Be a Teacher

(This was a piece that I wrote during the Chippewa River Writing Project summer institute.)

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Molly finished ringing up my order and placed my produce into a bag.

“That’ll be $16.34,” she said, and then barely taking a breath, she asked, “Ms. Neyer, do you think teaching is a good career to go in to?”

I looked up from my wallet where I had been digging for change and read on Molly’s face some distress and a will to maintain her composure. I was the only one at the check-out counter.

“Molly, I love being a teacher. I think teaching is one of the greatest careers there is.” There was slight relief in her eyes now, but her distress was not entirely gone. “Why are you asking?”

“Well, I want to be an elementary teacher,” she replied, “I’ve wanted to be an elementary teacher ever since I was little, but yesterday, Mr. Green came into the store. When I told him I was going into elementary ed, he told me I should get out now before I start. And then last night, Jeff and I were downtown and we ran into Mrs. White and she told me teaching was horrible these days and I’d never be able to make a living. I can’t imagine doing anything else other than teaching.”

“Then you should teach,” I said. “Molly, you aren’t going to make a million dollars being a teacher. Does that matter to you?”

“Well, no…”

“I knew that I wouldn’t be financially wealthy when I went into teaching, but that didn’t matter to me. I’ve never once regretted becoming a teacher.”

By now, other patrons had lined up at the counter, and I did not want to delay Molly from her summer job.

“Thanks, Ms. Neyer. That’s how I feel, too,” Molly said, and now I could see the distress lift.

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I kept things short at the cash register with Molly, but here is what I would say to all of the Mollys whose family members and former teachers are telling them to switch careers:

Don’t.

You are intelligent and hard-working and enthusiastic. Be a teacher. In fact, be an excellent teacher because what we need now more than ever are excellent teachers who want to be in this career.

Especially be a teacher if you cannot imagine doing anything else in life. That’s called passion. Be a passionate teacher.

Be prepared for change in your career, but recognize that any job and all life is change. If you have not changed recently, check your pulse. Be a constantly-transforming teacher.

Be ready to speak up and get involved; your fellow professionals will need your voice, but even more so, children will need your voice. Be an articulate, truth-speaking teacher.

And finally, be ready to love children unconditionally. Be a genuine and caring teacher.

In return, you’ll make an honest living. You’ll receive the wealth of spirit that comes from doing a job you love – one that gives the satisfaction of knowing that you make a difference.

So, Molly, be a passionate, excellent, genuine teacher. And those of us who love this profession will be eager to welcome you to it some day soon.

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