Teaching is surely the greatest job in the world. I am biased, of course, but I firmly believe that teachers should be the most respected, most appreciated, and most rewarded people in any civilized society.
The fact that this (to me) obvious truth is so rarely the case is shameful. It is increasingly common for public school district superintendents to make 10 times as much as their district teachers make in a year; and I was recently reading, for instance, that the next head coach for the University of Florida is expected to make $4,000,000 a year, which is roughly 100 times more than what the average English teacher will make at that same institution. And we probably shouldn’t even get started on comparing the financial benefits of educators compared to those individuals working in business or law.
Yet even as I find this kind of a financial divide to be borderline criminal — especially when you think about the levels of respect that so often lie behind it — I maintain that teaching is the greatest job in the world.
Because of yesterday.
You see, I know that I have a great job. I know that I have passed up a lot of alternative paths to take the one that I am on now, and I know that I did so for very specific reasons. For one thing, every day I share what I love. I shape the future. I get to touch lives. Some days I can say that I save lives, though I am and will be haunted by the memory of those times I didn’t see the signs of a young man or woman in need. But by the Gods, I know that I’m leaving a greater legacy than a scoreboard.
Even so, it can be hard to see that forest for the trees sometimes. Some days the workload grows too heavy. The thankless administrative hoops become too mind-numbing. And after too many sleepless nights marking papers that 90% of the students won’t bother looking at, even your most strong-willed teachers can start to crumble toward despair.
In truth, that’s where things were for me before yesterday. I was weary from some student-borne plague, I was frayed from being pulled in too many directions, I was exhausted of all spirit. I was in danger — for just a day or two — of forgetting why I’m so very fortunate to do what I do.
But then the most remarkable thing happened.
I got an email.
There wasn’t a reason to expect the email. I’d sent out no cosmic distress signal. But somehow, through the hundreds of miles and years of contact that separated us, a former student of mine decided — quite out of the blue, perhaps ten years since I last saw her (third row, I believe, to my right) — to send me an email.
I just sent a link of your Hobbit movie review from 2013 to my favorite english teacher from high school. (Now now now, don’t get in a tizzy. You know that you’re my favorite english professor from college. That’s two separate categories. There’s no competition.)
I just wanted to let you know that I still look over your site from time to time and am so glad you’re doing well. I will read your book once its done.
No, I didn’t know I was her favorite English professor from college. No, I had no idea she would still remember me after all this time. Yes, her words were a much-needed strike of lightning into my soul.
This. This is why it’s the greatest job. Because sometimes a student turns around and says thank you. It may not seem like much, and it can’t hardly be expected, but it’s impossibly wonderful.
So I’m going to write an email or two now. There have been more than a few teachers who have been important in my life, and though I cannot give them the monetary rewards that their impact deserves, I can easily give them thanks.
Because I know exactly how they’ll feel.
(And to you, my former student, when you read this: I hope you know how grateful I am for your kind words. Also, I’m ready to fight for the title of favorite English professor overall.)