Every Wednesday I become a part time teacher in a public school in Panama. When I get home, I eagerly tell my parents and friends stories about how rewarding teaching younger kids is. But whenever I slightly hint at my dream of one day becoming a teacher, I seem to get the same responses from everyone. “Why would you want to be a teacher?”, “You are so smart, you could be doing something better.”, or the most common one, “If you’re a teacher you will never get paid well.”
Constantly hearing these things, and noting how discouraging people seem to be when confronted with the prospect of a teaching career, appalled me. It particularly bothers me because I have experienced both feelings: that of sitting in a class and listening to someone unveil knowledge for me to grasp, and that of standing in front of 25 sets of eyes that eagerly want to listen and learn from what I will say. Everyone is constantly expressing how “education is the world’s equalizer”, and “education is the key to success”, yet no one is acknowledging that a teacher is not there only to get you through the pages of Shakespeare or through the problems in your McGraw Hill textbook. Teachers are there to inspire. Teachers do so much more than “teach math”, or “teach English”; teachers teach experiences, they teach values, they teach life.
So why would I want to be a teacher? Because I want to inspire others the way my teachers have inspired me. Why teach if “I’m so smart”? I want to teach, because I’m smart. Because it takes a smart, sensitive, generous, patient thinker to be a good teacher and I would love to become one someday. And, why become a teacher if I won’t get paid? I’ve learned that a teacher’s most valuable salary does not come in checks, bills, or coupons –the most valuable salary comes in moments. In moments when your students supersede your teachings, moments when they show gratitude through their actions, moments when you are left speechless at the kindness, the honesty, and transparency of the little people you spend your time with.
In the hopes of shining a light on the teachers of the world and the amazing work they do (that should be acknowledged more often), I asked people from all ages to think about a teacher that changed their lives and to tell me the one thing they learned from them, the one thing they valued about them, what they would like to thank them for. These are some of the results I got:
“ She was demanding”
Woman speaking about her college professor while she majored in Nursing.
“He made me seek for information that was not inside a classroom”
Man speaking about his PhD professor.
“ She was patient”
Woman speaking about her 2nd grade teacher.
“She was dedicated”
Man on his favorite high school teacher.
“She taught me to speak my mind”
High school student on her current Literature teacher.
“I want to thank her for showing me everyone is good at something”
High school student on her 4th grade teacher.
“He opened my eyes to ideas that were banned by adults around me”
Man on his Math college professor.
All these testimonies corroborate the importance of teachers. It doesn’t matter if you are in a colorful 2nd grade classroom; your teacher brings whip cream to learn spelling and it is the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. You could be in high school, and your teacher is demanding, and strict, and controversial; but her personality teaches you to speak your mind and open up without carrying the fear of failure on your shoulders. Or you could even be well past college, sitting in a class to earn your PhD, and you find a man who somehow manages to spark in you the desire to learn more, outside the class, outside your job and your family –he encourages you to seek information out in the world. Teachers are all around us, and we should never underestimate their power.
I strongly believe teachers should not only be valued by the students in their class. Teachers should be valued by institutions, by parents, by governments; monetarily, in status, and in respect. Teachers deserve recognition, and so does the education career. If education is the world’s equalizer, why are we not encouraging others to pursue a teaching career?
Being a part time teacher has changed my life, and I can only imagine how much I would benefit from becoming a full time one in the future. I wish for everybody reading this article to stop for a moment and think of a teacher that has somehow shaped you, changed you, or inspired you. They are the reason why teaching should be valued; it should be valued as much as doctors and engineers and lawyers are valued. Teachers also change lives, they build character, and they defend and argue for the one thing we all deserve: a good education.