The People Who Become Teachers

I have a friend who has experienced a tumultuous life. The details of her childhood are so dark that I would never disclose with another person, let alone a blog. She is 28 years old, rents a condo in the heart of the city, and for all extensive (and external) terms, is “doing fine” now. But undoubtedly, her formative years have molded her perceptions, opinions, and understanding. A few weeks ago we had a multi-layered conversation about “pain” and its correlation with life outcomes. As we battled back and forth about childhood, trying to subconsciously “one-up” eachother for the sake of winning the quasi debate, she hit me with the, “C’mon, you had a ‘steady’ childhood, like, you became a teacher!”  I paused; and started to think about the people who become teachers.

I was lost for rebuttal by the virginal insult but also stuck because she had made a point that I could hardly wiggle around. In comparison to some of the events she went through, I could not make an honest claim that my childhood was not “steady” in comparison to hers. Could I have taken the subjectivity route and offered some watered-down counter-argument? Of course. But she was absolutely right; my childhood was “steady”.

Ironically, my childhood, upbringing, and the environment I was born and raised in can barely be compared with the other tennis-playing, middle class, “At 16, I worked for my first car…all my parents did was pay for my books for university, I had to pay for tuition” teaching peers. I started my career going to work and coming home thinking to myself, “If these teachers I worked with only knew…” Nevertheless, my life, in comparison to some of the real shit that happens to people, is butter-soft, baby food, nothingness.

This conversation I had with my friend got me thinking about the people who become teachers. Is there a type of person who finally becomes that teacher? Inarguably, most teachers adopt the career path because their experience with education was ease-free and positive. Still, others join the ranks because they may have experienced some of the faults in the system and want to make a change. But are there people out there who are teachers despite all of that?

If you’re looking for an opinion or an absolute answer to this question, you should probably stop reading here. The truth is, most teachers had to have done well in school, at least at a certain point. The second truth is, most teachers have at one point or another in their lives, looked at teaching as a productive means for changing and impacting the lives of youth and our next generation. Combine those two truths, you have a plethora of teachers that see, and ultimately believe in, education’s role and function in making a difference. Education does indeed do this. But what about those children who do not live a “steady life”? Are there teachers…no, are there few, if any, adults in the school building who can step outside of their role, take off their “teaching cape” and actually talk to certain students who are beyond falling between the cracks? Most teachers wouldn’t be able to authentically offer advice to a student slipping down a negative path who is caught with a bag of weed…Yes, most teachers in the system have lived a steady life.

The balance between institution, professionalism, social values, and of course academics is at a deathly stake when we start to explore solutions to this issue. For the regular elementary school that sits 200 to 700 students, there may be 2 or 3 children that are experiencing unsteady life alterations. Passively enacting their experiences in other ways; not doing work, disrespecting authority, acting devious are many of the ways they subsequently navigate their frustrations in school. And we teachers look at them on the surface and say, “So-and-so is just immature and needs a real wake up call”. Unfortunately, for those two or three students in the entire school, we are not the ones equipped to adequately give it to them. Perhaps, there is a certain type of people who inevitably become teachers…



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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