The question is inspired by a Washington Post op-ed by a former teacher who is leaving teaching. It’s a very depressing piece, and, if nothing else, reinforces my suspicion that, to the extent charter schools have demonstrated better results, those results are largely due to unsustainable demands on teachers.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. The former teacher writes (italics mine):
There is yet another factor that played a part in my choice, something that I rarely mention. It has to do with the way that some people, mostly nonteachers, talk about the profession.
“Why teach?” they ask.
Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions? I doubt it. Everyone seems to know why they do what they do. When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it’s unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it’s not for the ambitious. “It’s just so nice,” was the most recent version I heard, from a businesswoman sitting next to me on a plane.
I used to think I was being oversensitive. Not so. One of my former colleagues, now a program director for Teach for America, has to defend her goal of becoming a principal: “When I tell people I want to do it, they’re like, ‘Really? You really still want to do that?’ ” Another friend describes her struggle to make peace with the fact that a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession. “I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them,” she says. “In the world we live in, teaching doesn’t cut it.”
I’m curious to hear from readers, scientists and non-scientists alike, why they do what they do. My reasons are pretty mundane. Is this a bad thing? Science interests me, and the pay and working conditions don’t suck (at least if you’re in a decent setting). With the work that I do currently (and some of what I have done), there’s the added benefit of perhaps making a small difference, of improving the human condition slightly.
I disagree with the author about one thing: it’s not clear why some people choose certain professions, other than the income. That’s fine, but that shouldn’t make any teacher feel ashamed.
So why do you do what you do?