Teaching and the myth of working for love

Myths and stereotypes are inherent to a number of professions: the ignorant model, the cunning lawyer, the rude military officer, the sexy nurse, just to name a few. Intertwined with prejudice and/or limited, erroneous views, these myths and stereotypes very often cause discomfort and raise discussion. Teaching is no exception to that. Which stereotypes are usually associated with teachers?

Very recently, a statement by the current Minister of Education has come back to the centre of debate. In 2011, during a strike in which teachers demanded a raise, and when the Minister was the governor of the state of Ceará, he said everyone in the public sector should work for love, not for money. Though he claimed that he was referring to all involved in the public sector, including politicians, his statement caused a huge uproar at the time and now again with his nomination. After all, teaching has been among the worst paid professions in the public sector for a very long time. In 1982, for instance, the governor of the state of São Paulo said that the problem of teachers was not that they were badly paid, but poorly married. However, are politicians the only ones to have such assumptions or does our society, in general, expect teachers to work for love? I tend to believe that this is a very convenient and common assumption that has been around for longer than it should have been.

Teaching is a special job and it surely needs the ones who teach to do it with love. It is demanding and rewarding at the same time. It involves you and becomes part of your life, your routine and the topics you discuss with your family and friends. It’s a profession that requires stamina and passion if you are to become a good professional. It keeps you involved and wanting to learn more and more. However, I believe that there are a number of other professions that could be described the same way. I expect the doctors and dentists I see to do what they do with love, as I expect engineers, architects, lawyers, mailmen, secretaries, journalists, and so on and so forth to love what they do and feel they are contributing to society. I do not expect then to work for love, though.

Strangely, teachers (and probably doctors) are very often expected to work for love. No matter how poor your working conditions or your pay are, you are expected to remain happy and in love with your ‘mission’. As a citizen I question how realistic it is to assume some professionals will love more what they do than others. As a teacher (who loves her work, by the way!) I expect to be paid and respected as a professional. I expect to be able to afford access to culture, travel, and some comfort, just like any other professional. Maybe we teachers shouldn’t shy away from our responsibility of expecting and demanding fair working conditions, just like any other professional would do.  To sum up, maybe the difference is a more conceptual one: loving your work doesn’t mean working for love and clarifying that is an essential first step towards greater respect and fairer pay for teachers.

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Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at Email:

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