'I'm a teacher.' Response: 'That's nice.' But there's more!

The topic of what I do for a living often comes up in social situations.

When I say "I teach high school," the response is almost always the same - a gaping mouth and no comment. If there is a comment, it is usually something in the area of "Oh, that's nice" or "That must be rewarding." Then the conversation usually drifts off toward subjects of the weather or the local sports team.

I often wish that the conversation would stay on the topic of teaching.

I love teaching. I talk about it every chance I get. I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents teach, my grandfather has taught Sunday School for more than 25 years, and my great-great-grandmother was a teacher. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be in a classroom. Now that I'm in one, I never want to leave.

Most of my college friends went on into the business world. A majority of them work in the computer industry. One friend recently asked me if I ever wanted to change my job and come work at her company. I thought about it briefly.

Yes, I would make more money and have a more "prestigious" career in the eyes of society, but there were no personal rewards in it for me. We all know that teachers are grossly underpaid and overworked, but if you ask them, many would respond that they wouldn't want to do anything else.

To me, the personal rewards of teaching outweigh the financial rewards. I find delight in watching students' eyes light up when they finally "get" a concept or lesson that we have been working on. I am thrilled when my students talk about a lesson that they are really excited about. I enjoy laughing with my students over a funny comment or situation.

Teaching allows me to create relationships with students that can be lifelong, for both the student and the teacher.

It is a wonderful feeling to have students send you letters from college or stop by on break to let you know how they are doing. This to me is more rewarding than receiving a bonus at work or winning a vacation trip for meeting a quota.

Of course, as with any job, teaching can be difficult and demanding. There are times when students confide in teachers about situations that could be life-changing to them, such as a pregnancy, or life-threatening, such as wishing to commit suicide.

This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it breaks a teacher's heart. A teacher doesn't always teach his or her best lessons in the classroom - sometimes these "life lessons" occur in the hallways between classes or in the nurse's office with a student in tears. A teacher wears many hats - instructor, part-time parent, cheerleader, counselor, and, sometimes, best friend.

We are all familiar with the adage "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." On a daily basis, I can, I do, and I teach.

I greet each day with enthusiasm and hope. I wish for my students to see the love I have for learning and pray that they too develop that love.

Maybe someday some of my students - some of the lucky ones - will feel the same passion I do and will end up as teachers themselves. For their sake, and that of the children they will touch, I certainly hope so.

Michele Mooney teaches special education at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Va.

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