Learn By Doing

A Lifelong Learner Shares Thoughts About Education

For the Love of Kids

I find this article to be true.

Gundersen, Arnold

IS MY SECOND CAREER. I am a corporate retread. I spent 20 years in
industry after graduating from college with a master’s degree in
nuclear engineering, progressing from an entry-level engineer to senior
vice president.

I must confess that I didn’t suddenly see the superiority of
teaching and jump. No, I was pushed. Shoved. In fact, jettisoned. One
day I noticed a serious safety violation in our nuclear facility,
reported it to management, and was promptly fired. So I blew the
whistle, got sued by my former company, lost my house, and was finally
exonerated in Congressional hearings-and that’s when I landed in
teaching. I took a job at a boarding school where I could get both a
salary and a roof overhead for me and my wife and family.

Now I’m a public school teacher and loving it. And I’ve learned some
things that very few people in the higher echelons of the business
world ever find out.

Eight years of teaching have taught me that teachers face
significantly more challenges, play many more roles, and are paid
considerably less than their corporate counterparts.

Were you brainwashed into believing teaching salaries are lower
because corporate employees have more demanding jobs? Don’t believe it!
I have never worked harder in my life. People think that when the kids
leave school, we kick back and unwind. Only our families see us grading
papers on Sunday, planning lessons at 10 p.m., setting up labs at 7
a.m., or using our weekends and “long” summers to take recertification
courses or pursue advanced degrees. Studies prove teachers work a
minimum of 50-hours each week.

As teachers, we face not just long hours but also incomparable
responsibility. Why is teaching so difficult? The velocity of our
decision making is one reason. Teachers must make a critical decision
every 20 seconds. What direction to take a lesson when the kids don’t
get it? How to discipline the student in the third row without
disrupting the whole class? How to recover momentum after a public
address announcement? Rarely is anyone in business under that type of
minute-by-minute pressure. Corporate employees have time to mull things
over, to reconvene a meeting in an attempt once again to reach a
resolution, or even to sleep on an idea and finalize it the next day.
Educators make more decisions in one class block than most business
employees do in an entire day!

And they just keep coming. In business, if I had just dealt with a
customer’s issue, I could break for coffee or talk to a co-worker to
clear my brain. In teaching, after I deal with a challenging student, I
look up and see 23 other faces requiring my immediate attention.

Business results are tangible. Did the division or the product make
money or lose money? It is usually easy to see a cause and effect
relation to one’s performance.

Contrast that with the intangible results of teaching. We often
leave school wondering if we made any headway that day and questioning
if a different approach might have made the message clearer. If we had
“Eureka!” moments in every class, we might achieve the same instant
gratification that much of the private sector has. But, we don’t. Maybe
several years, or even a decade later a student contacts us to say that
we made a difference. Teaching is like planting an apple orchard; you
must wait 25 years for the trees to finally mature and bear fruit.
Psychologists claim that the longer the delay between action and
results, the more challenging the task. By this standard, teaching
certainly is the most demanding of jobs.

Additionally, each teacher must perform many different roles each
day. In the corporate world, my role was clearly defined for me. The
organization chart had a box with my name on it. I had a company car, a
private parking space, and a paneled office to let other employees know
their place in relation to mine. There is no organization chart to
describe a classroom. Sometimes we are authority figures, but at other
times we must take on the role of nurse, coach, custodian, lunchroom
monitor, or mentor. We often must perform dissimilar roles to different
students at the same time. Each role is critical, for it may be the one
key that enables a student to achieve academic success or social

Clearly in our profession, what we say and do makes an incredible
impact on a young person’s self image. In business, one may fire an
employee who isn’t performing, but we cannot fire a student who is not
working or is not motivated to succeed. If we are at our best, we may
be able to encourage, inspire, and lead. So, all of us must be at our
very best every minute of each long and challenging day.

But those intangible rewards outweigh the hassles. I am proud to be
a teacher. And, about that career as a senior VP, I look back and
marvel at how easy it was.

Arnold Gundersen teaches mathematics at Burlington High School, Burlington, Vermont.

Copyright National Education Association Feb 2004
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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