02 jun 2014 My kid wants to be a teacher. Now what?
I must have mentioned before on this blog that I teach adolescents in their last year of High School. Needless to say, this is a period of great anxiety as most of them intend to go to university and now have to choose a career. It is the time when most of them realise that their days of “automatic pilot” – in which they simply progress from one grade to another – are over and that making a decision based on the question What do I want to do for the rest of my life? is not an easy task.
Year in, year out, I have students who come to me and say: “What I really wanted to do was to be a teacher”. This fills me with satisfaction, regardless of whether they want to be a teacher of History, Maths or Portuguese (which, in my experience, seem to be the favourite subjects). Then comes the complement to the first sentence: “But my father (or mother) said “I’ve invested so much in you and now you want to be a teacher!!!!” or “God save me from having a son or daughter who wants to be a teacher…” or “Please, you must be joking.” Believe me, these are not made-up lines, I have actually heard them all.
Then comes the part in which I digest the lines so as not to be offended and begin to retort. First, because it makes no sense to me to send your kids to school for at least 12 years, to have them instructed and cared for by teachers, and then react as if becoming a teacher is not a career in itself. Secondly, because so many adolescents see choosing a profession as a kind of condemnation: What if I don’t like it? What if I make very little money?
They are usually surprised when I tell them that my first degree is actually in chemistry and that before becoming teacher I worked in laboratories in the automobile industry. I believe I would have been a good chemist, too, but my life led me down different paths and I am so glad this happened to me. What I tell them is that there is always time to change routes. It certainly requires more disposition for taking risks if you are married and have children, for instance, but being paralysed by fear does not seem to be the best choice, either.
Defending teaching as a career is not always easy. Students are overwhelmed with information about the poor conditions, the difficulties, the very low salaries and, more recently, the dangers. It is not uncommon to see news about teachers being physically attacked, not to mention verbally attacked. Though this is true, it is not what happens to most teachers, I dare say. We also have news of teachers who made a real difference to their students’ lives, who are happy with the profession they chose and, even if given the chance to change jobs, would still be teachers.
That is a topic I would like to come back to on another opportunity, but for now I will finish with a quote by Hamilton Werneck, a teacher I hold in the highest regard: “There is no better or worse profession; what there is are more accomplished or less accomplished professionals” (2002, p.55).
Ref: Werneck, Hamilton. Como vencer na vida sendo professor. Vozes: São Paulo, 2002