To the people who say not to make your work your passion*, you’re right. Your approach is far more strategic and systematic. You will reach financial independence much faster pursuing a six-figure career than I will figuring out why teenagers are still tempted to cover their arms in glue whenever we create posters. You will also garner far more esteem in the media, on social media, from your friends, and at family parties. You, my friend, are an innovator. A disrupter. Someone who will push your field to the precipice, help pivot a struggling enterprise, or create the newest technology.
I don’t do what you do.
I couldn’t do what you do.
I’m also not sure I’d want to.
Let’s be real here. Everything that you aspire to is something that I seek as well. It just looks a little different. I, too, am hoping to level up or make it big. But all that means in teaching is that one day I might have a classroom with a window.
When I innovate, I look for ways to integrate technology into the lives of my students to prepare them to work for you one day. Or to be your boss. Or to work in a field that doesn’t yet exist. The real innovation, though, happens when I find ways to utilize this technology, expand my students’ learning, and adapt again for the kids who still don’t have wi-fi at home.
I read and research enough that I could probably start a blog or a consulting company about education. But three Master’s programs still won’t find me educated enough to max out my salary schedule. I still won’t make six figures. And in all that research, in all that studying, I still have yet to find ways keep kids from drawing on their hands, their arms, their jeans, or each other when the maker bins come out. I look forward to your suggestions in the comments.
The Honest Truth
Your career is challenging, complex, and important. So is mine. Part of me believes that everyone has to be at least a little bit passionate about what they do. But if you really want to go down swinging, if you really want to pledge allegiance to money or financial independence or need or whatever other reason you give for doing the work that you do besides passion, know this: Not everyone should live like that. Not everyone wants to live like that. And things might look very different if we all did.
You see, the world needs people who bat the alarm clock around the nightstand, gulp down caffeine, plaster a smile on their faces, and work the bulk of their day before noon. You need people who will pass out Bandaids to cuts so small they probably don’t actually exist. You need people that will help kids launch baking soda rockets and hold invention conventions and teach them the technology, the math, and the science behind why they’re smiling.
You need people who will help kids learn to all get along, who will teach them that in real life people don’t always get along but you still have to be kind. You need people to come in far too early and to stay far too late without ever being able to fill out a timesheet, collect overtime, or earn bonuses. You need people to buy snacks and breakfast and winter coats and school supplies and books with their own money. You need people who are passionate about young people because the kids that fill our schools today will run our country tomorrow.
A More Honest Truth
On the surface, it seems that my work benefits my students. I certainly hope that it does. But I do the work that I do for one simple reason: me. I am most happy when I am pursuing my passions. I am most happy when I am teaching.
Trust me, there are days when the paperwork, the meetings, the conversations with specialists, advocates, and administrators hints at inevitable burnout. There are
afternoons evenings when I pull in the driveway but am too tired to actually get out of my car. There are times when I want to cry because I cannot help kids understand. There are times when I do cry because I understand that some kids are hurting so much, that they know more about life at thirteen than I do at thirty.
But for every bad moment, there’s its counter. There are days when my students are too excited and amazed by what they just created, so bursting with stories that we cannot get through the whole lesson. There are fist bumps and hi-fives, stickers and cards. There are kids who come back five years later to tell you what they actually learned, to thank you for your time, and to apologize for the five hundred forty-seven times you had to ask them to be quiet in just one week. There are days when I’m so inspired by what I see in front of me that I feel like Robin Williams, I want to Stand and Deliver, I know why these cliche teaching movies get made.
The heartbreak and exhaustion are real but so is the excitement and love.
*Do a Google search for “don’t make your passion your work”. There are lots of people who say this.