This essay originally aired on January 4, 2018.
I believe teaching is the best profession in the whole world. I am myself a high school German teacher and have been so for more than twenty years.
I personally love to learn. I always enjoyed going to school as a child and did well. When I left school, it was a kind of shock, because I was used to having my tasks assigned to me and having a teacher as a mentor. I eventually came to understand that learning does not end when one leaves school. Nevertheless, a school is a kind of community where learning is the focus. I consider myself blessed to earn my living in this setting.
The main reason for my belief that teaching is the best profession is that I’m able to work every day with wonderful, young human beings. People sometimes shake their heads in sympathy when they hear I’m a teacher. They’ve heard how hard it is to teach nowadays. But, although kids have certainly changed and do things differently, they are still energetic, creative and idealistic. They’re passionate and quick to make new friends. I may be having personal worries and problems, but when I greet my students with “Guten Morgen, alle zusammen!” and they reply, “Guten Morgen, Herr Smith!” it is as if a light goes on in the darkness.
Indeed, I experience my students as brightly shining lights. They have not yet become cynical. They still believe that they can change the world. I consider it my sacred duty to keep their idealism alive and to enable them to really and truly change the world for the better.
It’s challenging to keep up with my students. They’re energetic and constantly bringing new experiences to the classroom. It’s one of the strange facts of the teaching profession that the students always remain young. Every year, I need to get to know about a hundred teenagers. It’s a veritable fountain of youth. I get to learn with them, try new learning technologies, sing German songs, play learning games and vicariously re-experience the excitement of growing to adulthood.
Although my classes are always made up of young students, they mature and go on to live their individual lives. It’s interesting to learn what they’ve gone on to do. One is a doctor, another is an opera singer; one is a banker, another is studying solar energy in Germany. But it’s not always positive news. I read one had been arrested for illegal activities. Another took his own life. For the successes, I rejoice. When I learn about the tragedies it shakes me to the core of my being. But I don’t lose faith in the value and positive influence of education.
I think we’re all familiar with the hypothetical question: “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” For me the answer is easy. I believe in the profession I’ve dedicated my life to. If I had all the money in the world, I could not think of a better thing to do than what I’m doing now: teaching.
Essayist Eric Smith is a German teacher at State College Area High School.