Dear Parents & Caregivers,
Welcome to letter number three! And I haven’t even met your children yet! But school begins tomorrow and I will have their beautiful faces in front of me soon enough.
Wow! Thank you for your replies. The response was overwhelming. It seems that everyone agrees they’d like to have a real conversation about education, learning, teaching, kids and school. I so want to do this. When I think about this opportunity, I have the feeling that I’ve stumbled across the Holy Grail, the missing link, the key, the answer, the thing that might fix it all. For so long I’ve wanted parents to understand the work that teachers do — maybe these letters will enable that to happen.
Something really struck me in your emails as many of you wrote something along the lines of:
It sounds like you’re sick of teaching. If you don’t enjoy it anymore, why do you bother doing it?
I love the actual work of ‘teaching’. It’s the mountainous pile of ‘other stuff’ that I rage against.
Reading this made me cry. I do love my teaching and I am excited about this year. Despite the cynical comments in my draft letter, I want to assure all of you that I am genuinely looking forward to working with you and your child as we navigate this year of learning together. I love the actual work of ‘teaching’. It’s this magical experience that lights up something deep within me. It’s the mountainous pile of ‘other stuff’ that I rage against. Teaching is a privilege and an honour and a responsibility that I take very seriously. Teaching, for me, is a vocation and a calling. I don’t do it for the money, or the ‘holidays’. I teach because I am a Teacher — it is not ‘what I do’, it is ‘who I am’.
My feelings around ‘being a teacher’ are so similar to those around being a parent. Because parenting and teaching are similar: parenting is a responsibility we uphold and it’s a role we fulfil and it’s a relationship we have. Teaching is the same. Teaching is a responsibility, a role, a relationship. Both teaching and parenting are positions of service. They are acts of love.
You’ll remind me, ever so frankly, that I get PAID to do this job. That I’m not giving myself freely; that I receive money to do these tasks.
Just like the sacrifice of parenting, teaching is a daily ‘giving away’ of myself. I give my time and my energy, my knowledge and my care. I give stories and I give listening. I give my attention and my interest. I give of myself. I give myself away. And I do it because I love it — because I love seeing children grow and learn and develop. I invest in my students, letting them know that I see them, that I believe they can learn, that I value their efforts … That they are important to me. And I do this, this giving and investing, because I know that the best kind of teaching stems from an authentic relationship. Don’t tell them what you know until you show them that you care.
I can already anticipate your replies . . . You’ll remind me, ever so frankly, that I get PAID to do this job. That I’m not giving myself freely; that I receive money to do these tasks. But that’s where the great misunderstanding is occurring. You don’t yet understand the other things I do — the small things. I’ll have to show you them.
I’m signing off now because it’s nearly midnight and tomorrow is the day I’ll begin this beautiful adventure of learning with your children. Tomorrow is the day that your child will become ‘my student’. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that even though I’ve been teaching for many years, I still feel nervous about the first day; the first week, in fact. A new class is such an unknown quantity (and this class is large — thirty students!). Added to that, we have the new Principal, and if the ‘planning day’ I endured today is anything to go by, we’re going to reinvent the wheel this year. Is that too much? These letters terrify me, but something about them also makes me hopeful.
PS In the moment after my daughter was born, my beautiful little Olivia, the midwife consulted her watch. ‘Time of birth,’ she said, ‘3 p.m.’
End of school, I thought.
And that is what it is to be a teacher.