Why Teach? or How I Learned to Love Work

A teacher friend said to me, “I would never want your job.”

It was when I was standing in the Courtyard of Ranger Hall last fall selling t-shirts for the blackout game at a fundraiser supporting the journalism group I advise.  If this fundraiser goes well it will pay for our publication all year.

I’ve been the activities director, the journalism advisor, a class advisor, an AVID advisor, and filled the role of advisor of a pile of ad hoc kid groups during my almost twenty teacher years. Oh, I also teach AP literature. I’m also a dad, own my own business, and occasionally hug my wife (if I have the time). In addition to all these cool things, I’m always reading something and I cook a mean tri tip.

Redwood Gigantea’s four year members and me.Left to right. Thomas Bowser, Claire Stetson, Nick Miller, Megan Mueller, Daisy Gonzalez.

I thought it funny that the person I was talking to thought so negatively about my job. He is a teacher, too. I guess that gave him insight that afforded him permission to think the way he does.  He knows me, he knows teaching, so he feels authoritative.

Often times people see a job as defined by its description, so because I’m the activities director, I must “direct activities”. Because I’m the journalism advisor, I must spend all day editing stories about high school stresses, but that’s not really what I do. My real job is to connect kids to school so that algebra 2 isn’t so painful and even though Chemistry is rough, a kid will say “I’ll try”.

That’s my job.

High school is hard and feeling disconnected from it makes it even harder. I don’t know if it’s true but there was a big rumor back when the Columbine High School massacre happened in 1999 that the principal the year before had fired their activities director and shut down their activities program because they couldn’t or didn’t see the use of the program. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like as a student to suffer that tragedy without a strong school culture that those who advise took stewardship of.

Questions like “How was your night last Friday? I hear that the dance cleanup took forever.” from a person who knows that my job is really a day job. Or questions like “I hear print is dead, why do you still teach kids how to put together a newspaper?” or the most telling assertion another can give, “Those leadership kids are really hard to handle, they must really stress you out.”

That kind of stuff takes a toll. I know that what I’m doing requires extra work, and I’m totally willing to do it. When I meet other staff members, I don’t want the topic of conversation to be about how troublesome my job is or how stressful it is or how difficult it is or how much time it takes,  I really like them talk with me about what a positive impact my time makes and what a positive impact the connections that kids make to school are.

It’s no wonder, that so many young teachers take on a teaching position, do it for a couple of years and then quit. Teaching is a really difficult job.

I would advise those new teachers who are struggling with the realities of their roles as teachers to connect beyond the classroom and the curriculum and the tests. I would advise them to find some kids to advise- because that is where a school becomes something greater than itself. That is where culture is created.

Every society needs a culture- in fact that’s what defines a society. Redwood has a culture and it needs caretakers. We don’t look at a Rabbi on the subway or the bus and say “I would never want your job”. We don’t look at a political leader who we really connect with and say “I wouldn’t want your job”. We don’t look at a mother or father or a friend and say , “I wouldn’t want your job”, because the truth is, we know saying that to them would make them second guess themselves and those are all super crucial jobs in our society. They are caretakers and stewards of the values that societies and cultures hold dear.

Every day in 207, the journalism classroom, my lesson plan attempts to think about our 2300 students, 110 faculty members, and the city of Visalia. It takes into account the history of a 62 year old newspaper, it takes into account the fact that today is new day but not a new day at the same time, and most importantly- it’s going to try to do it’s best to touch the hearts and minds of a community that is significantly greater than myself.

There are a lot of moving parts to my journey as an advisor and I am sure, after this time, I’ll kick around how I can do better next time.

That’s my job.

And I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to do it.

One Comment

  1. Breanna Matthies

    As an aspiring teacher and a former student in Mr. Nick Miller’s classroom, this was a very heart warming article to read. You inspired me to work hard and take pride in myself. You taught me so much about literature and many life lessons that I am beyond grateful to have even had the opportunity to learn. Thank you for teaching me these wonderful things as well as inspiring me to want your job.

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