It means the world to teachers when people express their respect for the profession. Educational professionals who truly dedicate themselves to their work receive most of their rewards on an intrinsic level–from the joy of simply doing the work. This places them close to the center of our collective humanity.
Yet their rapidly spinning existence exerts that figurative centripetal force, continually impelling them away from that center. In so many ways, the world turns so fast these days.
Life is full of contradictions, and interacting with children is a densely concentrated form of life. Even under insulated theoretical conditions, guiding children through the social, emotional, and academic course of growing up would present daunting challenges. Most teachers have received training and preparation primarily suited to such a simplified set of circumstances.
But the work of teaching takes place in a far more complex context.
Cecil Miskel and Wayne Hoy describe schools as open social systems with a variety of inputs. We can identify those inputs as families, the community, the employee pool, the wider culture, and virtually every influence that exerts itself on the human beings who walk in and out of the school every day.
The days have passed when an implicit trust in schools ensured that teachers had the full support of every parent. Our social institutions must now work for the confidence that was assumed a few generations ago, and teachers take this on in addition to the complexities of teaching in the digital media age.
And our modern understanding of curriculum and instruction requires a more analytic and detailed approach to lesson planning. Along with that, ever increasing special needs make differentiation strategies all the more important. Administrators and policymakers rightly require teachers to show these highly professionalized approaches to their work. Online platforms for attendance, planning, assessment, reporting, data analysis, and communication have also updated the profession of teaching, just as technology has become an important feature of other professions–law, engineering, medicine, and accountancy.
All of this requires time and work that teachers are happy to devote, yet the finite number of hours in a workweek implies that less time will be devoted to preparation of materials, to professional development, team planning and collaboration, and to collegial and extracurricular duties. And ultimately, teaching is such an intensely personal endeavor, both to the education professional, who truly wishes to make a difference, as well as to children and their families, whose path of learning and development depend so heavily on teachers’ work.
Lest we forget, the direct work of teaching–managing a classroom, imparting concepts, facilitating activities, intervening in difficulties, engaging frustrated or disaffected students, redirecting behavior, assessing mastery, assisting those who struggle, celebrating successes, fostering momentum through progressions of topics, integrating interdisciplinary learning, and reinforcing a coherent theme through it all–remains the core work of education.
Reconciling all elements of the work of this profession is every teacher’s challenge. All who have a stake in our society can rejoice in the hard work of teachers.