Would You Do It For Free? - SmartBlog on Education 12.10.2014

Teaching is not a profession; it’s a passion. — Unknown

I recently attended an entrepreneurship gathering sponsored by a local university. The program allowed each attendee to speak for a few minutes about their company and services. The last speaker was a videographer and web marketer. He spoke with great passion about finding a voice and telling a great story, important components in today’s evolving marketplace. But the line that resonated most with me was his comment about why we are all doing what we’re doing.

Most people in that room had left an established, more guaranteed position in order to venture off into entrepreneurship and follow their dreams. This speaker spoke to a common chord within each of us when he said, “You all love what you do so much that you would do it for free.” That is, of course, if not for the fact that we must put food on the table.

Yes, I would do what I do for free if I could. You see, I am passionate about my work as an executive and educational coach, much as I was about my previous work in the classroom and as a school leader. I have always believed strongly in making a difference in the lives of others, whether for children and those that inspire them, or for leaders who seek to optimize and help their teams and organizations be the very best that they can be. So, if I did not have to concern myself with making a livelihood, I am sure that I would still seek ways to add value to others’ lives and help them achieve their lofty goals. And I know that it’s the teacher in me that guides me to think that way.

We all appreciate meeting people who love what they do. Whether it’s a store clerk, a postman, a doctor or a corporate executive; we are lifted and inspired by people who take their jobs seriously and seek to make a difference in others’ lives. In those cases, their passion may be optional, a nice add-on to their professional profile.

However, when it comes to education, I think that everyone who teaches, even those who work on a part-time basis, must possess that burning desire to teach, engage and inspire. Those that don’t, in my opinion, have no business entering a classroom.

Yes, I get it. I know that education can be exceedingly difficult at times, particularly when student conduct is poor and learning just doesn’t seem to be occurring. I realize that many of the ancillary components to teaching, such as piles of paperwork and countless emails, phone calls, parent conferences and faculty meetings can really weigh on a teacher’s shoulders. But we cannot take the responsibility to teach and serve as role models for impressionable, curious and information-thirsty children if we cannot get excited about what we do day-in and day-out, well beyond the first week of school.

I had one colleague that made me crazy in this respect. She had many fine qualities and really did care about her students. But it seemed as if every day in the teacher’s lounge she was counting down the days — to the weekend, to the next break or vacation or to the last day of school. Regardless of what motivated such thinking (and sharing) it was clear to me that this person was never able to really deliver her utmost to her students because she was continually thinking about how she would enjoy her time without them.

I believe that all teachers and educators deserve every minute of break and relaxation that they receive. Teaching is a very demanding position that requires a robust set of skills, much conscientiousness and lots of energy. Anyone who thinks alongside that old adage, “those that can do, do; those that cannot, teach,” never spent more than 30 seconds in front of 20-plus boys and girls and tried to gain their cooperation and respect.

But I have also seen too many cases of (and been personally guilty of) teachers listlessly walking through the front door of their school building in the morning like the guy from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercials. (“Time to teach the students. Time to teach the students.”) And that mindset cannot permeate a school if it hopes to be a place of robust learning and enthused engagement.

Some teachers may pin the blame on their paychecks. We all know that education is not the most financially rewarding field and that some of our colleagues may need to pursue multiple positions or rely on working spouses in order to make ends meet. Surely, we all want to feel acknowledged and rewarded for our efforts, monetarily and otherwise. Research, however, tells us that compensation does not correlate as strongly as we may have thought with job satisfaction. The most important ingredient in ensuring a happy workforce is to offer them meaningful tasks that help them grow as people and professionals. And that comes from an appreciation for what we do, each and every day.

Historian Henry B. Adams once wrote that, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Sometimes it’s difficult to envision eternity when we’re stuck behind a mound of paperwork or trying to satisfy expectations of a new administrator, an angry parent or the Common Core State Standards. But if we took a moment to reflect on our unique potential to be a difference maker, to genuinely change the personal and familial history of so many, then we would surely add that extra bounce to our step that communicated just how excited we were to be here, today and every day.

In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. — Lee Iacocca