613. “Should I Be a Teacher?”

When someone asks me, “Should I be a teacher?”, my first impulse is to say yes. I’m a teacher, and teaching is one of the most reliable joys in my life. How can I, in good conscience, advise someone not to do what has given me so much pleasure – what has provided me with feelings that I’m doing important work, that I’m having fun, and that people appreciate what I do? Of course you should be a teacher, I think, before I thoroughly think the question through.
But not everyone who wants to be a teacher necessarily should be one. In fact, I’ve encountered several teachers who, in my opinion, would be happier and make other people happier if they’d choose other lines of work. And so when someone asks me, “Should I be a teacher?”, I try to give the question the consideration it deserves.
That’s not easy. Most people who ask me that question have already begun to learn the art/science of teaching. They’ve already begun to think of themselves as teachers or future teachers, and they’re really only asking for confirmation. Believing, as I do, that children ought to encounter lots of different kinds of teachers, I can honestly tell many people that yes, I think they ought to be teachers. Some are very different from the kind of teacher I’ve been or try to be; they have different styles, different priorities.
But once in a while, I get the feeling that someone who’s considering teaching would be better off choosing another line of work, and that doing so would make children better off, too. I imagine such a prospective teacher being in charge of a group of children, and for one reason or another, I don’t imagine good things happening. Of course, I have to check my own thinking first; maybe the only “problem” is that this person would not teach the way I would. That, by itself, is not a problem; I admire many teachers whose styles and thinking are very different from mine.
If I decide that I don’t think a certain person ought to be a teacher, I do what I can to get the person to come to that same conclusion. Maybe the person doesn’t really like children, and thinks she/he can make
children likable by changing them. Maybe he or she needs an audience, and hopes that a class can be a captive audience. And maybe someone hopes to get children to be more and more like him or her. This kind of approach can lead to ineffective teaching. It’s important to be on the lookout for possible career/person mismatches.
Not that people can’t learn to be good teachers. I think that all teachers I know, including myself, started out with at least some misconceptions about teaching. And though we kept learning, I don’t think any of us became perfect. But my bottom line is that there are all kinds of important, enjoyable jobs to be done; not everybody ought to teach.

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