By Cara Lougheed
Michigan Teacher of the Year 2019-20
“I know there’s been a lot of advice against going into education these days, but I have to say I feel a little sorry for people who don’t get to hang out with teenagers on a regular basis. They are lovely & funny & life‑renewing & WORTH IT.”
We all have that one teacher friend who can talk us into anything, right? A few months ago my teacher bestie once again talked me into chaperoning the Student Council State Conference with her (which honestly didn’t really take much arm-twisting—it’s pretty fun), which is what prompted me to post/tweet the statement above.
I stand by it.
Teenagers are the best. They are my people. On my most frustrating days, (which, let’s be honest, are usually caused by the actions or inaction of adults), my students are what center and sustain me.
You know those mornings where everything just seems to be going wrong? The coffee maker didn’t start, your alarm didn’t go off, the pants you wanted to wear are dirty, and/or your own children have forgotten they needed a permission slip signed and can’t find their shoes? Well for me, on those days I may start first hour (at 7:30 a.m.) feeling frustrated and annoyed, but after just a little time with teenagers, I simply don’t anymore. When I’m in my classroom with “my” kids, the other stuff just doesn’t matter as much. This is what it feels like to do meaningful work. Don’t get me wrong, though, I am not one of those “close your door and teach” types. I am interested in what goes on around my classroom, as well as in it. My work friends and I check in on each other regularly, and I don’t avoid the teachers’ lounge (I laugh harder there than almost anywhere else). It’s hard to survive this job in isolation, and frankly, people who isolate themselves too much don’t make it. We need each other, now more than ever.
Look, I would never presume to tell anyone what to do with his/her life. Nor would I insult my colleagues around this state by pretending this job is all rainbows and sunshine every day. Teacher pay, especially in urban and rural areas, is embarrassingly low, and funding across the state must be made equitable. The entire profession must be elevated, and teachers given back autonomy and respect. These are real and distinct issues that cannot be ignored by our elected representatives any longer. But for me, each day it comes back to this: If not me, then who? I know I am good for kids, and they are good for me. I also know that confident, supported, economically secure teachers are better for kids.
If you are reading this and considering a career in education, I say go for it. If you truly love kids, and are willing to work hard for them and for each other, we need you. And if you are a teacher reading this and doubting yourself, that just means you’re doing it right. You matter. Your work matters, and those kids need you to fight for them by fighting for your profession.
No one ever tried to tell me that teaching would be easy (and thank goodness for them because if someone had we would be having some serious words), but what I always believed is that even though it wouldn’t be easy, or make me rich or famous, it would always be worth it. And I’ve never been disappointed.