Why I’m Thankful to Be a Teacher

Teachers complain a lot. Many of us feel we don’t get the respect we deserve from our government, our states, our districts, our administrators, our students and their parents. We work hard and the returns are not always as great as we feel they should be.

We have a hard time with gratitude–at least publicly.  We tend to feel that we are underappreciated as it is, so telling the people the things we’re happy about causes us to doubt whether or not we’ll get the things we want pay raises, respect, time, the chance to do the work we love in the way we know it should be done.

At this time of year, though, as I hear all the messages of gratitude, I realize that I focus a lot on being thankful for people and things outside of my school. I have an inspirational quote by Billy Cox taped to my bathroom mirror: “Focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have, on what’s right instead of what’s wrong. On where you’re going instead of what you’ve been through.”  Each time I read it, it immediately helps me cope with my popcorn ceilings and single-sink vanity, but then I realize the deeper message:  There’s a lot to be thankful for in my life and this is why I can be happy, even though things aren’t perfect.

Last week, I wondered what would happen if I took that perspective into school with me. Instead of focusing on the time spent in another MTSS meeting, maybe I should focus on the positive connections I’m making with the kids and be grateful for the opportunity to help individual students in our mass-production facility. Instead of cursing the copy machine line, I’ll wait, and enjoy a few minutes of conversation with colleagues I don’t see often enough.

It’s going to take some practice—I still found myself grumbling about plenty of things, but I was more aware of the good and the right in my school.  Here are a few of the reasons I am thankful to be a teacher, as rediscovered last week:

  • We get to share things we love (poetry, algebra, history) with students—inspiring them to find things they love, too.
  • We work with amazingly dedicated people who know so much about so many things beyond their subject matter.
  • All of my colleagues—teachers, administrators, even substitute teachers and custodial staff—really care about the kids. Sure, we all complain, but in every conversation about our students, the frustration I heard was because we wished we could do more for our students—and something (time, resources, discipline) is keeping us from achieving that goal.
  • It’s no surprise to high school teachers, but for everyone else who is worried about the future of the world, there are a lot of amazing teenagers out there. I love that I get to see and talk to them every day about the colleges they’re hoping to go to, about their soccer games, about the canned food drive, and about their after-school jobs.
  • I also get to interact with the not-so-amazing teens who make my job even more meaningful—those 9th graders who inspire long conversations with frustrated parents, but eventually (usually in the summer between 10th and 11th grade) something clicks for these kids. It’s worth waiting for.
  • And, as I heard in more than one conversation last week, I’m grateful for Thanksgiving break. Despite the fact that many of us are still grading papers, writing lesson plans, coaching sports teams, or chaperoning performing arts students at concerts over this break, we still get a break.

There is so much more to be grateful for, but I’ve got 10 pounds of potatoes to mash (another hidden blessing), so I’m going to stop there in this post. However, I will continue to look at that quote (now taped next to my desk, also) and to focus on the good on the right.  There is so much to be thankful for if we teach ourselves to look for it.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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