Must Teachers be Passionate? #sol14

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March my students are posting a slice each day on their blogs and I am joining them.
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I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately.  The topic of most of my thinking has been teacher passion.  This morning I finally shared my questions on Twitter.

I work with a lot of amazing, passionate educators every day at HTHS.  I’m also lucky to have a PLN full of teachers who are passionate and engaged, always seeking new information and honing their craft.  But I  recognize that passion can be consuming.  It means lost sleep and bringing work home with you.  It means you can’t (or don’t) leave your job at the office.  It means spending money and time on conferences, books, journals, professional development.  Granted, if you are passionate about a subject it doesn’t always feel like work.  But it still takes a lot out of you.

My question is, should we expect all teachers to be passionate?  Is that fair?  Or is it ok for a teacher to be in it for the convenient schedule, steady paycheck, and reliable hours? Plenty of teachers enter the classroom for those reasons and do a fine job. And the expectation for most careers seems to be that you go in from 9-5, do your job, and come home.  Passion not necessary.

Business Journal recently looked at passion in the workplace and  discovered that passion is rare in more careers and workplaces.

Two recent discoveries by The Gallup Organization offer insights into why passion is rare in U.S. workplaces:

  • 55% of the U.S. working population is not engaged at work.
  • 16% of the U.S. working population is actively disengaged

 

This pushed my thinking a bit more. Then my friend Teresa and I started talking.

That’s where I get stuck. Part of me feels that it isn’t fair to expect all teachers to be passionate about their career or current position.  But if we aren’t passionate, don’t our students suffer?  If my job performance suffers as a result of not being engaged at my 9-5 job, who is affected?  My company and I will have to deal with the ramifications, but odds are no one else will.  But if a teacher is not engaged and passionate about their subject area or their job, then their students are the first to suffer the consequences.

So what should expectations be?  Is it ok for teaching to be a way to pass the time, get a paycheck, and get to retirement?  Or should we demand that our teachers are passionate about something related to their job? That could be a passion for the subject matter they teach, or a passion for learning, or a passion for fostering the best in kids, as long as the passion is related to their job. Is that the answer?

I’m not sure what the answer is, because teaching is an all-consuming job, whether you are passionate about the career or just showing up everyday.  You won’t leave work at the office, you won’t be able to stay distanced from the students, and you will never be able to walk away unscathed.  Even if you aren’t passionate, it will have a deep and lasting impact on you.  And you can certainly teach students without being passionate, provided you are engaged in the day-to-day activities in your classroom.  When we demand passion, are we demanding too much?

Could passion lead to burnout?  Or does it prevent burnout?  My friend Tony Keefer used the word “play” to describe what teachers can do to spark passion and I love that.  You can play in a subject area, in the field, in reading, in writing, and beyond.  And play is equated with fun, so that’s good!

One of my experiences in school today pushed me to think further about this topic.  My awesome student-teacher set up a Skype call today for my seniors, who were able to speak with a local news anchor about her life in the industry.  The anchor was so passionate about her job but she made it very clear that it’s a 24/7 job, which reminded me a lot of teaching.  She said you are always “on” and always representing your company.  As a teachers, we can certainly relate!  She pointed out that if you don’t enjoy the job and you aren’t engaged and passionate, then you wouldn’t make it.  Should teaching be the same way?  Maybe it’s the responsibility of administrators to filter out teachers who are not passionate, to make sure they don’t end up stuck in a career path that they despise to the detriment of students.

All of these questions are still swirling about in my mind.  I’m not sure there is an answer, but it’s fascinating to think about.  I’ve been coming back to this question of passion since I wrote my post “You’re Too Smart to be a Teacher”.  That post inspired conversations about teaching as a backup career and way to get by until something better came along and whether that was fair to students and colleagues.  I won’t pretend I haven’t met teachers like that in the past, so I know they are out there.  But that might be true in all careers, so is it fair to expect something above and beyond that in teaching?

What do you think?
 

Check out my friend Katherine’s response to my pondering, too!

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