will have the guts to move on.
The Lies We Must Not Tell Ourselves
Some will hate these words. They think no one should ever retire. We should act like everyone stays a great teacher forever. We should pretend that some wounds aren't game ending and that snake bites never happen. And we would be lying.
I love you too much to feed you lies. Lies can poison a profession. And to think that everyone is physically and emotionally capable of teaching for fifty or sixty years — that is enough of a lie to make Pinocchio's nose grow by 10 feet.
Some of the worst teachers I've ever seen were once the best. Some great teachers let bitterness, anger, and dissatisfaction take root. Then, the used-to-be-a-blessing teacher becomes a curse. These formerly-amazing professionals hurt kids because they didn't deal with their own hurt.
(Let me add, one of the best educators I know is 86, teaching full time and still going strong — so don't say this is an age thing. I hate seeing great teachers retire too soon! It isn't the age of the sage, but the patience of the pedagog at issue here.)
Don't get out of teaching because it is hard — it will always be hard.
Don't get out of teaching because you're tired — it is a tiring job for all of us.
In this time and season may you decide whether you need a sabbatical, to retire, or if you're healthy enough to keep on teaching those precious children.
Teacher, You are Needed
Your profession needs you, teachers. It needs you to be healthy. It needs you to be of sound mind. The kids need you to love them. And when you aren't those things, it needs you to take a break, so you don't break. Or even worse, so you don't break them.
It is the nature of the human condition that things happen to us that wound us deeply. Like a car in a wreck, sometimes we need repair.
Kids are too important. You are too. So is this question.
“To teach or not to teach?”
Do not suffer the slings and arrows of our outrageous profession without considering the heartache and a thousand natural shocks our career is heir to.