The other day, I went to the doctor. I didn’t mean to, but I showed up a few minutes late. In my sincere but rambling apology, I mentioned to the clerk how grateful I was that they had a 4:30 appointment because being a teacher, it’s impossible for me to make it to anything before then. She then looked up and cheerfully asked, “You’re a teacher? That’s so wonderful! What grade do you teach?”
I responded with a glowing smile. “High school. The big kids.” And then, as so often happens, she replied, “Oh, really? I’m sorry.” I giggled half-heartedly and told her not to be sorry, that I love teenagers and that they make me laugh.
If I could get a penny for every time someone told me they were sorry for what I do and who I teach, I’d have a lot of money. Like, a lot.
I’ve tested out different responses, and while I’m fairly used to it by now, I still don’t get it. Why would anyone feel sorry for what I do? Aside from the fact that it’s plain rude, it also just makes no sense. No one is making me do this, guys. I’m neither an idiot nor a saint. Bias aside, if my nine years in the classroom have taught me anything, it is that the kind of people who go into teaching are the kind of people who could’ve done anything they wanted. And they chose to do this. So please, cool it with your apologies.
Now I realize there’s a lot out there around how hard teachers work, how little we get paid, how under-appreciated we are, and how short our lunches are. And that is all true. But the other truth is: I love it and it’s a great job.
The whole teacher-as-martyr narrative is annoying. We don’t need you to feel sorry for us, or tell us how terrible it sounds or assume that we do this because we’re “saints” or “taking one for the team.” A simple “So cool!” or “I loved my high school teacher!” would do.
In fact, if we’re going to play that game, there are so many reasons being a high school teacher is better than your job.
+ At my job, I get to wear pajamas on Pajama Day. Do you get to wear pajamas to work?? I didn’t think so.
+ I got to dance to Thriller at work the other day. That was fun.
+ At my job, I get to rap about history. (Check baby, check baby, checks and balances!) Do you get to rap about history at work? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
+ At my job, I get to read amazing books alongside brilliant minds. The last time I checked, most people have to wait till they get home to open up their books.
+ I get to write letters of recommendation for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. And then they’re off, and I get to see that.
+ I get to receive emails from graduates when Nelson Mandela died because even years later, they remember that “unit we did on South Africa.”
+ I get to laugh at work. I laugh so much. Teenagers are hilarious. I laugh at least 10 times a day. Good, hardy, in-your-gut laughs. Do you laugh at work?
+ I get to be around young people. Their dreams, their ambitions, their energy. If you ever want to feel energized, might I suggest the same.
+ I get greeted with smiles in the hallway. “Hi Ms. Spitz! Happy Hanukkah Ms. Spitz! What’s good Ms. Spitz!”
+ I am up to date on all the teenage slang and lingo. I’m like, so cool. I knew that hotline was blinging before Drake did.
+ I receive letters thanking me for my love and support—often from students I didn’t even realize cared or noticed.
+ I meet with parents and guardians who tell me how grateful they are that their student is safe, loved, and encouraged.
My job is predictably unpredictable. I am NEVER bored. And I get to learn every. single. day. Are there days I wake up and think, “I am so tired. I don’t want to go.”? Sure. But regardless of how tired I am, I never doubt my purpose for showing up to work. It matters if I’m not there. When I’m not there, 120 plus young people notice.
Now if that is not the recipe for an amazing, fulfilling, rewarding, and incredible job, then I don’t know what is. So please, no need to feel sorry for me.