Great Teachers: The Price We Pay

Great Teachers: The Price We Pay
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gorilla 200x300 Great Teachers: The Price We PayWhat makes a great teacher? Surprisingly, a key to teacher success came to me as I watched the ‘invisible gorilla’ video, which you may have seen. In it, the presenter has you watch a group of college students passing a ball to each other and has you count how many times the ball is passed. (If you haven’t watched it yet, do it now before reading on) What you may have missed in this experiment of selective attention was the large gorilla who appeared in the middle, beat his chest, and left. The ‘gorilla in the room’ is largely ignored.

I recently had such an experience as I watched one of my favorite teachers-are-incredible-people movies, “Freedom Writers.” I have seen the movie many times over and never cease to be inspired by the teacher dedication exemplified by its heroine, Erin Gruwell. Similar stories of successfully teaching the ‘unteachables’ have been celebrated by Hollywood and indeed take place in classrooms around the world every day. However, for the first time I noticed the gorilla.

I was so captivated by the incredible change that Gruwell made in her students’ lives that I did not focus, until now, on the incredible price she had to pay.

In addition to having to take night jobs to support her extracurricular (and at times even her curricular) efforts, her marriage crumbled under the weight of the responsibility she assumed for the welfare of her students. I was once again reminded that great teachers sacrifice well beyond the call of duty. Great teachers do not merely invest their time and talents; they invest their hearts and souls. To the great teacher, teaching is not what they do for a living, it is the very reason they live.

This type of sacrificial teacher devotion changes the way they are perceived by their students. I had always thought that the extra hours invested into their trade makes them better teachers, resulting in students wanting to learn that which they endeavor to teach. I now realize that this equation is not correct. Rather, the devotion of extra hours is noticed by their students, who then realize that if the teacher is so devoted, then it is worthwhile to learn what they are imparting, thus ‘making’ them better teachers. If it is ‘just a job’ to the teacher, then it will be ‘just a class’ to the students. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

Those who wish to enter the teaching profession should be cognizant of this fact. Just as a fireman understands that he will be spending many of his nights sleeping at the station and a soldier understands he will spend long stretches separated from his family, teachers should understand the price of achieving the status of a ‘great teacher.’

Teachers’ families should be aware of this as well. Perhaps a clearer perception of what it takes to truly excel at this most noble of trades will mitigate the damaging effects of a spouse devoted to something or someone other than his or her immediate family.

And, finally, when it comes to teacher appreciation, school administration should be conscious of the fact that stellar teaching is not only the result of natural talent, but rather the culmination of hours upon hours of selfless devotion to the children, and the school should therefore compensate accordingly. Indeed, the entire school community must make sure to fully appreciate the lofty spirit that is the great teacher and ensure that his or her efforts do not go unrecognized and unrewarded.

7 Responses to Great Teachers: The Price We Pay

  1. Garry Marshall says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I am fortunate to work with a ton of great teachers who stay until late after school tutoring and then working on paperwork. One exceptional education teachers stays until at least 8 PM every Thursday. A fellow science teacher spends at least two Saturdays a month at school with community service events or on trips with students. The dedication pays off in the end for students but it enacts a toll on teachers’ personal lives. The funny thing is that you never hear a complaint. These are some of the happiest people I know!

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Thank you for your comments. Your last point regarding how happy the dedicated teacher seems to be, is especially important. What we find in life is that the things that provide significance and meaning are the things that also make us happy, no matter the sacrifice required, or perhaps precisely because of the sacrifice required. Great teachers are the happiest teachers because they realize they are making a real difference. The challenge is finding a way to make other family members appreciate and embrace the significance of that sacrifice as well.

  2. Great article! I think you are right when you say that when students see how dedicated a teacher is, they pay attention more. I have found that many teachers that do stay very late also do not have spouses or children at home. It’s a difficult juggling act and as a teacher, I try to find the happy medium between school and life. Sometimes school takes more time (Sept especially and June for me) and then I try to give more to my personal life afterwards. Also, many of those dedicated teachers may not stay late but are working a lot at home which goes unseen and takes away from family life too.


    • Karmi Gross says:

      Finding the right balance is crucial. As teachers, we should learn from other professionals whose personal lives are frequently interrupted by their work how to create that balance. To start, however, we must realize that those interruptions are part of what defines success as a teacher.

  3. Chris Khaemba says:

    A great article;such teachers are found in public schools whose compensation is a disincentive to dedication and yet they put in long hours, paying attention to individual students in overcrowded classes and seeing to their success. These teachers are proud of their work, though they remain uncelebrated and poor. Governments must find ways of appreciating and rewarding such teachers. Structuring and enforcing professional development within clear competency framework would be a good start

    • Carmilete Mohan says:

      I absolutely agree with you. In our school system there are a number of dedicated teachers but sad to say, all are stereotyped because of the shortcomings of the others. You usually can spot the passionate teachers- they come to school first and leave last, they have good relationships with parents and students, they carry their work home, they never say no to their work and they sacrifice almost all of their life to teaching. Most often as you said, this type of teacher is “uncelebrated”. And of course there are those who are in it for financial gains and the benefits. How unfortunate! We really do need incentives.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Well put! Developing teacher skill shows teachers we care deeply about their continued success and appreciate their ability to translate new ideas into enhanced student achievement. Showing teachers that we care about them is the very least we can do the somewhat repay the care they exhibit every day.

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