Teaching can be both the best and worst job at any given time, and I have never been shy about admitting that to other people. Some people believe that teaching is a calling, and therefore, there should be no complaints on the part of those who have been called into service. Other people, of course, believe that teaching is a profession, where the skills involved in teaching have been developed over time in an educational setting. I’ll go out on a limb and say that both beliefs are simultaneously true.
However, there are simply aspects of education that are not that enjoyable, such as policy issues, state legislature influences, budget, classroom behavior issues, etc. I’d be flat out lying about enjoying much of those aspects of my job. And God knows that I hate a department meeting where we (educators) are lectured on things like whether or not we should come up with new ways to satisfy our “customers.”
Frankly, that position has always irritated me. I’ve even had students tell me that they pay tuition, and so I actually work for them. No, um, not today, love. At the college level students pay for an opportunity to learn from someone deemed to be an expert in the field, and that’s it.
My students are not my customers any more than I have been a customer for my mother to accommodate. Had my mother aimed to satisfy me when attempting to teach me, I feel fairly sure that I would be a very different person today, likely a person with less than adequate skills combined with an overinflated sense of self. My mother was tough on me, expected my best efforts, and in many cases, she had excellence in mind; at this point, I appreciate her standard for my conduct.
Additionally, I never had a coach in any capacity that did not demand my best, and the result was that I thought highly of that coach. The truth is that I worked hard for people who demanded my best and then rewarded my improvements. Set a high standard, expect them to meet it, and then praise them to high heaven when they do.
Treating students like customers, however, implies that I must aim for their complete happiness all the times. I feel fairly sure that the care that goes into good guidance cannot always leave people happy, and I am more committed to education than I am to a returning customer. Making students happy is a responsibility of the administration and support staff; I was hired to teach.
My students learn fairly quickly during the semester that I view them as “one of my own,” but never will I see them as a customer. Customer suggests detachment, where what happens after my students leave me happy with the service that I provided is no longer a concern for me. But I feel just the opposite about my students. I feel they are a reflection of me, my influence, and my ability to teach. As such, what happens to them after they leave me does matter to me.
Yesterday after a lesson on research and evidence evaluation, which included discussion about what it means to have good critical thinking skills, one of my male students shared that he was unsure why he felt so emotion (his lip quivered while he spoke and he needed to stop a few times before continuing), but he wanted to thank me for caring about my students enough to make them work, and as a consequence, think. He apparently appreciated that instead of providing the answer, I typically refuse, telling them instead to figure it out and get back to me in ten minutes. Then after they try, and only after, will I guide them to a clearer understanding of the concept.
Our students, just like our children, know when someone is holding them to a high standard out of care for their welfare or simply to be hard. A high standard in an educational setting sends a message of great concern for the success of students. Because I do care about the culmination of my students’ education efforts, I must teach with integrity everyday, whether it is the model my employer believes grows a business or not. My chosen profession is teaching, and some days my “job” is a joy!