The pros & cons of being a teacher

Today is my first day back at work again after a completely relaxing and peaceful Christmas vacation. That vacation lasted 2 weeks and counts towards one of the few perks that comes with being a teacher. There’s a few more, but naturally there’s also a few things that aren’t all that great about teaching. That’s exactly what this post will be about.

I think the above quote sums it up pretty nicely. Many teachers I know, including myself, hope to inspire our students. Call me a sentimental git, or a ideologist if you like, but it’s the truth. The best part about being a teacher is the impact you can potentially make on a few lives of some of the people you come across. Many students are at a certain crossroads in their lives, where each choice they make is going to have an influence. Apart from friends and parents, teachers are the people students encounter mostly at this crucial time in life. You may not influence everyone you meet, but the kick comes from that one student that does ‘see the light’ because of you.

On the contrary, students can also be a bit of a drag. Not because they don’t know things, but because they are lazy. They won’t hand in anything until the very last minute and even expect you to check and grade documents that were handed in far beyond the set deadline. If it were a relationship, they would expect you to wine and dine you at all occasions, no exceptions. That, of course, is impossible. I am only one person and can only do so much. This often leads to plenty of stressful moments, not only for me, but also for students.

Which brings me to stress. Stress is every teacher’s nemesis. It caused me to pretty much collapse two years ago and I am definitely not the only teacher to do that. Pretty much every person I worked with at my previous job had suffered from it, or was suffering from it. Some of them even for the second time. Burn out is one of the most common illnesses that causes teachers to go on sick leave. At least, here it is. Many people don’t understand this, since teachers have more vacations than anyone else. Then why is it that teachers get stressed out so much?

Well, first of all, where you work and what kind of students you teach makes a huge difference. I now teach at a college rather than a high school and the differences in the stress levels I’m experiencing are huge. Yes, we have many vacations. There is usually one every 6 – 8 weeks, of at least a week. On the other hand, we don’t have any days off. I can’t just say like: oh I have this or that coming up can I get a day off? No, you can’t do that. On top of that, because of those vacations you have peak periods. Pretty much like prime time television, only this time related to workload. Well, divide it better, many people will say, but that’s the problem: you can’t.

Due to those vacations you cannot shift things round. On top of that, you have time table which is fixed and can only be changed in emergencies. In addition, Holland has a huge problem with finding teachers, so there aren’t enough people to do the work there is, making is impossible to find substitutes when teachers get sick or can’t make it to class for w/e other reason. What it boils down to is this: if you’re not there, the work doesn’t get done. This leads to lots of problems. You feel responsible for your job (in itself a good thing) but to the extent where you don’t dare call in sick. Which in effect only makes you sicker to the point where you get sick every vacation you have, and eventually break down completely.

I know this makes it seem like teaching is all bad. However, it isn’t. Teaching itself is fun and there is nothing better than seeing someone ‘get it’ when you’re explaining something. It gives you tremendous amounts of energy. It’s like an adrenaline rush most of the time and makes for good variation in one’s work day. This first week after the vacation is going to be hell: getting started again, classes, exams and students coming to get feedback on previous exams. On top of all that I also have my appraisal interview on Thursday. So please keep your fingers crossed.

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