Next week marks my 20th anniversary as an educator. In 1998 I began my teaching career as an English and Drama teacher at Rangitoto College. Twenty years and I still freakin’ love this job and really do struggle to understand why more people are fighting to join us in what I believe is one of the most rewarding, challenging and bloody entertaining jobs and careers you can have.
I also promised my critical friend Steve Mouldey that I would begin blogging again. His word/theme for the year is #optimistic, I’ve decided my word/theme for the year is #positivity. To this end I thought I’d celebrate my 20th teaching anniversary with a blog about the twenty reasons I believe teaching and education is the best career choice ever.
1) What we do is important
There is no question. Being a teaching is one of the most important roles in our community. We are not only fantastic caretakers and babysitters for much of the year, we are also trusted to provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to survive and thrive, whilst also addressing community concerns and government priorities – we are bloody miracle workers (and hence we deserve the pay to go with it ;). But seriously, what we do is seriously important work on many levels, and personally I am stoked to be given that opportunity.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai
2) We get to be challenged
See above! With the privilege of doing such important work comes huge challenges. There is no question that teaching can be massively challenging and at times hugely stressful as teachers feel the pressure to be all things to all people. Whilst we are told that relationships and people are the most important things in teaching we are also then pulled away from that by pressures related to administration, data mining, keeping up with the latest priorities and not to mention assessment and reporting. Yep, it’s bloody hard work, but it’s good work, it’s meeting the challenges head on, managing the challenges and working out ways to work smarter that can also be hugely rewarding. Challenges force us to grow.
3) Our job changes every year
I don’t know about you but I definitely have some sort of attention deficit disorder. Too much same same and I get bored, but oddly I also like routine. What I love is that we get the best of both worlds. Whilst we get to experience a comforting cycle of work life each year, knowing that at the beginning of each year we are working to an end point, beginning of each term we are working towards another well deserved break, we also get the to experience a sense of genuine rebirth and renewal every year. How many people get to work towards a real sense of completion each and every year and get to begin anew each year as well! New classes, new challenges, new topics to roll around in. Heck I even get excited about my fresh new notebook I get to break out. Boom. Fresh Kmart stationery gives me real joy. But seriously, the fact that our job changes and evolves every year is a gift. Look around you and consider how many other careers provide an opportunity for reset and refresh every single year?
4) We get to witness learning lightbulbs being sparked
And of course there is no denying one of the biggest joys of teaching – seeing people learn! I can still recall so many moments from throughout my teaching career where I have been privileged to see that lightbulb flick on. Whether it’s teaching them tricks to improve their writing, demystifying the art of essay writing – it might sound dull but seeing a student who has struggled through ten plus years of writing and seeing essays as an insurmountable mountain of words, helping them to see that it is actually no more than jigsaw of teeny tiny parts that they can totally do is totally rewarding. Honing my ability to make the seemingly complex, seem achingly simple has been one of my greatest sources of joy. Giving students tricks and strategies that help them to help themselves is freakin’ cool.
5) We get to provide safe havens
Not only do we get to teach all of these young people, we also get to create a safe place for them. I love love love creating spaces where teenagers feel safe to let their freak flag fly. A place where being different is celebrated, where having an opinion is encouraged, where failing is fine and challenging me is expected. Being a teenager is hard and being a teenager in the age of social media is a total minefield. How cool is it that we can provide a haven from all of that, we have the ability, even if only for an hour of that teenager’s day where they can feel assured that it’s okay just being them. We can teach subjects and topics that challenge them to develop greater empathy and understanding. We have the ability to make each and everyone of our young people celebrate who they are and what they can do, simply by getting to know them, listening and caring. That’s a gift right there.
6) We get indulge in and share our passions
And if that wasn’t enough, we can do all of this whilst indulging in our passions. Most secondary teachers I know came to teaching with a desire to share their passion for learning and particular subjects. The great thing is, even as education evolves into more integrated approaches and with a greater focus on skills, we can still indulge and share our passions. For me that is an absolute love for poetry. There is so much that can be taught through poetry – any topic, any theme, any aspect of human nature, poetry has got it covered. I LOVE Maya Angelou. If you’ve been in my English class at any point I’ve probably shoe-horned in some Angelou. There is nothing better than sharing your passion and having it catch on. In a world of algorithm echo chambers, curated playlists and YouTube subscriptions there has never been a more important time for broadening teenagers horizons by exposing them to all the fantastic literature and learning we know and care about.
7) We have a captive audience of teachers and students
Maybe it’s the Drama student/teacher in me but I do love that we have a captive audience that we get to perform to occasionally. I’m not big on direct instruction but I do love the opportunity to entertain and inform when the opportunity arises, whether it be performing a Sam Hunt poem with his distinctive rhythm and lilt, sermonising at some conference or even writing a blogpost. Having a platform of any kind is pretty empowering.
8) We get to teach cool sh*t thanks to an amazing curriculum
And the thing that allows us to weave in our passions and personalise learning is our awesome New Zealand Curriculum. One of the greatest gifts that speaking at international conferences and events has been the growing realisation that the NZC is not normal. In fact you would be hard pushed to find a curriculum that is as creative and as flexible as the NZC anywhere else in the world. It’s important to celebrate these things, it’s way too easy to focus on what we see as barriers, when in fact we actually have pretty much no barriers to how we deliver this thing. And if you believe we do, the nice thing is they are probably the result of department and school policies and approaches which can totally be challenged, hacked and overcome!
9) We get to assess learning creatively thanks to our flexible assessment framework
And if that wasn’t enough we can be totally creative in how we assess it as well. Again local contexts and constraints may feel like it limits your creativity, the nice thing is the system doesn’t. How cool that you you only have to challenge your context and not the whole freakin’ system. Yay NZ.
10) We get to share cool sh*t
Not only do we get to do awesome stuff we can share it! I have been an over sharer from way back and I can attest that sharing what you love is totally rewarding. Whether it be within your school, through online communities or at conferences it is all kinds of warm and fuzzy when you share what you do. And it doesn’t matter how small or insignificant you think it might be, even if it helps one person, it’s a great feeling.
11) We have amazing PLNs and support networks
And the bonus of sharing is it goes both ways. I’m not sure if it’s the same in all professions but education seems to be particularly rich in terms of personal and professional learning networks and events. You can turn to twitter for any number of chats – #edchatnz is a constant source of inspiration, challenge and support and there are now more “chat” hashtags than you can poke a stick. We have Facebook communities and list-serves. We have subject associations and unions who all work hard to support teachers. We have an evolving Education Council that is producing exemplary professional learning and support resources such as Our Code | Our Standards.
12) We get paid to learn
And we also get paid to learn! Whether it be through in school professional development or through more formal professional development and study. Many schools will also support further learning at tertiary level. And of course through the very act of teaching we learn.
13) We have awesome opportunities in our wider community
One of the great things about teaching is we aren’t just part of a school, we are part of a system! One of my greatest joys is that I get to work beyond the school in a number of ways. In the past I have been exam marker (great learning 😬), I have supported the wider English teaching community as a facilitator at Team Solutions, have been involved in writing Achievement Standards, been part of national reference and advisory groups with the PPTA, MoE and NZQA and have served on the Teachers Council and now the Education Council. And all of this came about because I am a teacher who likes to communicate and share. One opportunity led to another. And the great thing is anyone can get amongst it. Start local or online, you’d be surprised at how having a positive voice online can open doors to great opportunities.
14) We get to hang out with teenagers
Okay this may not strike everyone as an obvious “joy”. It took me leaving the school environment to work at University of Auckland’s Team Solutions for nine months to realise how much I actually loved hanging out with teenagers. Hanging out with people your own age all day is boring – I felt like I had accidentally meandered in to a retirement village! Albeit a retirement village of awesomeness. I loved my time at Team Solutions, it gave me breathing space and time to read and learn in a way I hadn’t done for years. It also gave me the chance to support other teachers which I loved. But there was no doubting that I realised just how much teenagers were the reason I loved teaching. They crack me up, teenagers are hilarious. They also help me maintain an excellent immature streak.
15) We get to know a lot of amazing young people
And amongst those teenagers there are a lot of amazing people. I know we aren’t meant to have favourites but there is no denying there are “those students” who we will never forget. Whether it’s the ones who overcome massive challenges, those who shine academically, culturally, creatively or on the sporting field. Those students who deliver a spine tingling speech or that seemingly boofhead First XV lad who secretly stays behind in class to share his amazing poetry. Teach for long enough and you will meet so many characters that will stick with you. Definitely one of the coolest parts of the job.
16) We get insights into a lot of other worlds
And with all of those young people come their experiences and cultures. Whether it is gaining an understanding of what it is like for a young Pasifika women to get up and catch trains and buses from the far corners of Auckland just so they can be part of the AGGS community or move out of home into a hostel at EGGS or the complex pressures they experience to be the best they can be in the classroom, on the sports field or on the stage or the challenges they may have to come overcome due to all kinds of family and community complexities and differing cultural norms. Not to mention the online world in which they also exist. I don’t think are many people who get the privilege of learning so much about different worlds as we do.
17) We get to work with amazing colleagues
One of the advantages of us experiencing these worlds is that for most of us it means we develop insight and empathy that is probably only equalled by those in other public services. To this end by working in a school we get to hang out with a pretty amazing bunch of people who care about others as a living. I have worked at many schools and seem to collect longterm friends at every stop. The vast majority of my friends are teachers. I love that they tend to be passionate, empathetic, intelligent, opinionated and just generally really interesting and passionate people.
18) We can travel and call it work
Being a teacher can also take you amazing places. Whether it’s local school trips or camps or bigger international experiences in Vietnam or Europe. Okay so this isn’t universal, but the opportunity to experience new things, people and places along with your students is a pretty cool bonus if you can get it.
19) We have the best holidays (part one) – so get time with our family and friends
I’m not sure why, but teachers seem to play this down. We seem to be way too quick to try and make out the holidays aren’t all that. We can be quick to bemoan the amount of planning, marking and prep we do. I’m sorry I just don’t buy it. I have lived in a household my whole life where my parents and my siblings were thankful for three weeks off a year. Not us. We have 10-12 weeks of freaking holidays!! Oh yes we do and it is awesome! Yep, we might do some school stuff in that time, but we get to do it on our terms. I LOVE that I get to hang out with kids whilst they’re on holiday, I get rock my dressing gown until whenever the hell I want and I get to catch up with friends and family whenever I damn well please. Since having kids I have often reflected on the fact that this is one career that I can really go hard out in that career without having to compromise hanging out with my family. Basically I get to be Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford all at the same time! 😂 Okay that might be a bit of a stretch, but I am truly grateful that I get to be all “kickass career Claire” and also get to hang with with kids in the holidays. That sh*t is priceless.
20) We have the best holidays (part two) – so can travel more than most
And with this flexible time comes time to travel. I might be lacking hard dat on this one, but if my Facebook and Instagram feed is anything to go by, teachers simply have more time and opportunity to travel. Whether it’s road tripping, camping tramping or crossing the globe, the Summer holidays seem to provide teachers and their families whether extra time and space to experience amazing things. So it’s not just great being a teacher your are super lucky to be with a teacher and have a Mum or Dad that teaches as well.
So there you go that’s my twenty reasons. Would be keen to hear what you love about this job. Yep there are challenges and there is always things can be improved. I am a firm believer that if we can sing our praises and shout from the roof tops what is so damn fabulous about this career, we are better placed to get others on board. So if you are reading this and aren’t a teacher, I consider you think about becoming one! And if you are reading this and have any influence over teaching conditions, workload and pay I suggest you think about how we can ensure all teachers get what they rightfully deserve.
All the best for an awesome 2018 school year!
Claire is a Deputy Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School – a brand new secondary school that opened for students in 2014. She is council member of the Education Council, Aotearoa, NZ and also sits on the NetSafeNZ board. Claire also enjoys contributing to a wide range of advisory boards and reference groups. In 2011-2012 Claire was the Director of e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar School. She has lead and taught English in a variety of roles. She has worked at a national level in assessment and curriculum in English. In 2009 Claire was a Ministry of Education e-fellow for which she undertook a study of how ICTs can be used to support literacy in and beyond the English classroom. Claire is passionate about her family, education, fashion and tattoos, living by the mantra – “you can never be overdressed or overeducated”.