Why do people choose teaching?

BANDUNG (JP): There are many reasons that lead people to choose the teaching profession. Some people choose teaching because they enjoy being with young people and watching them grow. Others need to be around young people to let their students grow on behalf of themselves.

For some individuals, teaching is a family tradition, a craft that one naturally masters and a world that surrounds one from childhood. For others, teaching is magical because they have had magical teachers choose careers they now want to assume. Teaching can be a way of sharing power, ofconvincing people to value what one values, or to explore the world with oneself or through oneself.

There are some cynical reasons for entering the teaching profession, which were much more prevalent when getting a job was not difficult. For example, for some people teaching become a matter of temporary convenience,of taking a job which seemed respectable and not too demanding while going to law school, supporting a spouse through professional or graduate school,scouting around for a good business connection, or merely marking time while figuring out what one really wanted to do as an adult. For others, teaching is a jump-off point into administration, research, or supervision. A recent trend has led many student teachers to become teachers to negatewounds they received when they were in school. They want to encounter the racism, the sexual put-downs, all the other humiliations they experienced with the new, freer ways of teaching and learning. They want to be teachersto protect and nurture people younger than themselves, young people who have every likelihood of being damaged during their school years.

Some of these people come from poor and oppressed communities, and their commitment to the children is a commitment to the community of their parents, brothers, sisters, and their own children as well. Other aspiring teachers -- mostly from middle or upper-class backgrounds -- have given up communicating with their parents and rejected the community they grew up in. Teaching for them becomes a means of searching for ways to connect witha community they care for and serve.

Everyone who goes into teaching, even temporarily, has many reasons for choosing to spend five hours a day with young people. These reasons are often unarticulated and more complex than one imagines. Yet they have significant effects on everyday work with students and on the satisfaction and strength the teacher gets from that work. Consequently, it makes sense if one is thinking of becoming a teacher, to begin questioning oneself andunderstanding what one expects from teaching and what one is willing to give to the profession.

There are a number of questions people thinking of becoming teachers might ask themselves in order to clarify their motives and focus on the type of teaching situations that could make sense for them. These questionsdo not have simple answers. Sometimes they cannot be answered until one hastaught for a while. But I think it makes sense to keep them in mind while considering whether one actually wants to teach, and then, if one does, again during one's training and the first few years in the profession.

* What reasons does one give oneself for wanting to teach? Are they all negative (e.g., because school was awful, or because one was damaged, or because one needs a job and working as a teacher is more respectable then working as a cab driver or salesperson)? What are the positive reasons for wanting to teach? Is there any pleasure to be gained from teaching? Knowledge? Power?

* Why does one want to spend so much time with young people? Is she/he afraid of adults? Intimidated by adult company? Fed up with the competitionand coldness of business?

* What does one want from students? Does she/he want them to do well in tests? Learn particular subject matter? Like each other? Like him/her? How much does she/he need to have students like him/her? Is she/he afraid to criticize them, or set limits on their behavior because they might be angrywith her/him?

* What does one know that she/he can teach or share with his/her students? Too many young people coming out of college believe that they do not know anything worth sharing, or at least feel they haven't learned anything valuable during their training. Teacher training usually doesn't help since it concentrates on ""teaching skills"" rather than the content of what might be learned.

* Getting more specific, a prospective teacher ought to consider what agegroup she/he feels greatest affinity toward or most comfortable with.

It takes years to learn how to teach well, and even then one never learnsonce and for all. Teaching is not like driving a car or adding a column of figures. Each group of students one works with has different needs and present new challenges. Like any craft, one learns teaching by practicing it and by finding models, other teachers whose practices one admires and can study.

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Gunung Djati State Institute for Islamic Studies in Bandung.

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