Why Am I Still Doing This?

My 19th year of teaching begins tomorrow. I know school is about to start because I’m having back to school dreams/nightmares and my hair is falling out. Last night I had an argument with a university administrator in my dreams.

Right now I’m sitting on a chair in the corner of my living room, hoping the t-shirt I’m wearing keeps my vision for this work in check today. The day’s “teaching” work includes uploading a lot of things to a course management system, testing links, and other technologically-mediated, soul-crushing activities.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been asking myself if I want to continue teaching. Millions of educators have been asking themselves this question, for very good reasons, and many have left. I’ve chosen to stay. There are many practical reasons (a paycheck and benefits), but there are other jobs that offer that too. The practical reasons are important but I’ve realized, they are not ultimately what keep me in it.

Here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to stay (at least for now!):

I love living life on a school schedule. I like the chance to end and to begin again. I appreciate that in this field, few of the annoying things last and all of the great things stay (relationships, mainly). I like that the rhythm of the school year involves time for both work and less work (I’m not sure I’d call it “rest” exactly).

Teaching is dynamic. Even if I teach the same courses year after year, I don’t teach the same students year after year. And, as a result, I don’t teach the courses in the same way. There are a million variables and navigating those is intellectually stimulating.

Related to this, there is no “right.” I will never arrive. It will never be perfect. The cycle of constant reflection and revision is the labor of love in teaching.

Teaching is sacred work. Maybe when I have the opportunity to think about this work in retrospect, I’ll understand why. But for now, there are whispers of the sacredness of this work that are unmistakeable and significant.

So many of the relationships that started in my classroom grow into life-giving friendships and collaborations. I work with pre-service art teachers who take jobs in local schools. Then those former students offer to host current students for field work, and invite me to collaborate on projects. They present at local conferences and I get to learn from them. They text me hilarious updates from their classrooms, invite me to their major life event celebrations, and ask to meet up to talk through situations they’re navigating. Doing this job in the midst of a community of former students that I now call friends keeps me in it on the hard days.

There are jobs that are far easier than this one. There is so much “noise” in public education. There are so many issues students bring to the classroom, so few good leaders, and so much public scrutiny. I understand and support those of my colleagues who have chosen to leave.

For this year, I’m staying, and it felt important to remind myself why. Even the technologically-mediated, soul-crushing parts of teaching are an act of love. When I am face to face with students tomorrow, I’ll be glad I made this choice to stay, and they’ll be thankful the links work.