What are you in this for?

The inspirational ads the government has come up with on teaching turns me off – Mrs Chong, Mr Kumar, we all know those teachers exist in some form or another, but we also need to know that those campaign ads were created to serve one purpose – and in order to fulfil that agenda, glamorised and romanticised the occupation into a beautiful fictitious narrative.

I have had (and heard) numerous conversations about teaching. When I was still training to become an educator, I believed that a teacher does not choose his or her students; a teacher makes his or her students. That was the reason why I did not want to apply into a particular school, because I believed that God would lead me to a school according to His will – a place where I would be able to learn to become a better educator, grow as one, and learn to trust in the Lord Almighty as well. Two years since, I have had other conversations that seem to run against this principle. The notion that different teachers are suited to teach in different schools – is that true? Is that reason enough for a teacher to think about transferring to a different institution? Because the school “does not suit him or her”? As legitimate an argument it seems, it doesn’t seem fully sound either.

Guilt has plagued and frustrated me for awhile, feeling angsty basically at firstly, having angsty rebellious students who do not care to put in the effort and who disrespect the teacher, and secondly, having really meaningless paperwork pile up that screams for your time and attention. I think it is further compounded by the fact that I am at a spiritual low and have not been reading the Bible, praying nor enjoying fellowship.

So I ask: What am I in this profession for? When I shared some of these concerns with a few of my other teacher friends a few evenings ago, they reminded me that the result of this job is never instantaneous – you may never feel the sense of appreciation you humanly crave, or see the results of your hard work and heart work ever – but you must trust that if you put your heart and soul into your job, the students will feel it and ultimately, learn from it.

Are they right?

Sure they are, but in many ways, I wondered if they understood what appreciation I craved for. I do not desire presents, or teacher’s day cards, or thank you notes, or even good results. Heck if my students have a certain academic capacity, I don’t even expect them to blow me away with decent results. Much less desire students to come back three, four years after and make it big in their post-secondary education, and come back and acknowledge me as having played a small part in their success. I don’t expect any of those big glamorous things that the teaching ads are so good at conveying.

All I honestly really want, is for the students to show me that they are putting in the effort. Whether is it through submitting their assignments, or doing their work in class, or asking questions to show a desire to learn. Just do your homework – so I do not have to chase after you every day for weeks – and end up giving you a zero – because I hate to do that. Not because I am afraid to see a fat zero on your result slip lest I have to answer for it, but more because we all know giving you a zero doesn’t do any good to anyone. You, the student, don’t learn from not doing the assignment; the results are not a true reflection of your ability and is hence irrelevant; I don’t know how to help you because you have failed to do the assignment; it reflects poorly on your character and attitude as a student; and it affects your overall performance and perhaps your future.

Sigh.

So what am I in this for? Ungrateful students who may never come round and affirm the effort and care that you have invested in them? Someone who may end up insulting you and your personality whether directly or indirectly for years, not acknowledge your effort for them, and disappoint your aspirations and dreams for them?

Then I realised the answer, and this is what makes teaching so unbearably noble, if I may say so – that if you expect anything more to keep you going in this profession, then you may be rudely disappointed. The reason why so many teachers have such a big heart, is because they selflessly work for their students, not because they want to see the results of their hard work, or feel the sense of achievement when their students do well for an examination. Of course, those things would build up a teacher’s confidence greatly, and we do desire those things too. But if nothing comes out of it, if our students are unresponsive, if some of them don’t turn around, if they fail us and our expectations of them, if they don’t reciprocate the affection and trust we have invested in them, we might still be able to go on and thrive because we don’t look for those things. No matter how tough it gets, if you work hard because this is a calling – something beyond living for yourself – you would probably feel less uptight when a student fails you.

Is it possible for people to go on living like that?

Please pardon the rude, self-centred dialogue in this post as I struggle to find a way out of this garjumble of a mess of thoughts.

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