teacher teaching vocation

So You Want to Be a Teacher

My dear Rockrose,

I note what you say about becoming a teacher and whiling away your hours with the younger generation. But are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed a leisurely lifestyle were the main reason to begin teaching. No, my friend, it is the exact opposite. Do you love to learn? That is why one should go into teaching.

Have you read the book The Art of Teaching? Whenever I find myself discouraged about teaching, I return to Gilbert Highet’s masterful words. His three essentials of good teaching would assist you greatly in knowing whether you ought to pursue the teaching profession.

First, my dear, do you know your subject? I know you have studied history, but how well acquainted are you with the field? Right now, you might be rather haggard after finishing all those history term papers and cannot conceive of picking up another book to read, but after you have rested some, will you begin studying anew? I imagine that you will since you have such a voracious desire to learn, especially modern history.

Now, the second essential is closely related to the first: Do you love your subject? I think I can say definitively that you love modern history, but what if you are hired at a school that wants you to teach medieval history or, worse, social studies? Will you still desire to learn more about your favorite subject? If you will research and study just as hard to prepare for your social studies lessons as you do for your history classes at Sertillanges University, I have no doubt that you truly do love your subject.

Rockrose, the last question will help you determine whether you are being naïve about the ease of teaching. You will encounter on a daily basis students who are not the diligent pupil you are. How much will you like such young people? Do you feel at home with groups of 10-30 children, even when they are at their worst? It may be easy, dear friend, to say “of course” now, so carefully consider your answer. Some days you will feel like pulling your hair out. Is teaching still worth it to you?

It might be helpful to consider which principle draws you most toward teaching and which one challenges you the most. Recollect both of these if you do decide to enter the teaching profession. Patience, not frustration, is your best ally in encouraging your students to be life-long learners.

Remember, your student is not, like you, a pure scholar. Even having been a high school student recently (and I am sure your older coworkers will say, “Oh, that abominable advantage of young teachers!”), you may not recall the trials they undergo. I once had a student, an excellent cook, who would struggle with more abstract concepts. One day, I had assigned in-class homework about the different types of pronouns. This student explained to me that he could not complete it because he did not understand pronouns.

If I had lost my head and chided the student, he and I both should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. Although I was slightly miffed that he had not at least attempted to answer all the questions, and I felt that he had not paid attention when I had explained pronouns in class, I coolly explained the different types of pronouns again. When I returned home in the evening, he had sent me a note: “I did all 15 problems!” He also said that he finally understood pronouns once we reviewed them in class. His comments enlightened me that students will sometimes require more time on material than I had imagined.

You begin to see the point? Thanks to The Art of Teaching, I am more likely to clarify, rather than correct, as a first reaction, invoking all three essentials of good teaching: knowledge, love of a subject, and love of students. I am sure that you have just about finished sipping your cup of afternoon tea, Rockrose, as you finish this letter, so I would encourage you to stop by the local bookstore this afternoon and purchase Highet’s book to read tomorrow. Remember to observe carefully teachers that you admire and respect. Make free of their techniques and love of learning in your own classroom. One last word of advice if you decide (as I suspect you will) that teaching may be your calling: The first year of teaching is the hardest. You will find yourself extremely overwhelmed and discouraged. But do not lose heart, my dear. It only improves.

In parting, I must warn you that it is often said these days that the teacher should never infringe on their pupils’ self-expression but permit their classes to direct studies as best suits them. That is hogwash. Contrary to the belief that these modern compatriots have, anyone should know that it is our job to teach!

Your affectionate friend,


Author: Rachel Basinger

Rachel Basinger is the 9th and 12th grade Humane Letters Teacher at Providence Classical School and a proud alumna of Hillsdale College. She considers Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince the best book on life besides the Bible and loves to read history. Lately, Rachel has been fascinated with studying Henry Kissinger.

2 Replies to “So You Want to Be a Teacher

  1. I apologize for only just now getting to this piece. I’m retired from a 44 year teaching career. That being said, I want to say a hearty “Amen!” to what you wrote.
    I’d like to add one personal side note. In all if those 44 years of teaching, I never once said I was going to work, I always said I was going to school.
    Well done.

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