Thursday, March 5, 2009

Liking Children versus Liking to Teach Children

There is a big difference between liking to teach children and liking children. Many, I think, get into teaching because they posess a like for children rather than a like for teaching children.

I started thinking about this when reflecting on what it is I dislike so much about teaching where I do. After all, I really do like to teach children. I got into teaching as a profession after taking a long-term substitute job at a high school where I worked in the 'resource room,' (where kids go when they need extra assistance with work, or accomodations for their disability). I vividly recall "connecting" with several students - particularly one I suspect was an undiagnosed autistic girl. I spent many hours teaching her physics, and got quite a few compliments on being able to get through to her when most teachers couldn't. I knew then that I wanted to try special education.

So, that I like teaching children is not in dispute. But I have been coming to the realization that, as much as it hurts me to admit it, I don't have the innate love for kids that many teachers do. If my job involved no possibility of teaching, for example, I would find being around kids for 6.5 hours per day too daunting to bear. It is not the kids that get me through, but the teaching of them.

And what makes matters difficult is that, where I teach, teaching is very frustrating and comprises only a small percentage of what "teachers" do. Teachers first have to motivate, then control behavior, and then, get a little teaching done. Kids actively resist us at every turn and are quite fond of defying our attempts to instil things into their brains.

This is why I think teaching where I do is so hard for me, and perhaps, not (as) hard for many others. Many of the teachers really love the kids, and don't mind as much that the kids aren't learning nearly what they should, just as long as they get to interact with them. But for me, who likes teaching kids more than being with kids, it is a source of endless frustration and dejection that the "teaching kids" part is such a small role, while the "handling kids" part takes most of the time.

If you haven't been able to tell by now by my blog entries, I am not a coddler. I do not feel bad when I don't appease kids. I don't have much trouble with trading pain for gain. I suspect, though, that a lot of teachers who like kids more than teaching kids are the opposite: their desire is to encourage over instruct, and enable rather than equip. This has been my particular experience with those who go into elementary education; they are teachers more because they like kids than any drive to teach. Students become "little guys," which is a sign, to me, of an overly motherly approach that sacrifices rigor and high-expectations for happiness and high self-esteem.

I cannot be that way. Alas, I am going on to study for my PhD, where I might teach college students - where classroom management is not the ultimate concern, and where teachers are not expected to baby, but to teach, and students are expected to exercise some independence.

I think I am making the right choice.


  1. This has been my particular experience with those who go into elementary education; they are teachers more because they like kids than any drive to teach.

    That's an unfortunate bit of self-selection, huh? You've said quite a bit that lax standards one year cause problems the next year and the next.

    There's the same sort of self-selection in politics. Everybody laments that politicians are greaseballs, but nobody wants to try to be the first decent politician because they say they're not slimy enough for politics.

  2. David,

    Really interesting way to put it.

    I have recently been pre-occupied with the idea of why someone would choose to stay at a school like mine over a period of many years, and tehre are a few answers that I have found:

    (a) a few really are strong enough to enjoy teaching and be able to 'shake off' the other stuff. (I thought I'd be one of these, but I am not.)

    (b) several simply really enjoy kids and don't mind 'baby sitting.' They may like teaching also, but this drive is secondary to their like for interaction with teens.

    (c) some are a decent bit lazy and have tenure and a thick enough skin to not let the job bother them.

    I predict - fallably, of course - that the same 'self selection' you note about politics will happen (if not already) in schools. Those who like to teach kids only last a short while, while those who enjoy kids will last a long time, which might mean that our kids get less and less rigorous instruciton, and more and more coddling.

    (This is certainly the case in elementaries already, and definitely in my own field of special educaiton.)