The summer has just begun. The students have left campus, I’m procrastinating cleaning up the lab… and we’re back to it again in two months.
If you’re a teacher, you’ll know someone who hates that fact enough to remind you of it, frequently, with a barely-concealed envy. If you are an international school teacher, it completely blows their mind.
“You teachers have it easy.”
“I wish I could muck about with kids all day.”
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
“I should get into teaching; I could really use the holidays.”
And you know what, that’s fine with me.
Life, as teaching, is all about choices.
Education is not something you can stick at if you have just fallen into it for lack of a better job prospect. It’s a vocation, a devotion and an inspiration. It’s a privilege and a challenge. Its the invitation to change. Change ourselves, change our students, change minds, attitudes and actions, change the future for the better. It is the opportunity to learn, grow, reflect, interact, laugh and have a good time with scores of young people every day who are dedicated to learning, growth, reflection, interaction, laughter and having a good time.
I am inspired by my students and the teachers that inspire them; the colleagues that do great things and those that want to do even greater things. There is energy in what we do – we are not stuck in a cubicle. I am inspired by mission and values, by international mindedness and thinking about global problems. I am inspired by the fact that so many people who have put good into the world can trace their inspiration back to a teacher or a mentor. I am inspired every single day about science in the world and think that yes, one day, one of my students will make a real difference.
Throughout all this, because of all this, life is good. My work as an international school teacher gives my family and I a life of significant privilege. We live together, close to work, with good people around us and good opportunities for the kids. I can be home each evening to put the kids to bed, a simple pleasure that so many working parents miss out on. We have friends from all over the world and a global world view. We speak two languages in the house and have a two year-old who is learning Japanese. Even on one wage we make a decent enough living. We’re not shackled by a mortgage or car payments; we can save a little and travel a lot.
And those holidays. We are officially working for about 38 weeks a year (although they may routinely be 60+ hours a week). The holidays are time to think, recharge and study; to bond, have fun and be a family. It’s time to reconnect with the family we leave behind to go overseas. I know teachers who are able to completely disconnect in the break though most, like me, choose to work for a good part of that time. It’s like Google’s 20% time in a great big chunk. Whatever we do, we come back better able to educate our students.
I would struggle to enjoy life without this freedom and inspiration and this feeling of putting something worthwhile into the world. I love seeing the work of my friends and contacts who are living the dream of NGO work, improving lives, being creative, traveling and making a difference. I also know many people who are ‘living the dream’ of the nine-to-five, with the house, the car, the debt and three weeks off a year. If they are fulfilled and enjoy their life then great. If not, I feel bad for them.
I understand their envy of teachers.
It’s not always perfect. Some times are tougher than others. Grading and reporting times tend to bottleneck the stress, but I don’t think we should complain. We do well and we need to keep perspective. I greatly admire, respect and am humbled by the teachers back home who to try to do all this and more: contending with decision after decision coming from the top down; with behavioural and funding problems, large classes, long commutes and excessive, often unrealistic, demands. They most certainly do not have it easy, and they deserve far more recognition and respect than they are given. Sure there are teachers who can do better – sometimes much better – but I am saddened by the lingering perception that teachers are “those who can’t.”
If anyone asked me if I would recommend teaching as a career, I would tell them without a doubt, certainly, yes – but only if they’re prepared to give it their all. This is doubly true if they have the opportunity or take the chance to go to a good international school. We work hard but we are well compensated – in fulfillment above all else.
So how will I respond when someone says we have it easy as educators?
“I’m happy with the choices I’ve made.”
The tune above was made by a 16 year-old composer/producer, and to me is the perfect soundtrack to reflection on a sunny day. We work with inspired kids like this every single day.
This video by Taylor Mali sums up a conversation between a teacher and a lawyer. It’s an old one, but a good one.