I Always Write About How Hard Teaching Is But I Really Do Love It

Feb 20, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Once, forever ago, I wrote a tweet bemoaning how many stories out there were about how much teaching sucks, and all the reasons people left teaching. Sean McComb, who was then the National Teacher of the Year, responded. About a billion hours of work from Sean and 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud later, we launched #LoveTeaching. I really do love teaching. I do. That said, my pieces just about every year have been a festival of pain and crippling anxiety. I mean, one year, I wrote about how I love teaching, but I worry that it’s killing me. I’m not good at extra smooshy love. So, I’ve been a little dark when it comes to this week of celebration. But not this year. Sure, this year my anxiety is wildly out of control and I can’t seem to go to school without finding out how much some adult I barely know doesn’t like me that much. Sure, I’m tired and I live in a climate that is trying very hard to kill me. But also, I am re-reading, yet again, the Harry Potter series. I love teaching, and I love Harry Potter, and for no good reason at all, here’s why those two things make sense together, why the Harry Potter series is the only teaching manual any of us really ever need.

We need Hagrids and We Need McGonagalls (and even Snapes sometimes)

Sometimes, I worry that I’m more a Lockheart than anything else, but I’m trying. My classroom is often ridiculous and messy with big ideas. We take big swings and sometimes miss, and I throw some fundamentals in along the way when I can in the service of big stuff. In my mind, there is no greater lesson in the series than when Hagrid shows them Hippogriffs, and that lesson just about kills a kid. But my way isn’t everyone’s way, and thank goodness. I get to do some of the big dumb stuff I do because there are different teachers around, teachers who hit those fundamentals hard, who find their passion in skill-building and structure. They are the teachers who students love the most, but often only after their class is done and they realize how much they’ve learned. They are McGonagall, teaching students to transfigure a match into a needle and making them practice and practice until they can get it right. No teacher is as good alone as they are as a part of a team, and no team is as strong as it could be without many different kinds of strength.

A Little Theater Goes a Long Way

I’ve been looking for money to get a lake installed outside of my school with boats that I can bring new students across at the start of every year. No takers yet, but I do feel like the Gates Foundation may eventually run out of other things to spend their money on, and I’ll be there waiting. In the meantime, without trains you have to run through walls to board and sorting hats and all that, all teachers know deeply just how important it is to be flashy or emotional or magical or entertaining as hell. We know that sometimes those cheesy monologues work because fifth- graders haven’t heard them yet. We know that those heart to hearts can embrace cliche because just about nothing about the experience of an eighth-grader hasn’t been felt, and felt very largely, before. Part of spending every day in a school is embracing the spectacle, the show, the stage where we do all our work. Part of the job, often the best and most powerful parts, is whole buckets of pretend.

We are Dumbledore’s Army

On too many days lately, I’ve imagined I’m in the D.A. I am not Dumbledore in this scenario, or Harry. I am, at best, Neville before his glow-up. But as a former sort-of-rebel, and a current general pain in the ass, I love the idea of a bunch of people coming together when the powers that be are not doing what they should: making things better. That’s us. Right? That is teachers, day in and day out, teaching critical reading, teaching trade skills and mathematical thinking, teaching history and empathy in a world that seems increasingly to have forgotten both. We are the rebels, not drawing attention when it’s not needed, but answering the goddamn call when our coins send us the message. We are the first line in most of the most important battles we are fighting, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else with any other group. Do I love teaching, even after all this time? Always.

Tom Rademacher

Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."

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