The Truth about Being a Teacher

“A life without purpose is a languid, drifting thing; Every day we ought to review our purpose, saying to ourselves: This day let me make a sound beginning, for what we have hitherto is naught!”

I feel like the best advice to all the professionals out there (be it teachers, marketers, musicians, magicians) is to formulate their own career (teaching, marketing, music production, entertainment) philosophy and take the time every six months to revisit and revise it, if needed. We become so ingrained in how we go about our career practices that we miss the opportunities that come our way and would allow us to grow. I assure you that you will find this habit quite beneficial for your personal and professional development.

I often walk back down the path of my studies and career progression. I spend the time defining where I was, where I am, and where I wanted to be to figure out the common thread. It always felt like being a psychotherapist was my true calling yet I didn’t pursue it after taking the advice of an education consultant.

Instead, at college I took Marketing as the business major incorporating some elements from the field of psychology. Consumer Behavior and Advertising were my favorite subjects for they illustrate the power of psychology in influencing people’s choices and decisions, the way that advisor influenced mine back in the days. For some time, my job was to conduct marketing orchestras with the psychologist’s magic wand in hand. Later on, I traded off the magic wand for a pointer, trying to ‘trick’ (in a positive sense) students into never ceasing to discover the world.

At this point, I have finally come to understand the reason why I deviated from the Marketing road to enter the Teaching domain. It seems like I have always gravitated towards humanitarian careers. I yearn to know that what I engage with in my work matters and has a positive impact. Convincing someone to buy a COACH bag does not do much for humanity nor does it have the same psychological influence on me compared to ‘convincing’ kids of the benefits of learning. But that’s just me. After all, I cannot entirely deny the consoling properties of some impulse purchases.

In his presentation on Behavioral Economics for Teachers, Mike Griffin talks about all the psychological traps or even pits teachers run the risk of falling into in the course of our practice. It reminds us of how to use certain psychological dispositions to aid our teaching journey and influence our students’ behavior for the better. Mike presents examples of how common mental traps are being used in driving sales and manipulating consumers’ decisions. He encourages us to think about how these traps and psychological tendencies (Nudge theory, Loss Aversion, Status Quo Effect, Herd Mentality, and others) can be used to facilitate students’ learning.

I found the content of the training highly relevant and appropriate for English teachers, and educators in general. The cycle/spiral of teaching advocated by Mike (experience 1 -> description -> interpretation -> action plan -> experience 2) is a great tool for transforming our teaching and learning approaches. It is through this very same spiral of inquiry that I came to see the trap I have fallen into. Fulfilling as it is, teaching is also one of the most demanding, time-consuming, and important jobs in the world. Even though it is incredibly important, it fails to ensure adequate financial compensation and leaves teachers earning just enough to live on. It leaves me regretting not getting on the COACH wagon.

Economics for Teachers

Along the lines of Economics for Teachers, when we look at teaching from another angle, we come to see that it is one of the most ungrateful jobs worldwide. With a few exceptions, teachers around the world receive symbolic financial compensations for the tons of effort and sacrifice they put in. Apart from planning, preparing, conducting, and assessing the success of lessons and the progress of students, teachers are expected to participate in department/school meetings, attend occasional school event, and be available to communicate with students, teachers, and parents inside and outside the classroom. And teachers carry out all these responsibilities that fall on their shoulders with strenuous and sincere efforts in return to a very basic compensation.

The chief pitfall to working as a teacher is that the job is quite broad in scope. Teachers are responsible for increasingly high number of tasks and projects. Much the same as in the business world, work fluctuates according to seasonal holidays and events minus the generation of profit (extra income). While throughout the year workload is at its norm level, it tends to skyrocket dramatically during all sorts of holidays and events – Halloween, Christmas, Summertime, End-of-year, and so on. What’s more, the goal of Western education systems nowadays is to develop individual talents, creativity, and innovative skills which necessitates the design and implementation of a much broader set of activities on the part of the teachers.

Children’s smiles represent the currency within the education industry. Meanwhile, the educational economy runs on passionate and responsible individuals with strong compassion, humanity, and positive emotional investment (and a lack of ambition for wealth and recognition). From a business standpoint, owning a private kindergarten or a school and paying educators less than what their work is worth represents the ultimate gold mine. Ironically, regardless of the low financial reward, not a single teacher ever neglects their duties or their students. Teachers are passionate about their work and their responsibility to impart knowledge, attitudes, and values greatly outweighs any injustice. Because the very act of teaching kids makes you feel alive and naturally offsets the stress experienced as a result of the strenuous and responsible work.

It saddens me that a few years down the road, I need to make a U-turn and shift gears toward another field. It saddens me to my bones that I need to give up on what I love just because I am finding it hard to make ends meet. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling you get when you achieve putting smiles on children’s faces and planting the seeds of their future. All the gratitude and appreciation for your work can be found in children’s joyful eyes. But can you feed yourself on smiles and looks? Can you build a house and start a family?

And of course this is a conclusion I have reached based on getting my facts straight first. Surprising as it is, an English teacher in Japan in 2019 makes as much as a decade or more ago: ¥250,000 – ¥270,000 a month (comparison between 2009 and 2019 – these are just companies I have used for illustrative purposes).  In the meantime, from an Economics perspective, minimum hourly wage in Japan has increased by 26% from 2009 to 2019. Wouldn’t this scenario also apply to the salary of an English teacher? Not quite.

What do I want to be when I “grow up”?

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Those like me who bounce from job to job know the proverb “A rolling stone gathers no moss” which reminds us if we work on different jobs, we won’t achieve mastery. Someone who ‘rolls’ from one profession to another does not gather any moss compared to the rock/person which remains stationary for a long period of time and thus collects material and knowledge.

I wish to believe that my case resembles the rolling of a snowball rather than a stone. The more I roll down the career hills, the larger my repertoire of experience gets. As it rolls along, my ball picks up more experience, gaining more knowledge and skills.

Paradoxically, it might very well be the case that the ‘failure’ of a consultant to recognize my true calling is the direction I should take to reach my destination. Teaching is the stepping stone to talent recognition. Throughout my teaching experience and self-initiated research (which you will find more about in another blog post), I learned how to spot and of course develop talent – the skill I need to help me move onto the next stage in my life.

6 thoughts on “The Truth about Being a Teacher

  1. As usual, a thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.
    Teaching here is often labelled a Vocation, thereby putting the teacher on a pedestal from where she cannot demand her due like a professional. It is a sad thing indeed that while teachers are indispensable to society, they are treated otherwise and paid so less that hardly anybody wants to be a teacher nowadays.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Jaya,
      Thank you so much for sharing information about this issue in another corner of the world. I know teachers in the Middle East and in a few European countries are duly paid yet it seems like in the majority of countries, teachers are not valued even though teaching is one of the most critical jobs societies have, as you said. Since there was a shortage of pink-collar workers in Singapore, they decided to raise salaries in order to attract talent. I wonder if this is going to happen in the rest of the world or people would still be willing to enter the field and work for a nominal salary. It is sad.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One can only hope that realisation of a teacher’s importance sets in faster. Speaking for myself, I enjoyed teaching English for about 2 decades. Knowing I’ve made a difference, that children enjoy my classes was compensation enough. Living in a town helped. If I were teaching for a pittance in an expensive city, I would have ended up frustrated and mean, or in a different career altogether.

    Like

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