To Teach or Not to Teach

Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell

Teaching is a complex act. Danielson (1996) estimates that a teacher makes more than 3,000 nontrivial decisions every day. No list can capture the extraordinary subtlety involved in making instant decisions about which student to call on, how to frame an impromptu question, or how to respond to an interruption. The late Madeline Hunter compared teaching to surgery, “where you think fast on your feet and do the best you can with the information you have. You must be very skilled, very knowledgeable, and exquisitely well trained, because neither the teacher nor the surgeon can say, ‘Everybody sit still until I figure out what in the heck we’re gonna do next’” (Goldberg, 1990, p. 43).

Watching a great teacher at the top of his or her form is like watching a great surgical or artistic performance. Although infinitely difficult and painstakingly planned, great teaching appears effortless and seamless. One can easily believe that it is the simplest thing in the world—until one tries to do it. (Excerpt from Keeping Good Teachers, Ch 26)


The account above expresses what it takes for a teacher to shine in the classroom. It doesn’t take into account the qualities needed for all the things we do outside of student time. My advice to someone who is considering teaching would be to make sure they love the aspects of the job described above. Then ask them to consider their tolerance and patience level regarding outside influences that can make or break a teacher’s day.

I’m currently lacking my usual sense of humor to get me through challenging times in the profession and it reminds me how well laughs and a smile need to come easily for teachers too. Here’s hoping we have more great individuals seeking our profession!


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