The Great Benefits of Teaching
I’ve been catching up with some of my high school and college friends lately. At some point the conversation always turns to our professions. While just about everyone I know is making more money than I am, none of my childhood friends are anywhere near as enthusiastic about what they do as I am. Sure, they like their jobs, but most are not passionate about their service. But then, it is normal for non-teachers to just be satisfied by what they do. Most teachers; however, are ecstatic about their jobs; even when they are feeling somewhat dissatisfied.
When I attended college as an undergraduate student, I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. I was an industrious individual and I chose to not only intern at the end of my degree period, but to create a student film (video) as well. I hired all my friends to help me, and we shot it in the beer bar at school one Saturday. I was so proud (and the finished product was so bad). When I went up on stage to collect my diploma, I wrote “Steven Spielberg” on my name card, and that’s what was read as I shook the Dean’s hand. My father was furious.
After the ceremony, my dad sat me down and we talked seriously about my becoming a film maker… or something else. I told him that I wanted to change peoples’ lives that I wanted to have the same kind of long-lasting impact on people the way that seeing most of Steven Spielberg’s movies effected me. My father challenged me that day. He asked me, “Who has had the most longest lasting and most life-changing effect on your life?” I started to respond, “Steven Spielberg,” but then I stopped to really consider the question.
The answer, of course, was not Steven Spielberg. Yes; the film work of Steven Spielberg was impressive and had changed me deeply and permanently and I was certainly inspired by his work, but his films really only scratched the surface of my soul. I sat back to reflect on who it was that got me to the point where I could appreciate Spielberg’s work. I pondered who it was that made it possible for me to understand the themes embedded in his films. I realized that without the teachers in my life, I could never have become a Spielberg fan.
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My father pointed out that filmmakers like Spielberg were able to change the lives of the people who saw their films for a short period of time, but that his influence on most people faded with the memory of his last work. He continued to point out that while a teacher’s influence was not nearly as broad on the world, and that individual teachers would never reach as large an audience at one time, the lives of the people that teachers did reach were changed at a much more fundamental level, and that their influence was far more long-lasting.
I had an epiphany. It was in that moment that I realized that what I really wanted to do was to be a teacher. It was a few years after that conversation before I actually took action to move in the direction of becoming an educator, but my father’s points hit home and ultimately changed my goal for my life. Of course, I wonder now how much I really did change. Perhaps all of my time concentrating on film and video production was really preparation to teach because now that is the subject matter I teach to high school students everyday. Funny the way life works out sometimes.
If I was taking a job satisfaction survey, I would probably respond that I was very happy in my profession, that I felt fulfilled in my endeavors, and that I enjoyed the great benefits that come along with being a teacher. I would write that I did have some bad days, and sometimes the hoops I was asked to jump through were ridiculous, but that on the whole I was content with my position. However, I would have a hard time articulating that the greatest benefit of all was the pleasure I felt because I had made the absolute right decision in my life when I chose teaching. I had other aspirations early in my life, but all of my dreams had come true; I am satisfied to know that my life has purpose.