Today is my last day as a middle school teacher. I taught 7th/8th grade English for the last two years, and it was one of the most incredible, exhausting and rewarding experiences of my life.
Truthfully, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I wasn’t bad– it’s just that two years is a mere blink of an eye in this world. Most educators say that the middle of your third year is when you finally start to hit your stride– to anticipate mistakes and to make the right adjustments. It’s laughable that I’m even writing about the profession, as if my short time gave me enough insight to consider myself an expert. Still, I did keep my eyes and ears open, and there are a few things I want you to know about your teachers as you move through school.
1. They care.
This one might seem obvious- but what about the teachers who seem like they don’t even like kids? They care too. In fact, they care so much sometimes that what seems like resentment for students is actually a resentment of their own inability to be an effective educator. My worst moments as a teacher came out of a frustration that I was underprepared when presented with a challenge… and sometimes that came out on the kids. Your teachers just want you to have the skills that will help you thrive, and when they don’t know the best way to give you those skills, it can show up in the classroom as a short fuse. Just know they want the best for you.
2. They can crush you.
There’s a million little laws you can violate while driving down a surface street in a straight line. If traffic cops want to pull you over and give you a ticket, they can. Teachers are like traffic cops. Teachers know all the rules, including a plethora of little dress code and classroom conduct policies that you’d never even think to remember. Teachers possess the power nitpick the work you turn in until it drips red ink. You’re too young to drive, but there’s this incredible sense of relief when a policeman who’s been driving behind you for a short distance speeds up to pass you or pulls off the road– even if you swore up and down you didn’t do anything wrong, it still feels like you got away with something. That’s the same relief you should feel every time you DON’T get reprimanded inside or outside the classroom. You were probably doing at least two things you know you shouldn’t, and another 12-15 that you weren’t aware were against the rules.
(Related Letter: The 10 Things I (Used To) Hate About Parenting)
3. They hate homework more than you do.
Students complaining about homework is the one constant in a job that provides a surprise every minute. If homework wasn’t a valuable part of the educational process, there’s no way in hell teachers would ever give it. As an English teacher, I had to scour every sentence of every assignment handed in to ensure it was complete, coherent, and on topic. It took me a long time. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson has been a common companion over the last 22 months.
4. They CAN do.
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” That old mantra couldn’t be further from the truth.
I work with a New York Times Best Selling author. A colleague left last year to attend UCLA law school. Teachers aren’t any less intelligent or ambitious than anyone else; they just make a choice to invest their abilities in your potential. Some sacrifice ambitions completely to focus all of their attention on being an educator. That’s an honorable sacrifice. Please don’t make the cynical assumption that a career in education was the fallback of the talentless or lazy.
5. They have dirty minds.
This one is your fault. When you can’t stop giggling for 45 minutes just because a story starts on page 69, or when you use words that force your teacher to make multiple daily trips to UrbanDictionary.com, you sort of force them to think on your level. Teachers are trained to recognize and help students stay away from potentially risque scenarios as well, so our dirty minds have us assuming the worst at every turn.
6. They have favorites.
Teachers have favorites. It’s not always who you think– you know, the “teacher’s pet” types. Often it’s the ones who are less academically gifted, or the ones who face tons of adversity at home (and still find a way to drag themselves to school every day) that capture a special place in a teacher’s heart. It doesn’t mean that they award special attention or leeway to those students. Often it means that teachers are actually tougher on those kids because they know that an extra push is needed to keep those students motivated.
7. They’re broke.
Everyone knows that teaching jobs don’t pay much. What people don’t often realize is that school exists to fundraise as much as it exists to educate. Not one week went by in the last two years without a student, administrator or fellow staff member approaching me for some type of donation. I’d estimate that teachers probably put 10% of their income, at least, back into the system in some way. Do your teachers a favor and hit one extra home in the neighborhood with your cookie dough sales pitch instead of the adult who has a starting salary an average of 25% less than a first year manager at McDonalds.
8. They aren’t who you think they are.
Just like when I look at you kids and can’t envision what you’ll be like as adults, you all have blinders on to the fact that your teachers are anything more than just teachers. At our school, we have a teacher with a reputation for being unrelentingly strict. This teacher spends their time between classes pranking the other members of the staff. It’s always hilarious to see a student’s face contort when they try to reconcile that I listen to rap, have a Twitter account, or that I don’t spend all of my time reading short fiction and telling people to make sure they have a No. 2 pencil.
9. They laugh at your mistakes.
This sounds worse than it is. Without your mistakes, whether they come by accident, ignorance, or laziness, they can’t know what it is you still need to learn (or practice). Mistakes are good… and sometimes they’re REALLY good… like knee-slapping good. A few months ago I asked a girl to use “pretense” in a sentence. Her response was “She pretense she can’t hear me talking to her, but I know she can.” I cried. Something like that happens every day. It’s cathartic.
(Related Letter: Revenge- A Story of Poop and Obscene Gestures)
10. They don’t yell.
Kids have no idea what yelling means. Being told to put your cell phone away is not “getting yelled at.” I appreciate hyperbole MORE THAN ANYONE THAT EVER EXISTED, but if a stern talking to is “yelling,” I’d hate to see what you all would call actually getting shouted down by a teacher. I had a teacher yell at me once. It was in second grade. In the middle of the night I can still hear faint echoes of “SHUT UP RALPH. JUST, FOR ONCE, SHUT UUUUUUPPPPP!!!!!!!”
I deserved it.
Remember above all else that your teachers are just people. They want to do what’s best for you, but sometimes their good intentions get lost in the maze of shifting standards, administrative demands and skeptical parents. If you boys are anything like me, you’ll test your teacher’s patience one minute, and then give them a reason to feel encouraged the next. Through all of that, my hope is that you never leave those charged with the responsibility of shepherding you through the public education system feeling unappreciated.
Ralph Amsden is one of five dads who regularly post letters to their kids on this site about life, love and the absurd. He is a (former) teacher and a high school sports reporter. He lives in sunny Arizona with his wife and three sons.
As well put as it is true.
This is excellent beyond repair…
i loved this!!! as a middle school student myself, i think i understand what my teachers go through every day a bit more now – i have a little bit more respect for them now ;3
What a human thing to say:) Coming from a middle school teacher Mikiren, it’s good to know that kids are trying to see in multiple perspectives. You are on the right track kid! Gratitude is the best attitude. Thank you:)
Fantasic list. As a former 7th grade science teacher I could totally relate to every point on your list. Well done. I might have to make my own list and reference yours…wouldn’t want to swipe an idea and not give credit where it’s due.
Let me know when you post it!
Awesome blog Ralph!
You made some awesome points on you blog. It is well written and passionate. May I ask why you are leaving teaching?
Thanks! I’ve got three sons, I’ll be staying home to hang out with them during the day while keeping my night gig (sports journalism). I loved teaching. I look forward to subbing whenever I get an opportunity.
Super job on the blog. Why are you leaving the teaching profession?
“I appreciate hyperbole MORE THAN ANYONE THAT EVER EXISTED” … a good English teacher wouldn’t have made a that/who error. If teachers don’t know it, how can they teach it?
Criticism noted- “teachers cannot make errors and still be good teachers.”
If you think being a “good” English teacher means never making a mistake when you write then you missed the entire point of this list.
I just thought it was funny, not an error. Writing for teachers is hard.
A “good” teacher of any subject will admit to, and correct or learn from a mistake. Doing so models the learning process for students. It also allows students to apply grammar and other content area lessons. Sometimes students are tactful, sometimes not, but allowing the teacher to correct an error in grammar or a misspoken fact is most often appreciated. Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Some teachers are good, some are bad, but I’m pretty sure those who have never made a mistake are few and far between.
If someone pointed out a mistake I made in the classroom, it meant they were paying attention. The compliment of their attention outdoes any level of embarrassment I ever felt.
As a high school math teacher, I won’t claim to be a grammar expert. I will say though that it’s sad that after reading the article, that’s the only comment that you could come up with.
Point well made, Matt. I taught English for 35 years, and I am sure I did make errors, some I caught and some I did not. He/ She who makes no errors can not relate to students.
Reblogged this on Writing in Progress and commented:
I loved this!
I love this post. I now understand my teachers better haha
Great list! I’m a 4th grade teacher and can relate to everything you mentioned. Of course my kiddos are still at the age of loving their teachers (at least most of them). I have 3 sons too and wish I could spend more time with them. Have a great summer!
A great article. Some of these comments make me sad, though. All anyone seems to be able to focus on is “Wait, why are you leaving the teaching profession?”
As someone who left the teaching profession (middle/high school English) behind, there’s nothing more annoying than that question. Leave the man alone; the article’s not about leaving the profession. Stop focusing on the man’s career path and listen to his message. It’s pretty high-quality.
Thanks Nate. Loved teaching. Nothing negative to say about the experience at all.
Well written and well done. Instead of writing a farewell letter after 29 years of teaching I made this video called Teaching Is… http://www.TeachingIs.com
Reblogged this on The Remedy.
Great reflection! I used to teach off and on for a couple of years and it was the most amazing/disheartening experience of my life. I traded it in for a full time (and low stress) desk job. I miss it at times and this article made me realize the reasons why I miss it , but thankful I chose another direction for my own health.
Interesting list here. I am a veteran teacher. I can definitely say I agree with some of these. The first couple lines of your last paragraph make me think you have a good sense of what is going on these days with the profession. It is not an easy time.
I can say it’s pretty disheartening that in my state (Arizona) the upcoming governors race will immediately determine the direction public/charter education takes. It’s so unstable– that on top of the regular issues of single parent homes, over/under medications, funding for the arts, etc. The kids usually made me forget all that.
Yes, in the end, you focus on the kids in front of you, or at least you should in my mind.
11. Teachers are regular people… except in the eyes of their students, and other parents, and everyone else.
Maybe the “who/that” was switched up because he was using “conversational style” writing. They teach this style in master’s degree courses. Your article was great.
Absolutely. That, and it was 2:30 in the morning.
A ps. Based on this list, your leaving is education’s loss. I am sad about what is happening in education, and the sadness grows with the loss and disenchantment of many good educators who love and understand kids.
Interesting, makes me think of those from my past who chose to teach/coach. Earning a D1 football scholarship I considered this my third year, but found I would leave too many credits in business so accounting it was. I wish I had paid more attention in English giving me more written grammar confidence. Seeing the corrections above led me to http://toortoo.com/ but the twist on the old dog/new trick analogy is remembering it. I’m curios if sports journalism embedded you in extra curricular or kept you from it.
I’m a middle school math teacher and I thought your list was great. You have such good insight for only teaching for two years….hopefully you will return to it someday. We need people like you…
I have been teaching science in middle school or high school for almost 40 years. I really appreciated your list, especially the first one. I told my students just last week that it seemed I cared more about how they were doing in my class than they did. This was after a student who stayed after school to make up some work (imagine that!) said she didn’t know how teachers did what they did because of the way certain students behave.
I wouldn’t have stayed in education this long if I didn’t care. I think most of my students know this. I’ve even had ones that were the most difficult come by the next year and say they wish they could be in my class again. I’m sure your students felt the same way.
I am soon to become a middle school music teacher, and I have to say, this makes me happy!
This is great. Thank for the laugh.
What kind of teacher would yell at a little 2nd grader?!?! LOL
Hahaha. My dude Brian. Love it.
Totally DUG this post! I have a blog myself, if you are open, I might curate this post to my audience. Obviously give a link back.