Am I still a teacher?
It’s been over three years since I left education. It wasn’t even a mildly complicated decision at the time. Almost as if the field itself had chewed me up and spit me out. It was time to go. I was done.
But for my first year after I was done, I still had bits and pieces of teaching opportunities here and there. I was always able to find students who wanted tutoring. I taught a weekly class at my synagogue. And I even had the occasional moment to hone my public speaking skills.
All the Teaching is Gone
And upon moving to Israel, I was basically deprived of any and all opportunity to teach. And every once in a while it hurts, and makes me even a little sad.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss being a teacher. I really don’t.
The days are long and the profession follows you home. Expectations are extraordinarily high, with a hardly comparable compensation. And it very well might be the lowest wage job in America that still requires you to wear a tie.
A tie! Every single day.
Nevertheless, there’s something about the role that becomes a part of your soul. And without it, it’s like I have an itch somewhere in the middle of my back. I can grab at it all day long, and I can shimmy myself all over the wall, but the itch never properly gets scratched.
What do I miss about my former profession? Let’s explore five elements of being an educator I would love to have back in my life.
1) When Being a Teacher Actually Works
Every once in a while, there’s a click. A student looks up at you with understanding eyes. Or they master a concept that seemed out of their reach. Or you try something with an individual that you wouldn’t try with the other students, and the success is obvious and immediate.
If these moments happened all the time, you’d be a master teacher. But occasional occurrence is the norm. And when they happen, they are brilliant and, in many ways, life changing.
I miss the glorious moments of when teaching works. I miss seeing sparks of understanding, and knowing that I was a part of the process of getting there.
2) The Ultra-Creative Teacher Spirit
I love my job. But it’s an understatement to say that it affords me few opportunities for creativity.
During my decade as a teacher, I thrived under all circumstances where I was given room to be as creative as I wanted. When that happened I found myself creating Parsha PowerPoints, writing and producing student movies about Tanach, and covering rooms with beautiful and meaningful murals.
For certain there were those along the way who smothered my creativity. But at least I knew I was in an environment where I realized my creativity mattered. Every ounce of creative energy I expended made someone’s day better, and fostered a greater learning experience.
Life without that creative outlet is different. And lacking.
3) Delving into the Unexplored
Teaching for me was a wild adventure of trial and error. In my most glorious moments along the way, error was actually fairly common. But I was among supportive people who made my mistakes feel like they were just part of the natural process.
I had classes along the way that flopped, sometimes dramatically and embarrassingly. And every last one of them was part of the process of getting to a class that would be wildly successful. Perhaps even unforgettable.
And it was all worth it. The exploration was a reward in and of itself. Knowing that with a little work and perseverance, a gem is likely hidden waiting to be found. I miss that beautiful search for the known.
4) The Smiles and the Laughter
I was a bit of a silly teacher. Yes, of course among my goals was always to foster knowledge and skills acquisition. But if the kids weren’t laughing and smiling along the way, then what was the point?
Fact is, being a Jewish studies teacher can be quite thankless. And there can be a lot of forgotten information along the way. But the feelings you help create within your students, be they boredom or bliss, might stay with them for a lifetime. That’s a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.
I loved the smiles.
And I do miss brightening the day of a few good kids.
5) The Forever Teacher
I am proud to say that I have a connection that has stood the test of time with multiple students. I love watching as my students of all sorts have developed into young adults. Former students of mine are married. Many have children. They are professionals, philanthropists, and adventurers.
And I love every minute of it!
One of the best educators I met along the way once told me it takes a full decade before you can appreciate and really feel proud of having been a teacher. Basically, after all the hardships, over ten years later you can finally feel like it was all worth it.
Is it fair to have to wait that long to reap the rewards of all your hard work? Absolutely not. However, when the day comes and you are told by a student that you were their favorite teacher, or she rattles off things you taught her years earlier, you can sigh a breath of relief. It may have been grueling, but it truly was worth it.
I have many strong connections with former students. And I hope those connections stay with me for the rest of my life.
No, I don’t want to go back. My days of teaching are behind me forever. I am more than aware of the pain this peculiar profession caused me.
But sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I remember the days I woke up thrilled to go to work.
And sometimes I just need to scratch an itch.
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