Dear Rachel,

I started teaching a few months ago. It has always been my dream and, I felt, my calling. I had all kinds of ideas about how I was going to educate young minds and inspire young hearts. But it has turned out to be a nightmare! I’ve all but lost my voice.

Most of the time is spent on discipline (“Please sit down and stop talking!”) or bureaucratic issues (making lesson plans and callingMaybe I’m just not cut out to be a teacher parents). I see other teachers for whom teaching comes easily, and maybe it’s something that you have to be and not become.

There are, of course, those diamond-like moments where I feel I’ve connected with a student and taught them something, but they are very few considering the amount of time I spend in class. Also, a teacher’s salary doesn’t really make the job worth it on its own. Should I look for another profession? Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a teacher.

At the Back of the Class

Dear Head of the Class,

You will probably be able to hear a collective chuckle when all the teachers out there read this. Teaching is everything you say, both good and bad. It’s a calling that requires sacrifice and hard work for the few precious moments when you actually reap its rewards.

Judaism highly values teachers. What is Moses called if not Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moses our teacher”? The greatest prophet of all time, the man who spoke face-to-face with G‑d, and his greatest title is that of teacher. And you know what? He didn’t want the job either. He spent days arguing with G‑d, pleading with Him to remove the assignment. True, there was more involved than just teaching, but teaching the Torah is what Moses is most known for. And he certainly had some rebellious students!

I think it’s important to separate the issues that are true of all professions, not just teaching:

  • All professions seem like fun before you actually do them. There is always a gap between the idyllic and idealistic picture and the actual work.
  • All jobs have grunt work—things you don’t like but have to do.
  • Any vocation has a learning curve. It takes some time to learn the ropes from trial and error, finding a mentor, or taking classes and reading books. While some people are more predisposed to a certain calling, everyone has to learn strategies and shortcuts to do their job most efficiently.
  • Very few people are happy with their paycheck. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh yeah, this is great money! I don’t need any more, thanks!” “I don’t need a raise!”?
  • Every profession has its perks and potholes. For example, teachers get a lot of vacation time (to recover, I guess), but it’s also a very emotionally, physically and mentally demanding profession.

Having considered all that, ask yourself if there’s something else you think you would like to do. Would you miss those diamond-like moments? Would you like to try another teachingYou don’t have to leave teaching completely or forever framework—elementary instead of high school? Maybe a different subject? Maybe private lessons?

Even if you decide to leave your present job, you don’t have to leave teaching completely or forever. There are also many jobs that are para-teaching: school librarian, guidance counselor, principal, school secretary, head of the PTA.

Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. What’s important, though, is that you feel a certain sense of fulfillment in your work when you’re doing the best you can. Your students—not just their grades, but the twinkle in their eyes—are a good indicator of how you’re coming across.

A teacher influences so many people in so many ways (for good or bad) that I don’t want to advise you either way. I suggest that you look over the points I raised and consider all options and alternatives. One more important point: Cut yourself some slack. Not all days are going to be easy. Consider this decision not only on your worst days, but on your best ones.

The Talmud (Eruvin 54b) tells of Rabbi Preida, a teacher who had a difficult student for whom he had to repeat each lesson 400 times. Once, Consider all options and alternativeswhen Rabbi Preida was supposed to go do a mitzvah, the student was so nervous about making the rabbi wait that he didn’t get it even after 400 times of review. When Rabbi Preida asked him what was wrong and discovered the reason, he said that he would teach the lesson as many times as necessary for the student to get it. He then proceeded to teach the lesson another 400 times. For this he merited much reward for himself and his entire generation.

Instead of looking at what you’re doing wrong, look at what you’re doing right. Focus on the traits that make you a great teacher. You’ve mentioned a few: your enthusiasm and idealism, your sensitivity and caring.

If in the end you decide to leave teaching, don’t feel guilty. You’re trying to do the best for yourself and your students. And you know, once a teacher, always a teacher. Not everyone who needs to learn lessons are in school.

I give you a shiny apple and my best wishes for whatever you choose,