Teaching For The Love of It

As a child, I loved everything about school.

I spent most of my free time playing school; writing on my chalkboard easel and reading stories to my stuffed toys. As I got older, I did a lot of baby-sitting. I liked being responsible for the children in my care, and I cherished seeing their faces light up when I arrived.

In high school, I began tutoring students who were struggling. It was a joy to help them and to share in their successes. So when it was time to choose a career, I knew immediately I wanted to become a teacher.

Upon graduation, I accepted a job for Ohio County Schools. For the next five years, I put my heart and soul into my work. I dedicated countless hours planning lessons that I prayed my students would learn from and enjoy. I gave my very best effort. When it was time to start a family, I decided to embark on a new journey as a stay-at-home mom.

During my temporary retirement, I was able to reflect on what I truly loved about my profession and what I hoped would be different when I returned to the classroom. I realized that the things I loved about teaching were the same things I loved about it when I was young. I loved the children. I loved reading stories. I loved helping students who were struggling and celebrating their successes.

However, I was surprised to realize that the most discouraging part of my job had been the public’s negative perception of teachers. Unlike other professionals, I had constantly been called upon to defend my role and value as a teacher.

First and foremost, teachers are not C students that couldn’t make it as lawyers and doctors. I earned academic scholarships to attend West Virginia University, and I graduated with the highest honors from their five-year program with my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.

Second, teaching is not an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job, and there is no overtime pay. Much like being a mother is from “son up to son down,” teaching requires an incredible amount of time and energy. In my now 10-year teaching career, I can count on one hand the times that I left when school ended. It is usually long after the last student has been dismissed before I think about packing up my bag full of homework and heading out the door.

Third, good teachers don’t choose this profession for “the summers off.” It is wonderful for the rare teacher, who does not require a second income, to have a summer break. I get to spend a great deal of time with my boys during June and July, and I consider myself truly blessed.

They say we are only given 18 summers with our children, so I am trying to make the most of them. That is not why I became a teacher, though. It is a perk. And once August arrives, I am back in full teacher mode. I’m attending meetings, preparing lessons, organizing my classroom and buying supplies for my students.

Furthermore, I do not get paid to stay home. I am a 200-day employee, and I get a 200-day salary. I choose to have that salary spread out over the summer months, so that it is easier to budget for my family.

Please understand that I do not write these things to sound bitter or resentful. Quite the contrary.

I am an educator. I am writing this to educate others. I love my job, I adore my students and I choose to put forth whatever effort is needed to be the best possible teacher.

I’m surrounded by co-workers who are equally passionate and equally drained from having to jump through hoops to get the respect they deserve.

So, as this new school year begins, I would ask you all one favor. Take a moment and thank a teacher.

They will appreciate it more than you can imagine.

And to my fellow teachers … TAG we are it!

Suzanne Miller is a kindergarten teacher at Ritchie Elementary School.

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