Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teaching Sucks! 4 Reasons to Be Thankful for a Thankless Job

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters (and teachers),stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58

Teaching sucks!  It really does.  I can say that only because I was a teacher for 11 years, and it is a hard job…and a thankless job at that.  I didn’t care, though.  I loved it, and I would still be doing it if I hadn’t decided to become a stay-at-home mom instead.  Teaching is the kind of job that you do because you love it.  You don’t care about the pay…although you wish it would be a little more.  You don’t care about the long hours…although you wish you had someone to help you grade 200 lab reports.  You don’t care about the social stigma of “Oh, you’re just a teacher?”…although you wish there was a little more respect for what you do.  You don’t care that your life is run by a bell…although you wish you had a little more time to eat lunch, go to the bathroom, blow your nose, and breathe.  You don’t care that you may never know if your blood, sweat, tears, time, effort, energy, patience and love ever made a difference in a student’s life…although you wish more students would let you know that you made an impact.
Throughout the years, I’ve been blessed to have several students contact me to let me know how much of an impact I had on their lives.  I’ve even had students say that having me as their science teacher inspired them to go into teaching or some other field of science.  Those are the most amazing moments for me!  I love finding out that I made a difference in someone’s life.  Isn’t that why we all become teachers?  Or isn’t that at least how you felt when you first started teaching?  I know I did!
I began my teaching career on April Fool’s Day in 1997…yes, April Fool’s Day…when I took a permanent subbing position at Mattoon Middle School—the very school that I attended during my awkward early teenage years.  This position turned into a full-time teaching assignment where I taught until 2001.  I had the honor of taking over the classroom of my former 8th grade science teacher, Miss Skaggs, who I greatly admired and adored (and still do).  She had decided to retire early, even before the school year ended because she “didn’t think that a teacher going through menopause should be in the same room as students going through puberty.”  See why I loved her?  I had the privilege of teaching with many of the same teachers who taught me when I was in middle school including my own dad.  It was such an amazing experience to be surrounded by so many educators that I respected and admired.  I was out to change the world!  I was out to make a difference.  I couldn't wait to start doing a job that I had wanted to do since I could remember. 
Even though I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a little girl, I quickly learned just how much teaching sucked.  It sucked the life out of me!  It sucked my time.  It sucked my energy.  It sucked my money.  It sometimes sucked my spirit.  I was so lost in grading papers, lesson planning, creating labs, grading lab reports, recording grades, writing tests, grading tests, writing quizzes, grading quizzes, writing worksheets, grading worksheets, creating seating charts, moving kids who couldn’t handle sitting next to each other, re-creating seating charts…it was over-whelming and so difficult.  I will never forget how tired I was every night.  I woke up early and I stayed up late.  I constantly thought of new ideas for how to present the material to my students.  Each and every year, I created fun and exciting ways to teach science, and each and every year, I would revise, update, and improve those fun and exciting ways with even more fun and more exciting ways to teach science.  All the planning and prepping and grading and keeping up with the government expectation of teachers sucked the life right out of me!  But...

...As soon as my students would walk into the room, I would get lost in a world of loving them, encouraging them and inspiring them to love and learn science.  I would forget about all the other junk that was weighing me down and stressing me out.  Their enthusiasm and energy would fill me up with life again.  Even though after some days of teaching, I would cry from being so overwhelmed with all the work I had to do, it was always the students who would put a smile on my face.  It was always the students who made it all worth it.  It was always the students who made teaching...well...not suck!  So thank you to all the students from Bednarcik Junior High in Oswego, IL, Abbott Middle School in Elgin, IL and Mattoon Middle School in Mattoon, IL!

When I saw a student get as excited about the Periodic Table of Elements as I did, it made my day!  When I saw a student use problem-solving to figure out a difficult lab experiment, it made me smile!  When I saw a student’s face light up when they performed a flame test with a Bunsen burner, it made me so proud!  When I saw a student achieve an “A” on a test after studying so hard, it made me so happy!  When I saw a student successfully dissect their frog, it was a great day (even though none of my students knew I cried often during that unit—poor little frogs!) I loved my students, and I loved teaching science to them, and everyone knew it because I taught with passion and enthusiasm.  In fact, many students called me “Mrs. Leeb the Science Dweeb.” They often asked if I drank a lot of coffee…which I don’t…they were shocked!  They would ask, “You mean you really have this much excitement over the Periodic Table of Elements?”  YEP!  Who doesn’t?
My students knew that I loved teaching science, but more importantly, my students knew I loved them!  How?  Because, no matter what, I treated each and every student with respect.  No matter who they were.  No matter what their reputation was.  No matter how they treated me.  I treated them with respect.  I listened to them.  I cared about them.  I wanted to get to know each student individually—to find out what they like to do….to find out what their strengths and weaknesses were…to find out how they learned best…to find out how I can be the best teacher I can be to them.  I encouraged them.  I joked around with them.  I enjoyed my time with them in the classroom.  My students learned a lot, but we also had fun, and more importantly, they knew that I genuinely loved them, cared about them and wanted them to succeed in my classroom and in life!  That is what teaching is all about! And they are what makes doing all that other exhausting busy work worth it! 

No matter where you are in your teaching career---getting ready to start your very first year or getting ready to start your very last year, I want you to feel inspired and excited as you begin this new school year!  Even though I won’t deny the fact that there are definitely parts of the teaching profession that suck, if that’s all you focus on then it will suck the life right out of you!  In my opinion, teaching is the most difficult profession, but it's also the most rewarding and important profession there is!  Before you begin this new year, I’d love for you to take to heart...

4 Reasons to Be Thankful for this Thankless Job:
     REASON #1:  A FRESH START:  Be thankful that as a teacher, every year is a fresh start.   A new year…new students (even if you teach the same students year to year, they change so much so they should be viewed as new)…new ideas…new opportunities to learn, grow, love and inspire!
*I remember seeing 7th graders acting all squirrely and crazy and thinking to myself, “I hope I don’t get them in my classroom next year.”  But by the time I had them as 8th graders, they weren’t anything like they were in 7th grade.  Thank you, God!  (I can say this, because I taught 7th graders for two years and they really are much crazier-no offense Abbott students--I loved you all, but I really had to adjust my teaching to your energy level!  Whew!)  So, give each child a clean slate and a fresh start no matter how they’ve behaved in the past.
      REASON #2:  A LOVING HEART:  Be thankful that as a teacher, you have the opportunity to show your students your loving heart.  It’s sad but true…you may be the only person who uplifts and encourages your students throughout the day.  You may be the only person who shows a student love and respect.  You may be the only person who sees the potential in a student and calls attention to their strengths.  You may be the only person who sees the good in a student and helps them see that they have a purpose in life! 
*I’ll never forget one of my opportunities to show a loving heart.  On the first day of school, he walked into my classroom with a black shirt, black pants, black boots, black hair, black fingernails and a black collar with spikes all around it.  His name was Cody.  I’m sure he was used to hearing the word “trouble” when he walked by, but I just looked at him and smiled.  I couldn’t wait to get to know him!  My heart was ready to get to know who he was underneath that tough, black exterior.  I treated him with respect.  I valued what he had to share.  And even though he may have misbehaved in other classrooms, he didn’t in mine.  By the end of the year, I watched him grow and mature and I truly appreciated his sense of humor and clever approach to life.  He was very intelligent and well-spoken, and I asked him to be the MC at our school-wide Variety Show with over 600 people in attendance.  He did an amazing job!  After he went on to the high school, he once left a message on my answering machine thanking me for being his teacher.  I don’t know where Cody ended up, but I do know that because I showed him a loving heart, I made a difference in his life during that school year and during those 51 minutes in my classroom everyday, and I’m so thankful for that!
      REASON #3:  A CREATIVE THINKER:  Be thankful that as a teacher, you can be creative!  I understand that there are a lot of high expectations on class performance with curriculums, learning standards and standardized testing.  And there will always be, in my opinion, some ridiculous government program like Common Core that you have to teach around.  Sadly, those annoyances are just part of public school teaching.  But if you focus on the creative side to teaching, it can be so exciting for both you and your students!
*I’m grateful for the opportunities that I had to be creative in the classroom.  How many other professions can you dress up like a surfer and dance around the classroom to introduce a unit on “Waves”—sound and light waves, that is.  We need to embrace that creative aspect of teaching!  I’ve also taught my students songs to remember key vocabulary and difficult information.  In fact, there is a “Wave Song” and even a “Matter Song”.  And there is nothing better than an entire classroom of 8th graders doing a “Steps to a Lab Report” Dance!  I thrived on finding creative ways to teach, and I know my students thrived on being taught in creative ways.  Win-win!  Being creative in my teaching helped my students have fun while learning at the same time.  Just a few years ago, I had a student come up to me in church and tell me that she still remembered the “Wave Song”!  It had been over 10 years.  I’m so thankful that despite all the demands on what we as teachers do in our classrooms, we can still be creative thinkers!  
A student captured "Surfin' Sam" in action!
      REASON #4:  A DIFFERENCE MAKER:  Be thankful that as a teacher, you can make a difference in the lives of your students!  I know that teaching sometimes feels thankless…trust me, I’ve been there!  But I never want you to doubt that what you do makes an impact because it does!  And every time you feel tired or frustrated or overwhelmed or ready to give up, just remind yourself that what you do MAKES A DIFFERENCE! 
*Just a few days ago, I had a student post something on my timeline on facebook that read: 
"I have always kept on to things that are memorable or notes from people who meant a lot to me along the way. I just found this letter from you from 2001.. I would have been 14 I think.. after I had you as a teacher and you moved to Chicago. I just want you to know how special you were to me during those years! You were more than just a teacher to me, Betty, and Kristy (and others).
This letter contains proof that you are such a caring person and were passionate about teaching and your students, even after we moved on from your class. Those days were really hard for me and you were such a positive influence in all of our lives during our formative years. I just wanted you to know that! So THANK YOU from me and all the other nameless students you went over and beyond for. You are one of a kind!" -Stephany
Thank you, Stephany!  When students took the time to let me know that I made a difference in their lives, it always helped me keep going…keep teaching…keep loving…keep serving my students with all my heart!  And even now, it's been over 13 years since I taught Stephany, and it means so much to me that she took the time to let me know what an influence I had on her life.  See?  Teaching sucks...but it's ALL WORTH IT! 

We all had a teacher at one point who made a difference in our lives.  We all had a teacher who went above and beyond for us.  We all had a teacher who helped inspire and encourage us.  Will you please take a minute right now to contact this teacher and tell them how much you appreciated what they did for you?  Let them know how much their hard work meant to you.  And more importantly, let them know what a difference that they made in your life! 

As this new school year is upon us, it is my prayer for all of you amazing, hard-working, loving, creative and inspiring teachers out there that God’s Light will shine upon you and through you as you teach your students!  May you be filled with His Presence, His Patience and His Love for your students!  May you take your time to love and show respect to each one!  May you feel refreshed, excited, enthusiastic and ready for this coming year.  May you be thankful for having a fresh start.  May you be thankful for having the opportunity to show your students your loving heart.  May you be thankful that you can use your creativity to help your students learn, and may you be thankful that you do make a difference and even though teaching may feel thankless sometimes and even though teaching may suck sometimes, it is so important to each and every student!  Good luck and God Bless you all on this mission to change the world…one student at a time!



  1. Thank you so much! As a teacher I can relate to this!

    1. You're welcome. Teaching is such a tough profession that you truly have to love in order to be good at it and in order to make a difference. The students know when you really love it and when you really love them! Bless you in your path as a teacher! :-)